Patagonia is at the rim of the world.
It’s so remote that being here feels like you might finally find that hygge life that everyone's talking about, or maybe just some much-needed time away from your ever-buzzing smart phone. We found both at The Singular Patagonia.
To get to The Singular we fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas (about 3.5 hours) and then drive north (about 2.5 hours) to Puerto Natales, a small port city founded with the purpose of cattle breeding. The Singular is located just outside Puerto Natales on the water in the middle of the Patagonian fjords.
What is now a luxury hotel was once a sheep processing and cold storage plant. Built in 1915 and called Frigorifico Puerto Bories, the plant was the largest business in the area, employing over 400 workers and processing more than 250,000 sheep per year.
The plant eventually closed in the 1980s, but was recently reopened as a design hotel by a group of Chilean entrepreneurs who had family ties to the original building.
Because the building is a historical landmark in Patagonia, much of the hotel maintains its original post-Victorian industrial architecture. The hallways between the guest rooms and common areas are dedicated as a museum with all of the plant's original equipment on display.
The hotel has 57 modest guest rooms with panoramic windows looking out to the fjords, a waterfront spa with a heated indoor/outdoor pool, and a gorgeous three-story restaurant and bar area that was once the general store at Frigorifico Puerto Bories.
Our first morning starts in the restaurant where towering exposed brick walls, old-fashioned bronze lamps, rich upholstered furniture and a massive crackling fireplace makes us feel like we’ve taken a step back in time.
Unsure whether it's 1920 or 2017, we snuggle up in upholstered armchairs and stare out at the fjords while we wait for coffee and warm almond croissants.
At 9:30am we are properly carb & caffeine-fueled so we walk to the front of the hotel to meet our guide for our all-day excursion: hiking the Water Track.
Our guide’s name is Umberto – he’s Chilean, and he’s lived all over Chile and Brazil as an adventure tour guide. There are two other travelers in our group – a Chilean couple from Santiago who are celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary. We drive an hour into the Torres del Paine National Park and start our hike from a trailhead at the bottom of the mountains.
Umberto seems to like to do things his own way – he does the Water Track in the reverse direction, meaning you have a steep hike up the mountain at the beginning instead of downhill at the end. It’s more challenging, but it feels good to move our legs after so much travel the day before.
Once we reach the top, we have a spectacular 360-degree view of Torres del Paine Park. Fairytale-like mountain ranges soar to the sky, grassy pampas stretch as far as you can see, and ice fields drip into massive glacial lakes.
The air is so pure that you can see the mountains perfectly from 50 miles away. Umberto points to fickle Old Man’s Beard Lichen growing on the bark of the birch trees we hike by and tells us this is the true test of air quality because this lichen will only grow where there is zero pollution.
You feel it when you breathe in – something in your brain says, “Oh, this is what oxygen is supposed to feel like.” Breathing is just easier here.
While breathing might be easier, life in Patagonia is harsh with violent, unpredictable weather. In some ways the landscape looks like a war zone with half the trees on their sides, roots up in the air, rotting and twisted from strong winds, forest fires and life-draining parasites. Combined with a backdrop of enchanting fjords, this place is hauntingly beautiful.
We learn more about Patagonia as we hike with our Chilean friends.
Despite it’s remoteness, Patagonia has an important history. It was initially inhabited by native tribes and then later “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 during his famous expedition.
Legend has it that Magellan called the region Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) because as his ships approached the shores, he and his sailors saw tiny flames across the land, which were actually the bonfires of the native Onas tribe. Legend also has it that the region was later called Patagonia because Magellan’s sailors found large footprints of the Onas men in the snow (Pata-gon means ‘big foot’).
Magellan’s expedition was significant at the time – in addition to proving the world was a sphere, it opened up an alternative trade route for the Spanish with Asia to source spices and other goods.
He successfully navigated from the Atlantic Ocean through Patagonia to a body of water he called the "Pacifico" because the waters were so calm when their ships reached it. From that point onward, the Strait of Magellan was the sea trade route used to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
The Patagonian city of Punta Arenas became an important point of commerce until the early 1900s when the Panama Canal supplanted the Strait of Magellan. Afterwards, the region shifted gears to rely on sheep farming, and now, tourism.
