Conservacion Patagonia

Visit to the Future Patagonia National Park 

Magestic Guanacos

Alpaca-Patagonia-Loomis-Luggage

image: Loomis Luggage

We recently had the incredible fortune to be invited to stay at the Future Patagonia National Park, created by Conservacion Patagonia. Staying in a new national park before it opens to the public was one of the most incredible experiences and we wanted to share some of it here.

To get to the Park, it is best to fly from Santiago, Chile to Balmaceda, Chile. From there you will begin what is a 5-8 hour drive on winding, dirt, mountain roads. The drive itself is one of the best drives, I would argue, in the world down the famed Carretera Austral. Four-wheel drive vehicles are necessary.

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image: Loomis Luggage

Food options are limited along this route. To be precise, they are limited to this vehicle; a bus repurposed into a hamburger stand. Service can be quite slow and the translations on the menu are a bit terrifying. But it’s hot food and quite the experience.

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image: Loomis Luggage

Who doesn’t love a good “You eat friend with sausages?”

Lake near Marble Caves

image: Loomis Luggage

Impossibly blue lakes appear out of nowhere as you crest over hills on dirt roads. Pictured above, Lago General Carerra, one of the many views along the way, is the second largest lake in South America.

Marbe Caves- Loomis Luggage

On this lake you can visit the Marble Caves. There are signs everywhere along the lake for boats that take you on the hour + ride to the caves. It’s hard to miss. Puerto Rio Tranquillo, where the lake and caves are, is one of the only towns you pass and it’s advisable to fill your car up with gas there. The view as you pump your gas is pretty exquisite, as you can see below.

Marble Caves Lake 2

image: Loomis Luggage

As you continue along on the drive you will encounter a very curious thing– a mini Golden Gate Bridge! Coming from San Francisco this was pretty fantastic. If only the waters of the Pacific were glacier blue and you could stop in the middle of the bridge to take photos!

Golden Gate Bridge

image: Loomis Luggage

And then, right as the day was coming to a close, we entered the Park. Restored grasslands and Guanacos grazing at sunset mark your arrival into this beautiful and expansive territory.

Guanacos

image: Loomis Luggage

The view below, from our windshield, was a welcomed one. The Park’s main structure, gorgeous, greeting us as we arrived.

 

The View from our Windshield

image: Loomis Luggage

We took in this pink sky at sunset as we walked to dinner at the main lodge. The meal was prepared with care by the Park’s sensational chef from San Francisco, serving food grown on the property.

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image: Loomis Luggage

No detail was left unattended to in the Lodge. The rooms were well appointed and luxurious with a very classy yet comfortable  feel. It reminded me of a Patagonian version of the Greenbriar.

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image: Loomis Luggage

The next morning we woke up to a homemade breakfast of wonderful fresh baked breads, jams, incredible butter (and I consider myself a butter connoisseur, see Cotswolds post), eggs and cereals. We prepared to explore the park, though it was difficult to step away from the family room of the Lodge.



The Lodge

image: Loomis Luggage

Our first hike took us up steep mountain ascents, down towards lagoons you could swim in (if you like the temperature of glacial water) and provided us with sweeping views of both Chile and Argentina. We also had a view of the towering Cerro San Lorenzo, the second tallest peak in the Patagonian Andes. 

Hiking day 1

image: Loomis Luggage

We had to ask ourselves many times, “Is this Patagonia or St. Barths?” Water simply is more beautiful in Patagonia.

Tropical Patagonia

image: Loomis Luggage

The day was not complete without a stop at the Argentine border, filling up our water bottles in the stream (you can drink from streams without worry) and heading back to the lodge where fresh baked muffins and a glass of cold white wine was waiting for us.

Republica Argentina

image: Loomis Luggage

The only way we could reconcile coming in from that spectacular hike was the fact that we were able to kick up our feet at this magical spot. 

Lodge at Future Patagonia National Park - Image CP

image: Conservacion Patagonica

The sun sets over the park. 

The Sky Outside the Lodge
image: Loomis Luggage

Our crew happily fed at a Patagonian Asado.

The Group

image: Loomis Luggage


We would encourage anyone who loves the great outdoors, conservation and stunning natural landscapes to make the trip down. Volunteering at the park is possible as well as visits, with advanced coordination.

Shortly after we left, the Park experienced one of the most devastating fires in that geographical’s history.

Volunteers will be welcome and appreciated in the months and years to come!

Email: heather@loomislugage.com with questions.

