Sustainability as the keyword of a lifestyle that we don’t want to give up, not even on holiday. Patagonia is ready to help us with this and awaits our visit.
Let’s start with the meaning of sustainable tourism, as defined by the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization): “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.
What better place than Patagonia to put this into practice? In fact, the main attraction for tourists here is nature, i.e. the resource that is most at risk if exposed to careless exploitation. Over 65% of visitors to Chile chose Patagonia for this reason. It is no coincidence that in 2010 the Chilean government decided to invest heavily in tourism, declaring it one of the country’s strategic activities and also promoting green certification to facilitate a responsible choice on the part of tourists. This policy was also shared by regional administrations.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the almost obligatory places to visit when you plan a visit to Chile and Southern Patagonia.
We begin with Punta Arenas, which competes with the Argentinean city of Ushuhaia for the record of the world’s most southerly urban centre with over 100,000 inhabitants. The capital of the 12th Region of Chile, of the Magellan Strait and the Chilean Antarctic is not only the home of an airport where flights arrive every day from Santiago, but also the main destination for all those who want to explore its environmental treasures.
From here you take a public bus through Patagonian landscapes to the attractive village of Puerto Natales on the banks of the Ultima Esperanza Sound, which despite its rather unreassuring name allows you to reach the Bernardo O'HigginsNational Park via sea, the largest protected area in Chile, covering 35259 square kms. Here you can see the Brüggen Glacier and the largest ice fields in the southern hemisphere outside the Antarctic: a natural wonder that is best seen from the sea.
The O'Higgins National Park borders another Chilean park: theTorres del Paine. It is not the country’s largest national park, but it is definitely the most visited. Over 242,000 hectares of mountains, glaciers and pampas, where the three granite towers of the Torres del Paine not only give the place its name but are the very icons of the park.
Patagonia is an extremely appealing destination for tourists and obviously requires suitable accommodation structures, both from an architectural and environmentally sustainable point of view. Here are three hotels, each of which in a difference way, but with great care and responsibility, offers a truly unforgettable stay.
The Hotel Awasi in Tercera Barranica delicately fits into its setting and stands out for its visual and material dialogue with the landscape. The complex has a communal area with spaces for the reception and restaurant, and following the model of widespread hospitality, twelve huts distributed across its territory. The architecture is inspired by the vernacular model of refuges and has been created with local manpower and traditional materials. The orientation of various units is according to the great natural spectacle: the Torres del Paine, the boreal forest and Lake Sarmiento.
Also on the banks of Lake Sarmiento is another hotel that appears a 200 metre-long monolith with a shape that recalls fossilised wood moulded by the unceasing wind of Patagonia: Hotel Tierra Patagonia designed by the Cazù Zegers architecture studio. The hotel is almost invisible when you arrive, because it becomes one with the majestic landscape of Chilean Patagonia, drawing its strength from this symbiosis that also extends to the dominating interiors, like the external facades, made of typical lenga wood and of autochthonous, locally-produced materials.
The third hotel is EcoCamp Patagonia, the first geodesic hotel in the world, certified according to ISO14001 standards for its Environmental Management System just 11 km from the Torre del Paines base camp. The EcoCamp architecture follows the shape of Kawesqar dwellings, the homes of the original inhabitants of the area. It is a mixture of igloo and dome that naturally conserves energy. The design has a low environmental impact, further improved, by its raised nature that does not pose an obstacle to local fauna, with integrated composting toilets, renewable energy sources (like wind and water) and reduced waste. It is an ideal space from which to explore the national park on horseback or on foot.
These are just a few suggestions for those who dream of visiting Patagonia and there is plenty of literature on this part of the world. We would like to end our journey with a quotation from “Patagonia Express” by Luis Sepùlveda, the great Chilean traveller and writer, who when writing of the life of the gaucho, a figure as legendary as the Patagonian landscape, wrote: “And this sky? And all these stars? Are they are another of Patagonia’s lies, Baldo?” What does it matter? In this land we lie to be happy. But none of us confuse a lie with deception."
Punta Arenas - grayleen / shutterstock.com
Strait of Magellan - Ksenia Ragozina / shutterstock.com
Torre del Paine - Yonguit Kumsri / shutterstock.com
Hotel Awasi - Fernando Alda
Hotel Patagonia - Courtesy of Tierra Patagonia