South America's top lodges and hotels

Author: Kendall Hill
Photography: Courtesy of Ikaterra Hacienda Urubamba

Direct flights from Sydney to Santiago - and, more recently, Auckland to Buenos Aires - have put South America in easy reach of Australians. But once you've ticked off the continent's star attractions (Rio, the Amazon, Patagonia), where to next?

Look north, for starters. Colombia has shrugged off its drug-addled past and emerged as a model for the 21st century. World Heritage-listed Cartagena is surging in popularity as a long-weekend getaway for North Americans; more intrepid travellers are venturing to the interior to discover the urban wonders of reinvented Medellín, the ethereal beauty - and coffee - of the Cocora Valley, and cool neighbourhoods in the capital, Bogotá.

Keep an eye also on Chile's Elqui Valley. It's a place of grapevines (this is Chile's pisco-producing heartland), picturesque villages, "healing energies" - hence all the yoga and meditation retreats - and astrological observatories. Stargaze from bed at the glass-roofed Elqui Domos (

Peru's Sacred Valley and Lares regions are drawing keen interest, according to Alex Burridge, managing director of the South America Travel Centre. A new road and lodge at Huacahuasi have opened up Lares to non-trekkers while, in the Sacred Valley, there's flash new accommodation at the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba ( and luxury adventure group Explora has this month opened a 50-room lodge with spa (

Glamping and hot-air ballooning are set to become the hottest tickets in the Atacama Desert thanks to Abercrombie & Kent, which launched both experiences this year.

Praful Albuquerque of Natural Focus Safaris says the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil are becoming popular for their "excellent jaguar sightings". "Another great wildlife destination that is slowly picking up is Guyana - English, not French," he says. "The accommodation here is very basic but the wildlife viewing is five-star."

Burridge nominates Mashpi Lodge and Hacienda Zuleta in Ecuador for authentic, immersive experiences where the food is homegrown (Zuleta has its own cheese factory) and the culture is palpable. Places that take time and effort to reach - such as Chiloé Island off Chile's coast, and Cristalino Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon - are increasingly appealing, he says. "With South America's growing popularity you have to make a little more effort to discover something new."

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