Puyuhuapi Lodge & Spa review
Thermal hot springs in the wilderness of Patagonia, Chile
The Quick Read: Set on a sheltered fjord, Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa is Chile’s most exclusive thermal spring resort, nestled in temperate rainforest overlooking snow-capped mountains and untouched islands and with just 30 rooms. The Aiysen region of Patagonia has been called the world’s last undiscovered wilderness, and Puyuhuapi’s location is spectacular, at nature’s extremes, where native trees cling to the thin soil, prey to winter storms, and plants – including a dizzying array of ferns – survive against all odds.
This is a wilderness experience but with the trappings of a luxury hotel – warm rooms, good food, spa treatments – it’s a perfect place to rest and recuperate in nature. Interpretative nature walks, kayaking, or trekking in the lovely Queulat National Park, the region’s key attraction, are all on offer, or just curl up in a squidgy sofa with a good book in front of the ever-changing view.
Who it’s best for: Puyuhuapi Lodge and Spa would suit nature-lovers who like a spa with an adventurous twist and anyone seeking reconnection, rest and recuperation.
It’s a popular weekend retreat from the city for Chileans for families and couples who love its mix of hot springs and outdoor activities. It typically attracts more spa goers than spiritual seekers – or those seeking a rest from the road. International visitors (mainly German and Swiss) reach their peak in January, and Chilean families predominate in February.
With the lake in front and dense rainforest behind, balconies and boardwalks, it’s probably best for families with children aged eight and up, although children of all ages visit. There’s a special kids’ pool in the spa catering for babies and toddlers, and high chairs in the restaurant.
What you can do: Daily activities are offered as part of all-inclusive packages. There are two interpretative nature walks on the property and you can kayak around the fjord. It’s also a great base for exploring the neighbouring Queulat National Park. Various treks are offered, including a 20 minute or three hour walk to a viewpoint above the Hanging Glacier, though the Enchanted Forest, and a day hike in search of pumas. Kayaking excursions are a great way to see the fjord.
But people also visit Puyuhuapi for its famed thermal hot springs. The three outdoor thermal hot springs and Jacuzzi are the most atmospheric and can be visited anytime (they’re electric lit from inside the pools at night). You can scrape the mineral-rich mud from the original natural pool for an impromptu face mask.
A thermal hydrotherapy pool with water jet, Jacuzzi, loungers and a swim up bar (that serves fresh juices in summer) takes pride of place in the split level wooden spa, with great views over the fjord. A cold pool, a cool kids pool (for toddlers and babies) are set around it, and two raised Jacuzzis have uninterrupted views of the fjord. White plastic chairs and a few sun loungers are dotted around the edges.
The spa offers a range of treatments (massage, deep tissue, hot stones, reflexology, lymphatic drainage) and a range of thalassotherapy experiences. The Puyuhuapi Mud Wrap combines mud from the walls of the natural hot spring, with Puyuhuapi seaweed and sea algae, while the Puyuhuapi Massage combines three different techniques (relaxation massage, deep tissue and Thai massage).
A yoga teacher is in residence in high season (from November 15th to March 14th). Yoga classes are held in a room with a panoramic view over the fjord and there’s also a small gym with a view.
Where you stay: The main lodge is made of shingle (from the local alerce tree) and glass, with castle-like turrets. It houses the homely lounge with squidgy sofas – a favourite place to sit, admiring the view through large windows, near a log fire. A small cosy bar lies opposite, and both lead through to the restaurant with the best tables overlooking the fjord. A spiral staircase beside the bar leads to the upper lounge. A single computer lies beside the stairs – if you seek connection with the outside world, as there is no wifi or mobile connection elsewhere. However calls can be made or received on room landline phones.
There’s a bit of a dolphin theme with wooden dolphin table stands, up-turned dolphin tails as stools and sculptures of penguins designed by a French artist living in Chile are scattered throughout the hotel, and dolphin prints are found on some of the walls. The 28 rooms and one suite are in three main blocks, Viento Pueluche, Viento Norte and Viento Travesia. All have showers and bath tub, twin or king size beds and balconies overlooking the fjord.
Viento Pueluche is right on the lake. It is the least expensive, with communal balconies – not screened and private – and slightly smaller, but still pleasant, rooms. Viento Norte tucked behind the main building further up the hill, is the most modern building, with the next best views. The latest to be built, it has the most modern rooms with private balconies, although Viento Travesia’s superior rooms have new bathrooms and wooden floors. Its lovely Captain Suite, up in the tower, has the grandest view of all. It’s definitely the best room, and offered as a free upgrade to honeymooners.
