Situated in southern Chile, Torres del Paine conjures striking images of untouched beauty, with towering mountain peaks, rugged plains and vast lakes. For as long as I’ve been working in the travel industry and planning trips to Chile, I have wanted to see the beauty of Patagonia for myself. Top of my bucket list has always been glamping in the Patagonian wilderness and, thanks to the amazing EcoCamp Patagonia, my dreams finally came true.
Last year, I had the opportunity to spend five days at the camp on their ‘Wildlife Safari’ package, with all meals and excursions included. It was out of this world.
When you travel, selecting the right hotel can make a huge difference to your experience and take your trip up an extra notch. Nowhere is this truer than Torres del Paine. In a place like this, it’s not just about the usual considerations like comfort, food and service - it’s also about connecting with nature and sharing a once in a lifetime experience with fellow travellers. That’s where the EcoCamp comes in.
Built in 1999, the EcoCamp was the world’ first geodesic dome hotel – and besides creating a beautiful hotel that’s in keeping with the landscape, the owners have implemented a marvellous, 100% sustainable setup. The whole camp is solar-powered with compostable toilets.
Taking inspiration from the philosophy of the indigenous Kaweskar tribe to ‘leave no trace’ – staying here is good for you and for the park itself. And if you need one more reason to make the journey – it’s the ONLY HOTEL inside the national park where you can fall asleep under the stars and wake up in nature’s playground, ready to explore with no travelling needed.
I arrived in Punta Arenas in southern Chile, where the drivers from the EcoCamp were waiting to pick me up from the airport. A stay here includes airport transfers, and you can also get a pick-up from Puerto Natales and El Calafate. This takes all the hard work out of the trip.
The journey takes about five and a half hours by road, with stops at the Milodon Cave and Puerto Natales along the way. The stunning scenery made the time fly by, so sit back and watch the world from your window.
The trip to Punta Arenas can feel long after the flight from the UK, so we recommend a few nights in Santiago, the capital of Chile before flying south to Patagonia.
I arrived at the EcoCamp late in the afternoon, and they showed straight to my unique dome room. I also took a tour of the community, restaurant and bar domes, surrounded by incredible views on all sides. Your stay at the camp includes three meals a day - a buffet breakfast, a packed lunch and a delicious three-course dinner that features Patagonian and Altiplanic cuisine. The wine with your evening meal is included, while the rest of the drinks are payable locally.
There are three standards of the dome at the camp, but the set-up is glamping with a focus on proximity to nature and sustainable tourism. I stayed in a Standard dome with a shared bathroom, but there is also a Superior dome and a Suite dome, both of which have private bathrooms. If you’re a solo traveller like me, you can stay in the shared dome with another traveller, so there’s no single supplement to pay. This is a real bonus.
All electricity at the camp is generated sustainably via solar panels, but there is limited electricity throughout the camp. There’s LED lighting on the walkways between the shared domes and the main hubs, but on particularly dark nights I asked for a torch so I could see to walk back to my dome.
My standard dome was the most basic, so there is no heating and no electricity apart from a couple of small LED lamps by your bed. But before you panic, I was travelling in March (Patagonia’s autumn) and the dome never felt cold. If you like reading before bedtime, you’ll probably have to do this in the community or bar domes which have power and places to charge your devices and camera. Alternatively, bring a head torch and read a book tucked up in bed.
Inside, the domes have a compact, cosy and rustic interior with comfortable beds. The highlight for me was the skylight right above my bed! Every night it felt like falling asleep under stars, and in the morning I would wake up to the most stunning view of the iconic Three Towers. The shared bathrooms were always clean, and there are hot showers with biodegradable toiletries.
On arrival, I met with the other travellers who had booked the ‘Wildlife Safari’ package, as I’d be sharing excursions and meals with them over the next few days at the camp.
Each morning at breakfast, I prepared my own packed lunch and chose my option for dinner. Usually, there was a fish, meat or vegetarian option accompanied by a starter and Chilean wines – all included. All the meals were delicious, so there’s no need to worry about going hungry on this trip!
At dinner, you choose the treks for the following day. There are always two options, an easy and a hard hike. I’m not into super-difficult treks, so I chose hikes of different difficulties and lengths every day. You can choose between bike rides, guided nature walks and all types of trek, so there are plenty of options. No matter what I picked, I was never disappointed. All along, I was impressed by the knowledge of the guides and stunned by the beauty I was witnessing around me.
Your guides will help seek out the wildlife as you explore Torres del Paine, and we saw guanacos, foxes and Andean deer on our adventures. My five-day tour including cycling to Laguna Azul, a trek to the base of the grey granite towers and a navigation up to the incredible Grey Glacier. We also sailed across Pehoe Lake and hiked around the western lakes and French Valley.
Whether or not you’re a seasoned hiker, I recommend the trek to the Three Towers. Although it’s quite challenging, it’s one of the most famous and beautiful walks that you can take in the park, if not the world!
Some of the treks offered are part of the well-known 5-day ‘W’ trek circuit. The beauty of doing the ‘W’ trek through EcoCamp is that instead of camping in tents, you get to come back to a cosy dome and a delicious dinner in the evening. If you want to complete the whole circuit, you can do this through Ecocamp, spending your first and last nights in a dome and the four nights of the trek in refugios (mountain chalets). This way, you’ll share your experience with a group of like-minded trekkers.
Overall EcoCamp was an exhilarating experience that surpassed all my expectations. Philosophically, it is set up to encourage visitors to understand the detrimental impact tourism can have on a landscape, to minimise the damage and to increase the benefits through carefully planned accommodation and tours. It’s one of those rare places that I feel like I could go back and visit over and over again.
There are many accommodation options inside Torres del Paine National Park, and some of the best hotels in Chile are here, so there’s something to cater for most styles and budgets. The cheapest way to visit Torres del Paine is to stay three hours away in Puerto Natales and take day tours into the park, but my advice is to stretch your budget and stay inside the park. If you’re looking for immersion in nature, I would always pick this unique property.
While the EcoCamp isn’t the cheapest stay and the standard domes might sound a bit basic, you always have the option to upgrade, and no other hotel lets you feel like you’re living amongst nature. This is a rare opportunity to visit a stunning part of the world in a unique and unforgettable way. Perhaps book into a superior or suite dome if you want more comfort, make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime journey, feel part of nature, and embrace its beauty. Once you experience the park, you’ll appreciate the value of minimising the impact of your stay. After all, no holiday should disrupt or alter the balance of nature!
If you’re interested in visiting Chile and you’d like to stay in the EcoCamp, we can tailor-make your Chile holiday to include a stay here. We’ll also advise you about the most suitable dome for your trip, and suggest places to visit in Torres del Paine. We can arrange your flights and suggest ways to include Patagonia in a multi-stop ticket so you can visit other destinations in South America or further afield. To start planning your trip, call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.