Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The best luxury resort on turtle island


The only luxury resort option you should consider when going to Galapagos Islands is Pikaia Lodge if you decide to stay on land instead of on sea.  Some of you reading this post may suffer from sea sickness like me and this resort is really heaven send.  Again, because we are in South America, service and food standard isn't the same as what one can find in Asia or Europe.  With that said, there is plenty to like at this resort.

The architecture of the resort is really quite special.  It's located on top of a hill so you get a nice panoramic view of the area.  The rooms are basically divided into two parts.  One part has bed and living room area and the other part consist of a large bathroom with a walk in closet.  While I know my suite is very luxurious for Galapagos standard, there were a few odd decisions that the designer made.  One is the shower glass is quite small.  It protrudes about 3 feet from the wall.  So every time I take a shower, I have to put bath towels on the floor outside of the shower area otherwise the floor would be flooded with water.  Clearly the designer of the bathroom uses bath tub a lot more than shower as anyone who takes showers daily would have designed the shower area differently.  Another odd choice was to have a small circular dinning table tucked right at the corner of the living room.  The only way to get in and out of the corner is basically move one of the free stand alone arm chair out of the way or if you wear size zero jeans.  Lastly, the spa is very small.  It felt like an afterthought.  I think there was only one or two treatment rooms.  I got a massage once and I felt the whole set up was kinda chintzy and not luxurious.

The food at the hotel was good.  It was not Michelin star level good but it was a good resort food in a Four Seasons way.  If you stay at plenty of Four Seasons before, you know exactly what I mean.  The service at the restaurant was very good.  They try to accommodate you the best they can in terms of limited choices.  I thought the food manager was trying very hard and it definitely showed.  I appreciate her service very much.

There are plenty of things to see.  Depending on how long you stay, they have a whole calendar set up where you get plenty of daily activities and then some.  You are never bored.  I would say typically they take you to an island to see iguana or sea lion etc. in the morning, and then in the afternoon they take you to snorkel.  Pikaia Lodge provides the whole set up so you don't need to bring a wet suit or snorkel gear.

Pikaia Lodge has their own boat which from my understanding is quite luxurious.  Each room gets their own cabinet with a private bathroom.  If you get seasick easily, I would ask for the cabinets on the top.  I wouldn't exactly call the interior of the cabinet luxurious.  I would say it is functional.  Good thing is you have a charger next to bed so make sure you bring your phone chargers as there is plenty of photo ops once you land.

The biggest draw back of staying at Pikaia Lodge versus a cruise boat is that everyday you have to trek in and out of the island.  To go from the Lodge to ferry terminal, it takes about a good 45-50 minutes.  Then once you reach the ferry terminal, it takes another 20-30 minutes to get to Pikaia I boat.  So essentially you are spending three hours daily to trek back and forth before you even see anything!  If you are on a cruise, then obviously you bypass all that.  So it's really a decision of how easily seasick you get and if you need a large space to relax in.  My understanding is that the highest end of Galapagos Islands cruises are still not that luxurious (compare to what you get on Pikaia Lodge).  The only way to get something comparable to Pikaia Lodge on a boat would be bring your own luxury ship.  But obviously that would be very costly.

Overall, this is not the most luxurious stay I ever had at a resort.  With that said, I do think this is the most luxurious option available on Galapagos Island and I would not hesitate to recommend this place to friends and family.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The best hotel in the fable land of El Dorado



I had really low expectation coming to Colombia.  I knew it had a lot of drug trafficking problems in the past as well as kidnapping.  I heard it had been cleaned up but who knows?  I knew the best way to get home from my long trip in South America was taking the Avianca flight from Bogota to LAX.  Plus there are two Four Seasons hotels in town.  How bad can it be?

To my great surprise, Bogota was not bad at all!  In fact, I know for sure on my way to finally get to Machu Picchu someday, I will use Bogota as a jumping off point not Lima (since there is a nonstop flight from Bogota to Cusco).  Bogota is at 8,660 ft high so this is actually a good city to acclimatize oneself to high altitude before heading to Cusco at 11,152 ft high.  To give you a reference point, Denver is 5280 ft high.

But Bogota is more than just a convenient point for me to acclimatize before hopping to the dizzying height of Cusco.  I actually find Bogota a very charming town that I would recommend any of my friends to go to.  As stated earlier, there are two Four Seasons in town.  The Four Seasons Hotel Bogota is located at the business part of the city where as Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina is located at the fine dining section of the city.  For this review, I will talk about Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina.

