Ushuaia, Argentina is literally the end of the world - the southernmost tip of the South American mainland and the jumping off point for travelers heading to explore the great white continent of Antarctica.
The windswept landscape of the region captivates visitors with its austere beauty and stunning scenery around Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Beagle Channel, not to mention the many sightings of native species of penguins, sea lions, and whales along the way.
When it comes to accommodations here, there are many comfortable places to choose from -dozens of backpacker hostels and excellent mid-range accommodations are all available. But if you want to treat yourself to a bit of luxury and spa goodness (after all the epic hiking you've done), one hotel literally stands away from the rest and that's Arakur.
Set high on a hill on a private nature preserve, the hotel overlooks the city and harbor of Ushuaia below but is just a quick 5-minute shuttle ride to town. Arakur's striking organic design is as stark as the surrounding landscape itself, yet so comfortable in its use of natural materials found in Patagonia.
As you approach the hotel, you notice the exterior resembles the heavy metal shipping containers so common to the famous port city.
Inside, the hotel has a luxe lodge feel, with furniture and finishes made with raw hand-trimmed leather, heavy timber, natural stone and cowhides, that mix easily with mid-century design. Interiors and fixtures are sleek and uncluttered, and surprisingly warm and inviting.
(This also falls under "Design" but really deserves its own category.) I appreciate nice artwork in a hotel that fits with the environment and is tastefully displayed. But Arakur takes this to a whole new level, displaying the work of a talented artist on several walls throughout the hotel. The felted wall murals by the Argentinean artist Evelyn Bendjeskov are simply amazing in their size and complexity, each unique creation so large they become part of the architecture and fit seamlessly with the surrounding interior design.
Her two-dimensional felt creations reflect the Tierra del Fuego landscape in both color and texture, and are so stunning I wished I could have taken home a similar piece as a souvenir.
The hallway leading to our room enveloped us like a warm blanket with its low, soft lighting and delivered us to our Superior room - spacious and comfy - with a spectacular view overlooking the Beagle Channel.
There was plenty of room to stretch and relax, with a firm but oh-so-comfortable bed. There was a chair for reading and a window seat running the entire width of the window.
Our spa-like bathroom had double sinks, large soaking tub, rainfall shower, and a separate room for the toilet and bidet.
There are also USB and HDMI slots in the wall connected to the television - great for guests to preview their Antarctica or Patagonia photography shots on a bigger-than-ipad screen. For me, the view out the window couldn't be beat by anything on TV.
The hotel is built to maximize views from every room, whether yours overlooks the Martial mountains to the north or the Beagle Channel to the south - each of the 131 rooms has a spectacular view. Even our bathroom looked straight out over the water.
The pools at Arakur are undoubtedly some of the most amazing I've ever seen. Several large indoor pools and spas overlook the Beagle Channel through large glass windows, perfect for cold and rainy nights.
A swim-through channel from one of these pools leads you outside to a stunning heated pool overlooking the city, even more spectacular at night.
Two additional bubbling spas are next to the outdoor pool. There's also a kiddie pool and a full-time pool attendant (not a lifeguard) who will happily fix you up with a towel, natural juice and other drinks, and light snacks.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner can be enjoyed at Arakur's ground-level restaurant La Cravia.
We had dinner here and found the food and service to be exceptional. For those interested, there is a buffet so extensive you could graze for hours to your heart's content and never eat the same thing twice.
We ordered off the menu which was hardly limited, and were happy to find it printed in both Spanish and English. Starting with a bottle of Patagonian red wine set the stage for a great meal of traditional Chilean food prepared in new and creative ways.
There is also a Lobby Bar with a well-stocked bar, attended table service, and a piano - a great place to hang out after a full day of activity.
Hotel Shuttle Service
Arakur is set high on a hill and fairly remote - just getting to the bottom of the hill and the main road would be a hike. Thankfully, the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle throughout the day and into the night, which makes it easy to get around.
No Gift Store
I found it surprising and rather disappointing there was no hotel Gift Store for sundrees or souvenirs. Given the displays of inspiring artwork, hand-crafted jewelry, and cute little lamb sculptures all around the hotel, it was odd these were not available for sale. I would have loved to take home a small piece of work by felt artist Evelyn Bendjeskov or something else from my stay. I suggested this to the Front Desk Manager who explained that artist information was posted near any displayed artwork, though I only saw the artist's name and no contact information. Still, an immediate purchase opportunity would be far better for guests.
Bar Staff Training
We purchased a bottle of wine at the Lobby Bar along with some empanadas, and the wine was turned - which was no big deal and can happen anywhere. However the waitstaff seemed in a mild panic over this. After several phone calls, staff consultations, and nearly 20 minutes, we finally received a new bottle of wine. Overall, our service at the hotel was top-notch, but there were a few hiccups along the way that indicated to us their bar staff may need some additional training, or decision making authority.
As crafted as the hotel interior is in design and execution, the hotel's exterior appeared unfinished to us. There were spots with unfinished concrete edges and exposed ribar. Given the age of the hotel, there should have been enough time to complete outdoor landscaping no matter how minimal and stark the design may be.
We loved our stay at Arakur and wouldn't hesitate to recommend the property. It's not surprising that Arakur is consistently top-rated online at sites like TripAdvisor. The hotel design, overall service, and dining was inspired. For travelers coming back from Antarctica or on the tail end of their tour of Patagonia like we were, this sort of luxury does a body good. We're still dreaming about it!
If You Go:
Arakur - Cerro Alarkén 1 (Access Av. Heroes de Malvinas 2617) (9410) Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, Tel: + 54 (2901) 44 2900
This hotel is popular with group tours, so be sure and ask about any coinciding conferences, and any impact that may have on your stay.
We traveled as guests of Arakur and appreciate the introduction to this luxury hotel in Ushuaia. As always, my opinions are always my own.
Have you been to the end of the world or Antarctica?