South Beach: Top Three Things to Do

Antoine Rose- Miami Beach Up the the Air Series

 

image: Antoine Rose, Miami Beach Up in the Air Series

We wrote about South Beach last year– and here is the update

#1. Place to Stay: THE SLS

The SLS boutique luxury hotel opened just about one year ago in South Beach. It is fantastic for just about everything. The nightlife is superb with Katsuya restaurant and their poolside lounge Hyde Beach. They also have a giant silver rubber duckie guarding the pool. If you are in the mood to wander over for the day, sit by the pool and get a bite to eat, here is your view.

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image: Loomis Luggage

Even better, let’s say you are getting a little warm. And you would like to cool off and have a drink, but it’s only 10:30 AM. Well, try a Margarita or a Mojito ice pop in an adorable polka dot serving cone. Quite refreshing!

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image: Loomis Luggage

The accommodations are upscale with an ipad in each room. And it is said that many of the rooms have mirrors on the ceilings… While that’s not necessarily a selling point, that pink and white cabana stipe pillow may be.

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image: SLS

#2 Place to Eat: Restaurant Michael Schwartz at the Raleigh

The Raleigh is quintessential Miami. We wrote about it in our last 2012 post, Guide to South Beach Miami. We recommend the new Restaurant Michael Schwartz. Seating is right alongside their iconic pool with cuisine from the James Beard award winning chef. We would recommend this as a fantastic lunch spot with a raw bar, snacks and full meals. We enjoyed the Kale Caesar and the Local Fish Ceviche.

The Raleigh

image: Jetsetter

I also tried to recreate an amazing drink we had at Herringbone Restaurant in La Jolla, California (highly recommended). It was called the ‘Health Food’ with gin, fresh celery, arugula, pressed lemon and carbonated water. I asked the Raleigh for a Green Juice from their Juice Bar Cafe with a shot of Vodka. It was just about perfect.

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image: Loomis Luggage

For dinner we recommend Casa Tua. It is fantastic. You dine in what looks like an enchanted garden. It is great Italian food. We weren’t seated until Midnight and we came to love their in-restaurant all while lounge area — the bartenders created some interesting cocktails and shots for us. Other hot places to diner are Ola (Seafood and Ceviche) and Yardbird (Upscale Southern).

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image: Casa Tua

#3: Place to Sip and Relax: The Standard

The Standard is the perfect venue to relax. It is off the main strip of South Beach, on the bay not the Ocean. The Spa and Yoga classes there are incredible- probably the best in South Beach. They also offer classes in Stand Up Paddle Boarding. Their restaurant, Lido, is the perfect place to eat before you put on your tiny south beach bikini. We loved the sprouted grains and organic green salad with quinoa and lentils with avocado and a carrot ginger house vinaigrette. They also have an amazing juice bar and the boutique on their grounds has amazing and unique bikinis.

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image: Loomis Luggage

Miscellaneous

We took our annual call me maybe shot at the Delano.

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And what is better than a monogrammed sunhat in South Beach? A monogramed sunhat with a little Aussie underneath in it in the Shore Club Lobby.

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Cartagena: Best Places to Stay

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Cartagena is an incredible combination of history, architecture, incredible luxury and crystal clear waters. Getting to Cartagena’s best Caribbean beaches involves a yacht-bound mission that’s best for the more adventurous or sea loving. To visit this place feels like an intriguing combination between Buenos Aires, Mykonos and Panama City.