How was it for us: After three weeks of travelling in Chile, my partner Nick and I were in need of a rest. We arrived by boat and walked along a fern-dappled path to Puyuhuapi’s three outdoor thermal pools. Our favourite was a natural grotto encircled by ferns, where hot water trickles through the foliage from the stream above. Later, soaking in the steamy jacuzzi, shielded from view by the trees, but right on the water’s edge, we drank in a view of snow-capped mountains and rainforested islands.
In our enthusiasm, we had underestimated the strong effect of the hot water – 37 degrees was chalked on the blackboard – which coupled with the minerals from nearby volcanoes meant my body felt as heavy as lead. I barely had the energy to go to dinner, and I slept like a rock – for ten hours!
With no TV, wifi or phone connection, it’s a place to switch off and open yourself to the beauty of nature: hummingbirds and kingfishers flit around, dolphins are regular visitors in the bay, and at night, the rainforest is alive with singing frogs which sound like castanets (or as if they have indigestion!).
The next morning, we kayaked out into the bay, and around the forested islands. I started to feel my tension slipping away. Spotting a sea lion coming up for air life became simple again, about enjoying the moment. Landing on a rocky shore, a red-breasted native chucao bird hopped up to say a friendly hello.
Joining an hour long interpretative nature walk gave us a deeper appreciation of the nature surrounding us. Puyuhuapi is the kind of place you may even discover a new insect species, as one guest actually did, or find fresh droppings in a Puma’s lair.
The spa’s signature thalassotherapy treatments were heaven-sent – my therapist Francisca easing my stiff leg muscles with deep Thai massage.
By the third day, Puyuhuapi had worked its magic on my monkey mind, and I felt able to do nothing. As I moved from the bed to our private balcony, wrapped in a blanket, I watched as the fjord shifted from grey to green, translucent to cloudy, rippled to still as a pond, and as clouds, then sun, played on the surreal snowy mountains.
What we took home: A stay at Puyuhuapi reminded us how much we enjoyed natural adventures and we vowed to spend more time doing that together, as well as making more of the healing power of water. The housekeeper wafting a homemade herbal smudge stick through the corridors reminded me to do some space clearing around my own home.
Would we go back: Yes. When I left Puyuhuapi, I felt strong and healthy, although a bit fatter, after indulgent three course lunches and dinners. I dream of going back in winter to write that yet unformed novel in front of that stunning view.
People watch: Francisca, the massage therapist, was excellent – but staff do change according to season, so she may not be available when you visit.
Food watch: The food is a highlight here. Although it may fall short of gourmet cuisine, it’s tempting and tasty. By necessity, in this remote outpost, much of the fresh food in the restaurant is locally sourced, and much of it organic. Salad leaves are grown on site, most of the fish comes fresh from the fjord, and the hotel smokes some of its own carefully-sourced salmon.
The day starts with a good buffet breakfast (not so usual in Chile) – the fresh fruit and local smoked salmon are great, but there’s even scrambled eggs and bacon if you want it. Lunches and dinners are three courses with fixed, and tempting, menus, offering a fish or meat option. Think an entrée of fresh scallops, followed by turkey steaks with sweetcorn mash for lunch and tiramisu for dessert. Although there isn’t generally a vegetarian option, they can cater for special diets if booked in advance.
If you’re on an all-inclusive package, there’s an open bar with selected drinks, including decent Chilean wines, bought direct from the vineyard. Tea and coffee are always available, including local herbal tea bags. A dark chocolate appears on your pillow every evening.
The food is quite rich, and usually comes with sauces, so it may be worth ordering a packed lunch if you just fancy a sandwich at lunchtime.
What’s lowly: The spa is of its time and needs modernising, and the outdoor pools a bit of attention.
Insider tip: Chilean people don’t have western ideas of a retreat as a tranquil place so, if that’s what you’re after, plan your trip off peak, or mid week.
Price with a companion: A three day all-inclusive package costs from £925pp, and £230pp for each extra night. The package, which begins on Saturdays and Mondays, includes a full board stay in a Double Superior Bay View, with open bar (wine and selected drinks), guided excursions to the Queulat National Park, use of hot spring pools and spa facilities, transfers from Coyhaique/Balmaceda Airport (connects with specific flights). Begin the program any day/flights for a £65pp supplement.
Price going solo: A three day all-inclusive package costs from £1,404, and £345 each extra night.
Value for money: It may seem pricey but, considering everything is included, even the long transfer from the airport, and given its exclusive position in nature, it’s good value for money, especially for couples.
Reviewed by Nicki Grihault
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