From the top of the mountain, we continue hiking through mossy forests and grassy fields for a few hours. We get to know the other travelers in our group – alternating between English and Spanish and sharing stories and opinions about each of our country’s politics, cultures and lifestyles.
While we chat, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for pumas, guanacos and condors. Umberto tells us if we see a puma to “stay really still and take a photo.”
Around every corner another stunning view of the Torres del Paine range appears. Each time a new perspective. Along the trail we find one of the last remaining bushes of Calafate berries this season and we eat them right off the vine, staining our mouths purple for the rest of the hike.
By 7pm we arrive back at The Singular totally exhausted. My Fitbit says we’ve walked 28,886 steps and more than half of it up a steep incline. We drag our tired feet back to our room, throw on swimsuits, robes and slippers, and then saunter down to the spa.
That first dip into the heated pool feels like we’re soaking away impending soreness. We dive under the pool’s glass window and pop our heads up above the water on the other side and we feel the crisp, clean Patagonian air hit our cheeks.
We stay outside until our fingertips are shriveled and then dive back indoors to rinse off and wrap ourselves in cozy robes. Now it’s back to the room to get ready for dinner.
Dinner at The Singular might be our favorite part of our entire day. The dark wood and brick in the restaurant are perfectly balanced with warm lamps and a crackling fireplace. Tables are filled with guests who have spent the day exploring and are now sinking into their chairs with glasses of wine in their hands. There are no cell phones – people are actually talking to each other (gasp.)
Chef Laurent Pasqualetto focuses on serving fresh, seasonal food sourced in Patagonia from local growers and fishermen. His menu features fresh cheese from local cattle, king crab and salmon caught in the Patagonian waters right outside the hotel, and cocktails made with Calafate berries that were picked that very day.
It’s a beautiful and rare thing in today’s over-processed world to get to live like this…spending the day in nature where the air is cleaner than anywhere else in the world and then eating fresh food from that very same place that evening.
Forget juice cleanses and boot camp – this is our kind of detox.
We order a cheese plate as an appetizer with two glasses of Chile’s prized Carménère wine.
For dinner we each have a massive grilled Patagonian steak with papas bravas (potatoes) seasoned with merkén (a spicy Chilean pepper) and (a lot) more wine. We end with a super decadent dulce de leche layer cake.
We move from the restaurant to the bar and stay there talking about our day until bedtime. Once we’re back in the room we’re pleasantly surprised to find the floors are heated and someone has turned them on while we were winding down at the bar. We collapse from exhaustion and too much wine. Tomorrow we repeat.
Chile is a REALLY long country, so getting anywhere like Patagonia requires a domestic flight. The flight from Santiago to Patagonia is about 3-4 hours and you’ll want to fly to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales depending on where you are headed and the flight schedules. Airline options include LATAM and Sky Airlines. We couldn’t find flights to Puerto Natales in March, so we flew to Punta Arenas and then drove 2.5 hours up to Puerto Natales.
Your travel style and wallet are really going to dictate where you stay in Patagonia. You’ve got every option from pitching your own tent to dropping $2,000 a night to stay at one of the finest 5-star hotels in the world. We saved on hotel costs in Santiago so we could splurge a little in Patagonia and experience the region from a design-focused hotel.
The Singular Patagonia
This is the best design hotel in Patagonia for those who aren’t planning to camp or stay in budget lodges. It’s a splurge for sure, but we truly think it’s worth every penny. We stayed at The Singular for 3 nights under the full board plan, which included transfers to and from Punta Arenas, our room, access to the spa area, all excursions, and all meals & non-premium drinks (Side note: We know this is rarely the case at all-inclusives, but the non-premium drink options are great here. We didn’t spend an extra dime on drinks). If you don’t want to splurge for the full board package, you can stay on a bed & breakfast or half board rate and pay for things a-la-carte.
Rates start at around $360/night for bed & breakfast, $550/night for half board (includes almost everything except excursions), and $1,470/night for full board.