If you always wanted to stay at a Four Seasons Hotel but never had the budget to stay at one, Casa Medina should be on your list as the rooms here starts from low $300s per night.  Their one bedroom suite is less than $550 per night.  You really cannot find a cheaper Four Seasons Hotel to stay at in the world!

I stayed at the Penthouse Suite which was where Mick Jagger stayed when he visited Bogota couple years back.  The suite is essentially divided into three areas.  You have a fully functional kitchen, a living room/ dining room combo, and a master bedroom.  There are two full baths in the suite so if you are traveling with kids, this can work quite well as the kids can sleep in the living room while parents sleep in the bedroom.  There is also a large walk in closet in the master bedroom and a large desk and chair in the entrance hall.  Because the hotel is a historical building, so central air is not allowed in the rooms.  However, Bogota temperature is quite similar to San Francisco meaning it's never too hot during day time and at night time temperature tends to fall to high 40s so the rooms stay relatively cool even without air condition.  My understanding is Four Seasons Casa Medina is still trying to install central air system so perhaps when you visit in the future, it would be installed.

I thought the location of the hotel was good.  Sure, it's not next to all the tourist trap areas so you can't just walk to different landmarks but it's only about a quick 25-30 minutes car ride.  I like the fact that hotel is actually in a fine dinning section of the city so you can stroll to many restaurants without having to hail a cab.  The food scene here reminded me of San Francisco ten years ago.  You can see proliferation of good solid restaurants popping up left and right and prices are definitely very very reasonable compare to San Francisco.

The staff at the Casa Medina was also some of the best I have encountered in South America.  The luxury tourism trade have not taken its roots here yet.  Having stayed at several "luxury" hotels in South America, the service standard is definitely below what one would get in Europe or Asia.  The Four Seasons in Bogota and Buenos Aires suffer the same fate.  Don't expect to have topnotch service as it doesn't exist in South America.  With that said, Casa Medina probably has the most polished service staff I came across in this part of the world with the exception of Awasi Patagonia which was better.

Overall I would highly recommend this Four Seasons in Bogota.  I find the service standard quite good, location ideal, and room comfortable.  I would not hesitate to return here again or recommend this hotel to friends. 


        

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Where to stay at the second highest capital in the world?


If you know your trivia, you would know the answer to the question: Quito.  Most people see this city as the jumping off point to Galapagos Islands.  I thought of the same thing as well.  But boy, was I wrong.

The only luxury hotel in this town is Casa Gangotena.  This boutique hotel used to be a private home for Gangotena family.  The house was rebuilt in the 1920s as the previous one was burn to the ground by a lover of one of the family's daughters.  The location of the hotel is perfect: right in the heart of this UNESCO world heritage site.  Quito is actually one of the first city to get that designation in 1978 from UNESCO and for good reason; walking around the historic downtown it's like stepping back in time to 17th century Spain.   

The location of the hotel is unbeatable if you are looking to immerse yourself with the Quito culture.  It's literally a stone throw from one of the most important church in town: San Francisco monastery.  In fact, one of the perks at staying at Casa Gangotena is that you can get a private tour of the SF monastery with one of the Franciscan friar!  The friar who took me around was so knowledgeable about the history of the monastery as well as Quito in general.  He was such a joy to spend time with.  Another perk staying at Casa Gangotena is you get free entry into Pre-Columbian Art Museum across the alley from the hotel.  Someone spend a lot of money on that museum as it's as well designed and finished as any museum in the world.  I mean we are talking about Getty museum level of finish.  Very impressive.

But back to the hotel.  The hotel public area is grand and stylish.  It retained its old world charm without looking dated.  The room I stayed in was their balcony junior suite.  It's probably the nicest room in the hotel.  They don't really have any presidential suites and the best they have is connecting two rooms via end of a hallway type of suite.  So not a true proper suite.  There is actually two Jr Suites on premise.  One is larger and in the back... presumably more insulated from noise from the street but also doesn't get as much light and does not have a balcony.  The Jr Suite with balcony is bright and airy with a nice large balcony to take breakfast in.  But its bathroom is right on the alley and sometimes when stores in the alleyway start to blast music, you can hear it right through walls and windows.  I ended up taking the Jr Suite with balcony.  Honestly, it's a bit cramped from what I'm used to and constant noise from the alley or other parts of the hotel makes me give this hotel a four stars instead of five.

