Bahía Dorita s/n, Puyuhuapi, Aysén, Patagonia, Chile
Only reachable by boat, Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa is the grand dame of Chile's Carretera Austral, a must–visit for adventure seekers who want to wallow in the thermal waters.
Stretching across a bay lined with pebbles and surrounded by a temperate rainforest so lush you can't fight your way through its tangled branches, Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa has a fairytale feel with its shingles and turreted towers.
Located on Chile's intrepid and awe-inspiring Carretera Austral, this hotel is steeped in old–world charm. Don't expect state–of–the art facilities (the spa is over a decade old and in need of a refurbishment) but remember just how remote you are and simply enjoy the spectacular surroundings. After all, those who choose to explore the wilderness of Aysen come for adventure not thread–count.
It all started in the summer of 1986 when Eberhard Kossmann, a businessman who ran a shipyard in Valdivia, was on a sailing trip with his family. Journeying south from Puerto Montt, they were enjoying exploring the fjords when they decided to anchor at Bahía Dorita for fresh water supplies. Struck by the charm of this quiet bay, Kossmann returned three years later and received an unexpected offer to buy the plot.
Surrounded by mountains, glaciers, hot springs, and virgin forest, this spot seemed too good to pass up. So Kossmann decided to take on the challenge—his first venture into tourism—and transform the existing guest house into an eco–lodge. Despite having no experience in building or running a hotel, he overcame the challenges posed by the climate and remote location, and Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa opened its doors in 1993.
It has now become something of an institution, and the 30 bedrooms have received many a return guest. Arriving at Puyuhuapi is something of a feat as you have to conquer the dirt roads that wind through Queulat National Park in order to arrive at the little jetty to catch one of the daily boat transfers across the fjord to the hotel (there are set departures, but you can also book a private crossing).
Once aboard one of the little red and white boats, you have a ten–minute ride across the water to Bahía Dorita. A family–friendly hotel, there's a sense of excitement as the boat pulls up at the wooden jetty. Puyuhuapi evokes Swallows & Amazons, The Famous Five, and good old–fashioned fun.
The staff delivers a sense of occasion, and on arrival there's a briefing in the main living room outlining the various facilities as well as excursions on offer. The hotel has a "ski lodge" feel with communal areas focused around a large wood–burning fire, and decoration taking the form of soft leather sofas and stone and planked walls. In all the rooms, including bedrooms, large windows frame the idyllic view of water and forest outside.
Meals are served in a long dining room overlooking the fjord, and the food is hearty and tasty. It's not gourmet, but filling trumps fancy when you're exploring cold, wet, and rainy parts. Friendly, kind waiters deliver local dishes like caldillo de congrio (kingklip stew with vegetables and potatoes) and crab pie.
Days are spent kayaking around the bay, bird watching, visiting the park's hanging glacier, soaking in the open–air thermal pools, and heading to the spa. Bear in mind it was built fifteen years ago when dolphins and in–pool bars were "de mode" so some may prefer to stick to the open–air pools. After all, the real "wellnes" in this remote part of the world is found in the nature, and here this means the thermal pools spread along the bay surrounded by trees. Forget lukewarm, these are proper hot springs.
Bedrooms line the water, and there are various categories, the best being the Captain's Suite which overhangs the pebble beach as though you were aboard ship. Next come the waterfront suites, which have little terraces and are reminiscent of a ski hotel in their capsule nature.
Some hotels are simply so wonderful that you would stay regardless of the surroundings; whilst others serve primarily as a base from where you can best enjoy the surroundings. Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa falls into the latter category: although charming, luxury travelers would not venture this far into Chile's least populated region (just over 100,000 people are spread across 42,000 square miles) for shingles and thermal pools alone. Yet this family–owned hotel provides a welcome touch of comfort during a Carratera Austral road trip. Tourism in Northern Patagonia is nowhere near as developed as in Torres del Paine further south, and this means you can enjoy the rare privilege of having the scenery all to yourself.
Web Address: PuyuhuapilogeLodge.com
Total Number of Rooms: 30 rooms, including the Captain's Suite
Published rates: $250 - $416 per night for bed and breakfast, $700 - $870 all–inclusive with guided excursions.
Review and photos by Gabriel O'Rorke