Loomis Luggage explored the best hotels in Cartagena to bring you our top recommendations. Each recommendation is within the walled city. We do not recommend staying outside of the walled city, unless you venture to the islands. All images Loomis Luggage unless otherwise noted.
Casa San Agustin
Casa San Agustin
Image from: Casa San Agustin
Casa San Agustin is incredible. It feels like an old estate house in Cartagena. Rooms have exposed stone walls and four poster beds. Our room had a stunning stone spiral staircase complete with thick a rope, reminiscent of a castle, leading up to a gorgeous sitting room, main room and expansive stone and tiled bathroom. The room itself is grand, with exposed beams and an incredibly high ceiling.
Casa San Agustine
Image: Casa San Agustin
You are sent to bed after your night on the town with meringues and card wishing you Buenas Noches. Breakfast in the morning is included and consists of a full spread of freshly baked breads with many different jams, butters, custom made egg creations, pancakes and of course bottles of French Champagne to pair with your Caribbean fruit juice.
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The stunning pool which spans a signifigant portion of the first floor area is a stunning blue. It lends a very romantic and mysterious air to the already incredibly romantic hotel. It is grand- but not in an opulent way- in a tasteful way to preserve the original archetecture and feel of this incredible place. X Factor: Very strange and deep dreams at Casa San Agustin.
Tcherrassi Hotel and Spa
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With only 7 rooms this boutique, the Tcherassi Hotel is a 250 year old Colonial Mansion turned into chic modern get-away for the jetset.
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As you walk in you are greeted by a refreshing green drink in a Champagne glass. Ladies are given a present which for us consisted of a whimsical white belt created by Colombian born high fashion and hotel designer Silvia Tcherassi. As you check in, you have the chance to peer into the courtyard with meandering pools and a vertical garden with over 3000 types of local plants. At night this poolside transforms into a glowing blue and is a great place to have a Caipirinha or Hookah before dinner.
Elle once described the style of Silvia Tcherassi as ‘tempting’. In a way you can describe this hotel in the same way. It’s similar in clientele to El Otro Lado in Panama, but unlike a place of rest and relaxation, this is a place to see and be seen. The glamour and vibe is more akin to the SLS Los Angeles than a remote beach getaway.
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Image: Tcherassi Hotel
The drawback are as follows: The rooftop pool is quite small. While the hotel boasts a spa, it is really not a spa. It is a couple of rooms where you are able to have treatments.
La Passion
Door to La Passion
Image: La Passion
La Passion is an eight room boutique hotel. As you walk though the pale blue doors marking the entrance to La Passion you are brought into a the grand stone lobby. The first time we walked into La Passion they were filming a telenovela in their eclectic sitting room.
Image: La Passion
The hotel does not allow children, adding to the intriguing air of the place. The two things which set La Passion apart from other boutique hotels are the monumental granite stairway in the entry which was imported from Italy to Cartagena centuries ago and the expansive rooftop pool and terrace overlooking the city. The pool is one of the largest in Cartagena and certainly the largest relative to the number of guests who would be able to use it.
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The restroom from the rooftop terrace was really quite spectacular. We do love attention to detail. This hotel is not as expensive as the Tcherassi or the Casa San Agustin. The drawbacks here would be that is lacks the glamour of the San Agustin or the Tcherassi. In addition, the bed is a bit hard.
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Other hotel recommendations:
Agua Hotel Cartagena: This is fancy, well established and chic. Make sure you also make reservations at their island hotel on Isla Baru. You do need to give them a week’s notice to book this.
Santa Clara: This hotel has stunning rooms. It is very large. We saw multiple weddings and a conference here during our time here. From our perspective, this is the most luxurious place if you are 65 from Dallas, don’t like exploring boutique hotels and would be willing to pay up in price for an experience you know is safe and more catered to tourists. The suites are gorgeous but are lacking in some of the quirky charm of the boutiques. They do have a very cool bar which is guarded by men in traditional Colombian dress with gas lanterns outside reminiscent of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Most Luxurious Place in Panama

The Best Destination in Panama

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Our top two choices in Panama for a beach vacation were the untouched San Blas Islands — very rustic and undeveloped or a stunning private retreat near Portobello National Park called El Otro Lado. We decided on the latter.

El Otro Lado, Private Retreat
Question: What do you do if you want to take a vacation– but one person wants an adventure and the other wants to sit on a gorgeous beach and sip on boat drinks by an infinity pool all day?
Answer: You go to El Otro Lado. This is a good spot spot for people who would like a jungle adventure — without compromising luxury or seclusion. Typically to achieve that type of profile you would need 18 hours of air travel, various doses of malaria pills and a scary ride in a plane that formerly belonged to Russia. However, getting to El Otro Lado is a bit more simple.

The View of El Otro Lado from Portobello Bay

Getting There

To get to El Otro Lado first you must get to Panama City. This is a 3.5 hour direct flight from Houston, Texas. From there, El Otro Lado will either pick you up or you can rent a car and drive 2 hours from the International Airport to Portobelo though a combination of smooth paid highway and country roads. Note: driving in Panama is an adventure in itself. If you don’t speak Spanish I wouldn’t do it because chances are extremely high that you will get lost and need directions at some point.