Service is fine at this hotel.  I think there are some sophistication with their service ethics but it's not quite there.  The intentions are there but Four Seasons in Asia or Amans in general would blow this place out of water.  I would say the staffs are quite friendly but not anticipatory.

Food at this hotel is definitely better than any you would find in the historical center.  I had several meals outside thinking it would be better.  It wasn't.  Just eat in the hotel before you go out.  In this respect, it's very similar to Asia... meaning best restaurants tend to be inside luxury hotels.  The Sunday brunch at the hotel is quite lovely... they have a big spread of food.  The tasting menu at the hotel restaurant is not bad.  I would say it's slightly below bib gourmand level.  It's also quite cheap so one can't complain.              

Few precautions before coming to this hotel, because Quito is so high up, I would stay around the hotel for a day or two before start to seriously trekking around the historical center.  You can easily get altitude sickness if you go up and down this hilly historical area.      

Overall it's a lovely hotel.  But don't expect Four Seasons level luxury as it's not quite there.  With that said, my stay here was comfortable for the most part and I would recommend anyone coming to Quito to stay at Casa Gangotena.  One should stay at least a three full day if not four as there are quite a few things to see around Quito not just the historical downtown area.  Plus you need at least a day to adjust to the altitude.  Definitely leave the teleferico cable car ride to the day before you leave as it's over two miles high when you reach the top.  You definitely want to be adjusted to the altitude before you take the ride.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Exploring the Explora at Rapa Nui


Having read many tripadvisor reviews, I was somewhat intimidated about staying at this Explora.  This will actually be the first Explora hotel I have ever stayed at.  The only other Explora hotel I've been to in the past was Explora Patagonia.  I did not stay there but I would say the impression I have is it's a well run place but not particularly luxurious. Since this is probably the best reviewed place and looked like the most luxurious accommodation one can have on the island, I made the reservation and hope for the best.  Turned out my trepidation was unfounded.  Sure there is no in room service or all the activities were done in a group than individuals room, but those are the only none five star aspect of the whole experience.  There is much to be liked about this resort.

Once you get out of the chaotic Mataveri airport with your luggage, Explora is there to pick you up.  The resort is not in town but maybe only 20 minutes car drive from it.  It's a plus or a minus depending on your traveling style and preference.  I didn't care either way.  The check in process was smooth and I was in my room Raa Suite in no time.  There are basically two options.  One is Raa suite which is close to 500 sqft whereas the regular rooms are 350 sqft.  I would highly recommend the Raa suite as it gives you a bit more space to layout and chill.  I'm not a big fan of cramped rooms and 350 sqft size room to me is cramped.  The vanity is open to bedroom area.  There is a separate toilet room and a separate shower/tub room.  I kinda wish they would enclose the whole bathroom to give it even more privacy but exposing the vanity area makes the room feel roomier so I understand where the architect thought process was.

I do appreciate the architecture of the hotel.  It's a series of circles (ovals) stacked on top of each other.  Circular architecture is more expensive to build but feels more special and interesting imo.  In addition, ocean is on one side of the property and circular architecture gives more viewing opportunities for more guests to have ocean views compare to square or rectangular buildings.

Because how late I arrived, Explora took the liberty to assign me an activity for the following day which I was fine with.  The way how they structure the activities is you leave in your activity group around 9AM and you come back around 1PM.  Then you leave again around 3PM and come back around 7PM.  Of course this depends on the activity you are on.  You may leave a little bit later or come back a little bit earlier.  But in general, this is the schedule.  Everyday after your exploration, your guide will ask you what you want to do the following day.  So depending on what you choose, you may see the same people in your group. This forces you to meet people that you see in the dining room whether you like it or not.  I typically would prefer not to interact with other resort guests but I have to say I really enjoy meeting all the guests at Explora Rapa Nui.  One thing I find almost all the guests here have in common is everyone is very well traveled.  It makes sense as typically people start from big cities like NYC, London, Paris, etc. and then you branch out to more "exotic destinations" such as Rapa Nui island.  It was fun to trade experiences at various destinations/hotels as well as finding out more information on places that I will be going to in the future.  I have to say meeting other guests at Explora Rapa Nui was one of the highlights for me on the island.

