Ruta 225, Km. 27 - Puerto Varas, Region de Los Lagos, Chile
The extensive outdoor activity menu and the lake views from this sleek yet cozy designer boutique hotel are unmatched in Northern Chilean Patagonia.
Located at the gateway of Northern Chilean Patagonia where the newly created National Parks Route begins, Awa is the perfect home base from which to begin a laid-back trip of Patagonia exploration. This modern yet relaxed hotel is less than an hour from the Puerto Montt airport and is set right on the banks of Lake Llanquihue (roughly pronounced "Shahn-key-way") just 20 minutes by car from downtown Puerto Varas. The location makes it easy to pop over by taxi to enjoy a seafood dinner at one of Puerto Varas' many notable restaurants, but then wake up to silence and a gorgeous sunrise view over the water from your cozy bed.
The five-story building itself is the passion project of owner-architect Mauricio Fuentes. He designed it to incorporate local materials such as flagstone, volcanic rock and wood from cypress trees to create a space that celebrates its natural environment. While some may be put off upon arrival by reinforced concrete and angular structures that might convey "modernist bunker," it's tempered by large water features and shimmering walls of glass. Once inside, everything softens considerably. The interior is filled with Mapuche handicrafts, fur throws, wooden floorboards and floor-to-ceiling windows that allow for plenty of sunlight to stream in. The reception is casual and straight-forward and you will be lounging in your room in no time. No need to worry if you do not speak Spanish, as the hotel staff speaks very good English.
There are 16 rooms and 3 room categories to choose from. The entry-level category is a 45-square-meter room. While smaller than the other rooms, it is anything but basic. It comes with a fireplace, TV, minibar, safe, and sweeping views of the lake and Osorno Volcano through large floor-to-ceiling windows. All rooms have a spacious shower with impressive water pressure and a separate whirlpool bath.
The next category up almost doubles the space. Suites have 75 square meters (more than 800 square feet) and come with one super king or two single beds plus a comfortable living area with a small bar and a sofa bed.
But for the ultimate in space and luxury, there is the option of booking a house-sized private villa just steps from the hotel. It can host up to 8 guests, making it ideal for a larger family or a couple of smaller groups traveling together. The first floor has a fully equipped kitchen, dining room for 10, and a large living room with fireplace, satellite TV, and a "have to see it to believe it" view that gives the sense of being right over the lake. The five bedrooms are located on the second floor (noted for guests with mobility issues); four have views of the lake, and two are suites.
The hotel is very proud of its gastronomy and rightly so. Jorge Sias, the house chef, works in collaboration with Mathieu Michel to use as many organic, local products as possible. Vegetables come from the garden right across the road, and trips to the Puerto Varas market are made regularly for the freshest fish and meats. Think dishes such as octopus doused in lime juice, quinoa and salmon caviar, or a slow-cooked leg of lamb with a chocolate-port reduction, all served in an intimate dining room with a fireplace always lit. They serve up an abundant selection of fresh local fruit juices and a wine list that easily rivals any in Santiago. A classic pisco sour is always a solid choice in Chile, however, and Awa crafts the classic well.
Food is such a part of the Awa experience that two of their optional excursions are food-based. One is a cooking lesson from products chosen from the on-site garden, with a short introduction to permaculture and biointensive gardens. The second is a bit longer and includes a trip to one of two local markets (Angelmó or Calbuco) with a guide to help choose ingredients for that afternoon's creation for the cooking class.
While some guests prefer to lounge the day away at the spacious hotel spa (equipped with a small lap pool, steam room, Jacuzzi and massage room), most that venture to this part of Chile come for the nature. Awa offers a wide array of activity choices and three rate options (bed and breakfast, half-board and all-inclusive), but the website makes it a bit tricky to figure out which of the activities are available as part of the all-inclusive package. Half-board means breakfast and dinner included, but no excursions. It's best to contact the hotel direct, plan the activities that most interest you, and have them figure out costs to see if the all-inclusive package makes sense for your booking or not. In addition to the excursions, on the website there is also a large separate section for programs (including celebration planning, honeymoon trips, romantic escapes, romantic escapes Los Lagos, romantic "rests," "disconnection for couples," one called "Away," and one for Families). You really have to dive in and open every individual program to try to figure out the (often very subtle) differences between the packages.
For excursions, hikers will love the nearby Petrohué Waterfalls, rafters will appreciate the Class III Petrohue River, and horse enthusiasts can book a ride through a forest to see firsthand the native flora and fauna such as the tepa tree and woodpeckers. Sea kayaking and fly fishing are also available. But for the most memorable excursion Awa has to offer, book a flight. One option is with a Cessna 206 Seaplane that will pick you up right from the hotel dock and take you towards the Osorno Volcano. You will have the chance to pass by sea lion colonies, alerce (Patagonian cypress) forests, and Andean mountains that line the estuary. Then you will follow the Petrohué River, fly over Puerto Varas and then follow the Maullín River before docking again at Awa.
Excursions by helicopter are also available to book. The goal is the international rock-climbing playground of Cochamó, known for its steep granite walls and similarity to Yosemite, but not nearly as accessible or crowded. You will land at a spectacular viewpoint and be taken on a short hike through this outdoor wonderland while the guides prepare a hearty lunch.
For a taste of Northern Patagonia in style, Awa really is by far the best option available. Puerto Montt is notoriously less than picturesque, the town of Puerto Varas has many hotel options but none of them are all that memorable, and the nearby tourist island of Chiloe is still a couple of hours away. Awa is a luxurious home base that allows you access to the best activities the region has to offer, creating a getaway that will leave you as exhilarated as it does well-rested.
Web Address: HotelAwa.cl
Total Number of Rooms: 16
Published rates: $500 — $600 double room only, $580 — $700 half board, $1,104 — $1,200 all-inclusive. Villa $1,200 per night without meals.
Review and photos by Cathy Brown.