South America

Off-the-radar lodges of Latin America

Vaya Adventures founder Jim Lutz shares his short list of distinctive lodgings in seven Central and South American countries and why these relatively undiscovered gems deserve a visit.

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Hotel Refugia – Chile

Situated on the Chiloe archipelago in Chilean Patagonia is an avant-garde, 12-room luxury hotel created of local materials to blend with an off-the-beaten-track landscape dotted about with houses built on stilts. While few people know about this region or include it in their trip to Chile, colonial-era wooden churches in Achao, Chonchi and Quinchao are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Titilaka Lodge – Peru

Boasting stunning modern design embellished with local folk art, this hideaway sits on a private peninsula on mythic Lake Titicaca in the high Andes, with four acres of grounds and two private beaches enjoyed from 18 lake-view accommodations, wrap-around terraces and a private jetty. The lodge offers outstanding packages that include meals and excursions to local cultural and historical sites, such as Taquile Island and nearby towns and villages.  

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Hacienda Zuleta – Ecuador

This restored 17th century country estate on 4,000 acres in an Andean valley two hours from Quito is owned by the family of two former Ecuadorian presidents. The working 14 guest room hacienda features a dairy and cheese factory, a trout farm,  an embroidery shop creating exceptionally high quality textiles, and a stable of Zuleteño horses available for guests to ride. Active in conservation and preservation, the hacienda surrounded by native forest has its own Andean condor recovery project. As guests dine at night on organic cuisine (much of it from the hacienda itself), the staff places hot water bottles swathed in embroidered cases in guestroom beds while lighting the in-room fireplaces.  

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Cristalino Jungle Lodge – Brazil

This is one of the very few places in the region that successfully manages to combine first class design and comfort with a first rate ecotourism and wildlife experience.  The River Cristalino provides the only access (by boat) to the lodge, which offers bungalows built of wood, with cool ceramic tile flooring. One highlight is a 50-meter observation tower that rises over the forest canopy.  A large number of endemic species such as the white-cheeked spider monkey, red-nosed saki, cryptic forest falcon, crimson-bellied conure and black-girdled barbet can be found only in this area of the Amazon.

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Estancia Cristina – Argentina

Established over 100 years ago and among the oldest pioneer ranches in Patagonia, this property offers accommodations for 20 guests in five first class cabins on a lake adjoining Los Glaciares National Park. The lodge is accessed after a two-hour boat ride from El Calafate. From here guests may explore the 35-mile-long Upsala Glacier, the largest glacier in South America, winding off of the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap.  The wilderness here is so expansive it defies the imagination.

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San Agustin de Callo – Ecuador

Very few people think of Ecuador as a destination for visiting Incan ruins but this unique property actually lets you stay in the remains of an Incan palace.  The hacienda was built in the early 18th century right on top of Incan ruins, the northernmost in South America. Entire stone-walled rooms from the original palace still exist, including what are now a chapel and the main dining room of the hacienda.  

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Hotel Santa Teresa – Brazil

A Relais & Châteaux property, the Hotel Santa Teresa is a first class boutique hotel built on the grounds of a former coffee plantation in the historic Santa Teresa district of Rio de Janeiro.  The neighborhood is known for its charming European Bohemian feel offering a quieter, more refined side of Rio. The hotel has a unique, relaxed ambience, with lush grounds, lounges, and pool.  All rooms offer spectacular views of the harbor and Guanabara Bay.

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Pacuare Lodge – Costa Rica

A model for eco-lodges worldwide, the Pacuare Lodge overlooks Costa Rica’s Pacuare River surrounded by pristine jungle. Guests are housed in cozy bungalows and elegant suites. This lodge combines luxurious details with rustic simplicity. There is no electricity in the guest rooms, although they do have hot water. Guests typically arrive to the lodge by rafting the Pacuare, rated one of the world’s top whitewater runs, though it is also possible to arrive via 4×4. The area also offers horseback riding, bird watching, canyoneering, rainforest canopy tours, and treks to a local Cabecar Indian community.

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Casa Palopó – Guatemala

Nestled in the hills surrounding Santa Catarina Palopó, a Mayan village northwest of Guatemala City, this villa overlooks Lake Atitlan and its three magnificent volcanoes Toliman, Atitlán and San Pedro. Each of its seven tastefully appointed rooms feature unobstructed views via private terraces. The hotel offers an excellent restaurant, library, spa services, and solar-heated pool. The area is ripe for exploring. Along the shores of Lake Atitlán are a dozen Indian villages where life and customs have changed little over the centuries.

Vaya Adventures

Off-the-radar lodges of Latin America

Vaya Adventures founder Jim Lutz shares his short list of distinctive lodgings in seven Central and South American countries and why these relatively undiscovered gems deserve a visit.

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