Food at the hotel was surprisingly good.  Selection isn't extensive by any means but what they had was always fresh and well seasoned.  Nothing was bib gourmand level but everything was tasty.  However, I would say if you stay a week (which most people probably aren't), you will likely get tired of the food especially breakfast as they pretty much serve same breakfast over and over again.  If memory serves me correctly, they change their dinner menu every two days.

Internet is only available in the dining/ lobby area.  It was a bit annoying but I knew this in advance so I was prepared.  Other things that is worth mentioning is that they do have a nice pool area.  I didn't swim in the pool so I'm unsure temperature of the water but it was nicely designed.  The spa area is basically few rooms off to the side.  It felt kinda basic and I wish they would make it look better (ie staffed it with a reception desk, steam room, sauna room, etc).  None of those were present.  Masseuse is farmed out to local people and you have to call in advance.  There is no dedicated spa staff at the hotel.  The massage I had was good.  The treatment room was fine.  It didn't feel particularly luxurious (but wasn't shabby) and yet it was nice.  I definitely feel they could have taken it up a notch in terms of finishes.  But then again, the finishes of the hotel didn't exude luxury so I guess spa was on par with rest of the hotel.   

I was happy with all the guides I had.  They were knowledgeable.  Few of them were locals and you can feel the passion they had for the island.  I really enjoyed them retelling their forefather's history.  They were lovely... although one of them was particularly long winded...

Service was surprisingly good.  I thought the hotel management did a very good job of accommodating my requests big and small.  I felt they tried very hard and it showed.  I appreciate them going out of their way to do stuff for me.  I know some of the comments on Tripadvisor complained about the activities were very rigid.  But in reality is that if you want to see the sites on your own without a guide, the hotel is more than happy to call a car service for you and pay for it.  I wanted to go to lunch in downtown area.  No problem.  I want to see a dance show in town.  No problem.  They dispatched a car to take me there and back.  I want to do some shopping.  No problem. They took me to various shops and I even get to meet a local well known artist who does art shows all over the world.

I wasn't quite sure if I will like this hotel and being the first time staying at an Explora hotel, I was full of hesitations due to some of the negative reviews I read on Tripadvisor.  I'm glad to say I would be very happy to return to this resort.  In fact, I would be very happy to recommend this resort to friends and family.  Is this resort at an Aman level?  No. But with right expectations, this hotel is thoroughly enjoyable. 

   

Monday, December 18, 2017

The place to stay in Maui



Maui has two luxury resorts that one can choose from: Four Seasons Maui at Wailea and Ritz Carlton Kapalua.  But because Ritz Carlton is own by Marriott, the culture and finishes in the hotel is more Marriott like than smaller hotel luxury chains like Mandarin Oriental or Four Seasons.  For my first time visiting Maui, I stayed at Four Seasons Maui at Wailea.  I know this Four Seasons was recently renovated and I was curious to see how the finishes stack up to Four Seasons Lanai.

Unfortunately this Four Seasons resort is owned by Michael Dell (as in Dell Computer) not by Larry Ellison.  What this means is there is budgetary concern when it comes to remodeling.  Now of course it is unfair to compare this Four Seasons with the one on Lanai so I will hold the standard of this Four Seasons with other ones I've been to.

This Four Seasons has done many things right and just few things that needs some improvement.  To start, the layout of the hotel is a U shape.  What this means is that unless you are at the end of the U, or middle of the U, you will have side views to the ocean.  Not the end of the world but when one comes to Hawaii, naturally one wants to have ocean view to watch the sunset.  This shape of architecture is prevalent among many hotels here in Maui.  It's the easiest way to give everyone some ocean view while stacking up as many room as possible in a limited amount of space.  I'm sure it was thought through thoroughly by the building architect.  So if you want the best view, you will naturally have to pay a steep premium.  I do think for the product, the steepness of the price is on the high side.  A side note, if you want a quick access to the beach and restaurants, the rooms at the end of the U has the quickest access in addition to gorgeous views.  If you are at the middle of the U shape, it'll be a 10-15 minutes to trek to the beach.

My first impression of the lobby is nice and airy.  It exude graciousness like most Four Seasons resort I had the pleasure to stay at.  The overall ambiance is relaxed and calm.  There is actually another floor below the entrance which has spa, shops, and gym.  They have one of the nicer gym I've seen at a Four Seasons resort. It's quite large and there is a dedicated area for treadmills that look out toward the beach area.  Although I'm not sure if you can actually see the ocean from the treadmills or not.  I also did not use the spa service as I was too busy exploring the island.  So can't comment on the spa service either.

