The reigning champion: Since 1993, Explora’s Hotel Salto Chico (pictured below)—in the heart of Chile’s almost 600,000-acre Torres del Paine National Park—has been the area’s go-to upscale hotel experience, based on a model of “luxury of the essential”: comfortable rooms, locally sourced food and wine and an overarching eco-minded philosophy. The 49-room lodge fosters camaraderie, and guides lead cocktail-hour discussions on such topics as glaciers and pumas after chatting with guests about the following day’s excursions, each more visually stunning than the next.
The challenger: Opened in late 2011 in a former cold-storage and sheep-processing plant after 10 years of renovation led by Chilean designer Enrique Concha, the Singular Patagonia (pictured below) is modern and minimalist, with concrete ceilings and panoramic glass windows offering five-star views of icy fjords. Although the soaring two-level dining room and bar, led by a Paris-trained chef and bartenders practiced in the perfect Pisco Sour, is the star here, the well-planned excursions afford unforgettable experiences like horseback riding with gauchos and mountainside condor-watching treks.
Verdict: Food lovers will appreciate the Singular’s expansive menu—Magellan lamb, guanaco—and wine list, and its gentler excursions go easy on hangovers. Still, location is everything, and it’s tough to beat Explora’s hyper-personalized upscale-camp feel in the center of Patagonia’s most postcard-ready landscape. Cozy rooms with unreal views, strenuous excursions rewarded with Baileys-spiked coffee atop massive rock formations and friendly, knowledgeable staff make up for the fact that the meals and the wine, though immaculately prepared and selected, could stand more variety. You’ll be too exhilarated from the day’s 12-mile hike, followed by a soak in one of four lakefront Jacuzzis, to care.