 

Arriving at El Otro Lado:

Once you arrive in Portobelo you need to get out a map. And not one with street names. But one with pictures that looks like you are hunting for a buried Pirate’s Bounty. And, metaphorically, you are. Directions like, ‘go straight at the big building’ and ‘walk next to the escuela de ritmo and there you find the little boat dock that will bring you to your private retreat’.
A 5 min boat ride will transport you to El Otro Lado. We were were greeted with fresh papaya juice (from the papayas on property) and promptly met the three well-trained well-manicured house black labs. Given the personal touch of this private retreat, check-in consisted of eating fresh ceviche and drinking Papaya Mojitos as we marveled at the interior decorating of the clubhouse. The decorating style should not make sense… yet it works perfectly.
It’s like Africa meets Lilly Pulitzer meets Vogue.
Another guest, who had just returned from deep sea fishing, was intrigued by the fact my husband brought his fly rod. As we discussed the incredible clubhouse decor he commented that the same designer had done his estate in Panama City– but with a lot less pink.
Gorgeous yet funky dinner settings at El Otro Lado
The Layout   
There are four separate houses for guests. Three of the four are for two people and one larger house is for four people. Guest houses are painted in aqua with white trim or in turquoise with purple cabana stripes. They have white lattice work around the roof and a wrap around porch with one side facing the sea and the other backing up to the jungle.
You have a proper desk in your little house. Inside the drawers are bird, orchid and fish maps to identify rare species in daily viewing.  Chic white beds and sofas stand in-contrast to the vibrant and colorful artwork in the room. The modern bathroom has polka dot accents and the shower feels like you are outside.
 
White linen towels embroidered with their name ‘El Otro Lado’ were a very calming site for someone native to Connecticut. There was a modern white cube sitting on the bedside table that seemed to be useless until I clapped and the time appeared. Flat screen TVs, iPods fully loaded with different “El Otro Lado Mixes” sitting on Bose surround sound docking stations add modern flair to the artistic house.

View from the Private Beach, Woman not Included

What to Do? 

During your days you can chose to lounge by the infinity pool, as pictured above. It is here you watch boats sail by in Portobelo Bay which, centuries ago, was a vibrant port and the non-fictional basis for modern day tales of Pirates of the Caribbean. The staff to guest ratio ensures you are never without a a cocktail (ask for the Loominescence– a banana colada which we named on our last night… and used all of the bananas). And if you need to get up and walk around, grab one of the pareos neatly folded as you step out of the pool. It brings a little Nantucket elegance to this Central American retreat.

For the Adventurer

If you are interested, there is a wide range of activities are offered such as: a hike through the jungle with a guide (who has a machete that was put to good use), boat trips to private beaches for the day, kayaking and, my favorite, art classes.

View of the Bay from an Evening Boat Cruise
After spending a week at the retreat we could say definitively that El Otro Lado is an incredibly unique, relaxing and adventurous place to vacation.
For another favorite spot, check out New England in the Winter

Panama: What to do In Panama City

The City of Panama

 

Where to Stay

There are three main places to stay: Casco Antiguo (pictured above), the New City (Panama City) or Playa Blanca (the beach just over the Panama Canal).

Casco Antiguo:

It’s a mix between New Orleans, Buenos Aires and Charleston, South Carolina. It has a lot more charm than the New City of Panama City- but less modern amenities and luxuries. The best place to stay is Casa del Horno and the best place to eat is Las Clementinas. People also recommend eating at Ego– see a New York Times restaurant review. As for shopping, there is an adorable shop of true artisanal items for your home interior from Panama, Karavan. The items are incredibly high in quality — feels like a more authentic version of Serena and Lily. The owner is a friend and one of the most intriguing people we have met on our travels- a serious adventurer. Even if you do not stay here, Casco Antiguo is a must see.

The New (Panama) City:

The main part of the city. It is where most business, restaurants and hotels are. The best place to stay is at the Bristol Hotel. It’s one of the “Leading Hotels of the World”, walking distance to the best restaurants– you can’t go wrong. You are greeted by men in traditional colonial dress with panama hats. The old-school dining room is one of the few places which still adheres to a formal dress code- even for breakfast.

Playa Blanca:

The is the place for people who want to see the city — but don’t love cities. Playa Blanca is right over the Panama Canal– a straight shot from the airport. But get off the highway and you hear an amazing sound– nature buzzing all around you. The air smells so wonderful, amazing actually, and there are street signs that look like this. Ah, should we drive up that?

As far as accomodation, the Intercontinental and the Westin are 100% sterile, borderline cheesy and a bit overpriced– but you are 10 minutes outside of the city with giants infinity pools and a piña colada. That makes up for a lot of bland decoration.

Where to Eat in Panama City

The food is not amazing in Panama. As for restaurant recommendations in the New City, while we didn’t find it to be the case, many people consider La Posta to be the best restaurant in the city. Market, La Trona and media Luna are good.

View from the Outside of La Posta