I would say food is Four Seasons good.  Meaning it's not bad but I certainly would not write home about it.  As can be expected, Spago was the best.  The worse food was Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante.  It has the best view of the ocean but I honestly cannot recommend anyone to eat there.  The pasta I had was overcooked and sauce was not good.  The in room breakfast was good.  There were lots of fresh juice choices.  A lot more than the Four Seasons at Lanai.  I think it's because Lanai has to import all their fruit whereas Maui has their own.

I stayed at the Elite suite which I highly recommend it.  Even though the website only has two bedroom or three bedroom options available, you can actually request for one bedroom option which is what I had.  The room was very modern which I liked and you can tell everything was quite new.  The finish of the furniture wasn't quite on the same level as my suite at Four Seasons Lanai but it was definitely one of the nicer suites I had at a Four Seasons resort.  The way this suite is set up, you can easily fit a family of four.  This suite actually has two full bathrooms so kids can sleep on sofa bed in the living room and have their own bathroom.  There is also a kitchenette with its own door that lead to hallway in case you decide to hire a caterer to host a party.  The master bathroom was basically lined with beautiful Carrara marble.  It looks very modern and luxurious.  The only criticism I have is that I wish the tub is a two person tub instead of just one.  There was definitely enough space to put a two person tub.  The best part of the suite was the lanai.  The sunset view at this resort is absolutely stunning.  Everyday I rush back to my suite at 5PM to take in the view.  The sunset view here definitely has Lanai Four Seasons beat.

You may have read that people complaint about having to rush down to the pool to reserve their chaise lounges early in the morning.  I find that a bit ridiculous as they should just do what Eden Rock does: each room comes with its own assigned chaise lounge.  I know this Four Seasons doesn't have enough chaise lounges for every room.  But I would think they should minimally assign chaise lounges for the residential suites.  After all, people at residential suites are paying a lot more than typical rooms at the resort and should not have to rush down early in the morning to snatch chaise lounges.  With that said, I don't particularly care for the swimming pool... I much rather go swim in the ocean.  The second best part of this resort is snorkeling with turtles.  I'm not sure why, the turtles come out en force to swim just right off the beach at Four Seasons Maui.  I must had swam with four five giant turtles.  One of them was bigger than me!  Crazy!  I can stay in that water swimming with those turtle for days.  But alas, all good things have to come to an end.

Unfortunately I had to say goodbye to this resort after five days.  I think if this was your first time at Maui, this Four Seasons is a terrific jumping off point.  The only thing that would give me any reservation about staying here would be the price. Vacationing in Hawaii is never cheap but the best rooms at this hotel will definitely cost you an arm and a leg.  Do look into their offers tab.  If you stay at a suite in the fall, you will get a nightly resort credit of $400 which will cover your breakfast and dinner (unless you get very expensive wine) during your stay.   
    

Friday, December 15, 2017

Four Seasons in Buenos Aires

 
This Four Seasons is one of those Four Seasons that I like but not head over heel for.  I do think it is difficult to operate an urban Four Seasons as the number of rooms tend to be higher and traffic is more mixed in terms of none staying guests going in and out of the hotel.  With that said, the only other luxury alternative is Faena Hotel and that hotel has its own deficit as well....so the choices is limited.

The location of this Four Seasons is very good.  It's at an area called Recoleta which is one of the best neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  The hotel is actually at the end of a very wide boulevard called Ave 9 de Julio.  In fact, it is the widest boulevard in the world.  The boulevard more or less ends next to the hotel and becomes a freeway.  Typically it wouldn't necessarily be a good thing to stay at a hotel next to the entrance to a freeway.  But in this case, somehow it didn't feel like a negative.  In fact, it might be a plus if you are looking to get in and out of the city quickly.  The Museo Nacional de bellas Artes is within walking distance from the hotel as well as the fame cemeterio de le Recoleta where Eva Peron is burried.  There are few other museums I didn't get to go such as Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo in the area.  Next time.

I can't say I particularly like the lobby at this Four Seasons.  Most Four Seasons go with clean line stately look with lots and lots of beautifully arranged flowers.  This one has an Eastern European fashionable look which is not my cup of tea.  It doesn't mean the lobby is ugly but just not my taste.  The Belle Epoque-style mansion on the back of the hotel is quite nice.  The mansion is connect with the hotel via a podium.  The podium level of the mansion serves as event space.  I did a walk through of the space and wish the lobby of the hotel is in the mansion.  The look is much more gracious to me and in keeping of typical Four Seasons style.

