Aguas Arriba Lodge - El Chalten, Argentina
To be totally honest, I came here with mixed feelings. Our initial plan was to cross the Chilean and Argentinan boarder by hiking and then taking a boat to Villa O‘Higgins, however due to the fact that it was totally unsure if we were able to get on the boat without waiting a few days, we cancelled this trip last minute and instead booked a flight to Buenos Aires (which was one of the best decisions in my life). For the above reason we decided to stay at Aguas Arriba Lodge as it would be directly on our route to Chile and we would be the first ones to arrive on the boarder which would have given us best cards to get into the boat. Since our plan changed and the flight was out of El Calafate, it was a real detour to go to El Chalten by bus and then take a taxi for another 1.5 hours. BUT I have to totally admit foremost: it was again the best decision we could have made. How is it possible that two guys in their 20s do a 5 hour journey just to stay a night at a Lodge on a totally remote place plus try to convince me to do the same - you ask? Well, you should definitely be in for a surprise!
As stated slightly above, getting there is the real clue. It needs nearly the same amount of travel time as going from London to Auckland just go get to Aguas Arriba Lodge from Europe. A 12-hours flight to Buenos Aires EZE International is followed a change to the domestic Aeroparque with a 3 hours flight to El Calafate where you need a taxi to get to El Chalten (or going to the Bus terminal to get a 3 hours ride to El Chalten), where you will be picked up by another driver who brings you along the 36km on a sandy and deserted forest track. Once you finally arrived at the famous yet picturesque (!and I mean WOW scenery!) Lago del Desierto, plan another 15 minutes to board the boat and getting to the lodge. Sounds like too much effort? Well you will be treated with the warmest welcome by Pato and her husband Ivor (the two landlords of the entire reserve) who greet you in such a personal feeling that the feeling of staying at a hotel or unknown place vanishes immediately. I know tons of hotels that try to offer a personal service and while we always thought these hotels are successful, we were know shown a new level of personal service. From the moment we stepped foot on the Aguas Arriba‘s reserve, we were part of the family and felt like Pato & Ivor where uncle and aunt living in South America.
Especially for me, it‘s amazing to see what management can control about the total experience. If anything is not like you would expect it, you are more likely to forget about it when the service was 10 out of 10 or the owners are always present to help you with any issue. So was our issue with the internet access. I must have overread the part in the email where they quoted no internet access and no phone reception - and Pato was right. Lago del Desierto in fact is not just one of the most difficult places to reach, it‘s also the most remote place I have been so far. Hundreds of miles away from the next city (if you don‘t consider 600-lifes El Chalten a city) and hours from the nearest airport to go home. But bear in mind: you are here for the landscape and to be unavailable. It‘s actually the best place for stressed CEO‘s and top managers as it is the only place where they can‘t be reached no matter what issue. During our stay we shared the lodge with 5 Swiss people who enjoyed the tranquility and the fact of just being unavailable. They also told us that it‘s a chance for themselves to just focus on their relationship and respect themselves again in a new way. You get to do things you never thought of before: finishing that one book, learning how to play a specific game, listening to the sounds of mother nature - thanks to the glacier in front of Aguas Arriba Lodge who works 24/7.
Another remarkable thing happend when Pato found out that we didn‘t eat a thing since breakfast. It took 5 minutes and a lovely afternoon snack along with two Patagonian beers were set up on the terrace - it was the exact thing two boys from the Alps were looking for after travelling around for weeks in South America. I mean 5 rooms is exactly the size where you can do that fun thing with guests, however it also needs an owner who wants to impress its guests - and Pato is just passionate about their guests. We then got the meal options for dinner where we had to choose which course we would take. The menu consisted of a beetroot soup, a beef tenderloin (I would say it was somewhat between 400 and 500 grams) along with rosemary potatoes and the desert was a freshly prepared Tiramisu. Again, the focus is not to provide Michelin-starred photogenic dishes, it‘s to provide authentic and low key food that everyone likes.
There are five rooms, two of them on the corner with windows on two sides. We had one in the entry-category which was airy and spacious. Generally said you are staying at your private holiday home so you won‘t be spending any time inside the bedroom as there are plenty of sofas and canapés around the house to linger and enjoy the sun coming through the huge glass windows. The bathrooms are equipped with a shower-/tub combo, a single vanity desk and a toilet and bidet. While they do provide toiletries in dispensers in the shower, there was also a set of travel sized toiletries to take away, which I think is a lovely touch. As you can already imagine, we could sleep with the windows open all night - the only noise was the glacier working its way down into the lake.
Time to get down to the facts, at these sky-rocketing rates of 1.200 USD a night for two (all inclusive to be fair - except alcoholic drinks, but one can combine it with a detox getaway) a flawless service is what you expect but bear in mind that the lodge is on a very remote place (if not the most remote in the world) and therefore it‘s hard to transport food, drinks as well as generate the energy, conserve the water and provide accommodations for the staff. 5 rooms is not a lot and this luxury needs to be paid. So it‘s not a place where everyone will be able to go, but if you are a total nature lover or you NEED to be separated from your beloved internet access, it‘s the go to place. You won‘t get that luxury of being unavailable in the Maldives, Seychelles or New Zealand.
We had the unique opportunity to be guests of Pato and her husband in order to write about the Aguas Arriba Lodge, one of the most unique places to stay on earth. However all above written expresses our own opinion and has not been influenced.