I stayed at the Mansion-view one bedroom suite.  Above this would be rooms in the mansion which has rooms decorated in traditional style which I didn't want for my stay at Buenos Aires.  The owners suite looks quite nice but it's close to three times as much as the mansion-view one bedroom suite and it's only 200 sqft bigger.  It does seem to have a fabulous view though.  I was plenty happy with the one bedroom suite I had.  I love that they have two separate bathrooms.  It's always a plus in my book.  The finishes in the living room and bedroom is nice.  The bathroom looks new and water pressure is good.  The closet was a bit on the smaller side.  It was a walk-in closet but it's a one person walk-in closet so that should give you a good idea of the size.

I had dinner at the Elena restaurant.  I really enjoyed it.  I thought the decor was on point.  I love the black and white marble tiles.  I can just imagine people doing tango on top of it!  It just feels very Argentinean.  I had a steak which was perfectly cooked.  Tip: Remember in Argentina, medium rare means medium well.  If you want medium rare, order rare.  There are lots of local Argentinean in the restaurant which is a great sign.  You know locals can go anywhere and they decided to patronize Elena so you know it's good.  Indeed, it's one of the top three meal we had in Buenos Aires.

The hotel concierge is fabulous and they arranged for me to go to Colonial in Uruguay, an estancia in Pampas region, and a tango dinner at Faena Hotel.  I would highly recommend the tango dinner.  The food, as can be expected, was just ok.  The dancers and choreography were out of this world.  It was so good.  I feel like I should take up tango for cardio exercise!  I didn't get to visit the hotel rooms at Faena hotel.  The decor of the public area of Faena I do like.  It's modern but in a French not Eastern European way if you know what I mean.  However, this hotel has two drawbacks for me: the room decor feels borderline tacky from pictures online and the hotel is in the Puerto Madero area which isn't exactly close to tourist attractions.  Hence I was happy I had chosen Four Seasons over Faena.

When I go back to Buenos Aires, I would definitely stay at Four Seasons again.  This place is at a great location.  It has delectable food at its signature restaurant.  The service standard is good although it can be better.  I do wonder since I am in South America not Asia, the service here is probably as good as it gets.  And what score would Bruno Tonioli have given to this Four Seasons? I say a solid 8.        

Monday, December 4, 2017

Luxury in Patagonia


Patagonia, for the longest time, isn't exactly the place where one can find a luxury resort.  Instead, it's about hiking, camping, wind, and gorgeous views.  Thank god that Awasi came along and set up "camp" near Torres del Paine.  Otherwise I don't think I would have ever come to this part of the earth.  While I never stayed at Explora Patagonia before, but having visited it briefly and seen various pictures online, I feel I had made the right choice for me by staying at Awasi Patagonia.  I will go into the difference I see between the two resorts so you can decide better for yourself which is more preferable for you when you come to Patagonia.

Location: Awasi Patagonia is located outside of Torres del Paine National Park.  In fact, it takes about an hour or so to get to the entrance of the park and another half hour to get to where most hikers take a boat out to start the W-trek.  So this is the dilemma for visitors: to stay at Explora Patagonia which is right in the middle of the park or to stay at Awasi and take the daily car ride in and out of the park.  It really depends on what you are looking for.  For me, Awasi Patagonia is a perfect location as I can look directly onto the famous three towers every morning when I wake up and when I go to bed (sun is up until 10PM at this time of the year).  The decision is similar to when one go to Bora Bora in French Polynesia.  Do you stay at the foothill of  Otemanu or do you stay at islets and look at Mount Otemanu.  Most people would argue that when going to Bora Bora, they want the Otemanu view from islets.  To me, this is no different.  Since I'm not an avid hiker and my purpose to come to Patagonia is so I can get photos for my instagram account (joking), Awasi was a better choice for me.

Lodging: Awasi wins hands down.  The rooms at Explora Patagonia is small.  The largest room is 450 square feet and those get booked up very quickly.  Then you are left with a tight 300 square feet rooms.  No thanks.  I get that coming to Patagonia, you are not going to stay inside all day.  It's about experiencing the nature outside.  However, when I do decide to stay inside, I want to feel comfortable and not claustrophobic.  At Awasi, every independent lodge (read lots of privacy) is 1200 square feet.  Not only it's substantially bigger, the furnishing is also much much better.  Explora Patagonia looks like a nice dorm room with a bathroom that 1990s are calling and they want it back whereas Awasi Patagonia looks like a proper luxury resort bathroom.  With that said, I had issues with my shower temperature during my four night stay going from warm to hot to warm to hot which was annoying but not a deal breaker.  Management was never able to fix it during my stay.  Talking to other guests, they didn't have the same problem so I guess it was just bad luck for me and hopefully they fixed the lodge I stayed quickly before another guest arrives.          

Food: The food at Awasi was exceptional for a resort in the middle of nowhere.  I was really impressed with the plating and taste of the food.  I would say food was around bib gourmand to one Michelin star level (closer to one Michelin star).  Chef used lots of local ingredients and service was friendly but not intrusive.  In fact, I would say restaurant staff here were some of the very best I've encountered anywhere at a resort setting.  They found out your habit and things will magically appear without asking.  I like to drink ice tea with my meal and after the first meal, I never had to ask for it again during my stay.  That gives you a glimpse of the amount of personal attention one gets when one stays here.

Guide: I was very happy with my guide.  He drove me everywhere and anywhere I asked.  We went to Torres del Paine national park as well as many other places outside of the national park.  I like the idea of having my private guide.  He caters to my schedule and not the other way around.  I know at Explora Patagonia you are put in a group and you are on a schedule.  So if you are stuck with people like me who barely hikes, then too bad for you... we are going to hike at a turtle pace.  Having a private guide, I can sleep in and start my day at 11AM.  I never have to cater to anyone else's whim except my own.  This is the way luxury travel should be.

Facility: Awasi Patagonia has one single main building where you can lounge or take in food.  Unfortunately there is no spa facility and if you want a massage, a masseuse will come to your lodge.  There is a firewood hot tub next to your villa.  Yes, you read that right, literally firewood.  The idea is great.  How often does one actually get to sit inside of a tub of water that's warm by firewood.  On the other hand, if you come here during windy seasons (spring, summer, fall), then there is a good chance the wind is too dangerous for them to lit up fire under your wooden tub outside.  To me, the idea of firewood tub is cute and romantic, but someone forgot it's really really really windy here in Patagonia ALL THE TIME (except winter as I was told).  A jacuzzi tub powered by electric makes much more sense IMO.

Activities: I stayed four nights and five days.  It was the perfect amount of time for me.  The first day was just arrival.  Currently LATAM flies to Puerto Natales on Tuesdays and leave on Saturdays which fit into my schedule to a T.  If you arrive at Punta Areanas (which LATAM flies to daily from Santiago), then you will have to take a 5 hour car ride after you land whereas Puerto Natales is hour and a half from the resort.  Much more doable IMO.  The second day I spend the whole day inside the Torres del Paine and saw waterfalls (with crazy strong wind), Lake Pehoe, lots of guanaca, and various mountains .  The third day I went to Baguales area which is about an hour and a half away from the resort.  Apparently Awasi rents access to this area from various owners and they are the only resort in the area has access to the very end of the road where I saw a profusion of dandelions.  It was stunning.  Because this area is private, you don't see hoards of tourists like Torres del Paine has.  The fourth day, I went to Grey Lake inside the Torres del Paine National Park.  Unfortunately the wind was so strong that day they cancelled the boat tour to glacier.  I did see some icebergs and you can see the glacier from afar.  My first time.  The last day was time to pack up and go back to civilization.  So five days was perfect.  If you only stay three nights, you will have to miss some stuff.  If you are very into hiking, then you will need easily eight nights nine days if not longer.  For a city slicker like me, four nights and five days was perfect.    

Overall, I was very happy with my choice of lodging.  Honestly, if you are looking for luxury lodging options in Patagonia, this is the only choice.  In fact, this place is reminiscent of experiences I have at various Aman resorts.  I would not be surprised if the owner of Awasi is an Amanjunkie.  If you stayed at Aman resorts before, you know they give you little gifts nightly.  At Awasi Patagonia, they do the same.  Also everyone here knows who you are just like at Aman resorts.  They know your preferences and you never have to repeat yourself over and over again like when one stays at those big anonymous Starwood properties.  If you are totally gung ho about hiking inside the national park all day and everyday you are here, then I would probably recommend you to go to Explora Patagonia despite their inferior lodging and food.  If you are looking for a true luxury experience with varied destinations beside Torres del Paine national park, then Awasi Patagonia will be better for you.