Whenever I travel, I am always on the lookout for places or organizations that are truly upholding the spirit of conservation. EcoCamp Patagonia hits the nail on the head. The staff at this incredible camp, nestled in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile, is working diligently to continuously minimize the camp’s footprint while supporting Patagonia ecotourism.
The moment EcoCamp Patagonia comes into view, it is obvious that every effort has been made to make the lodge as inconspicuous as possible. It is a collection of domes based on traditional huts of the Kawesqar (ancient Patagonian nomads). These domes are green, which hides them within the landscape and makes it difficult to know just how many people there are at the camp.
When our Natural Habitat group first arrived at EcoCamp, we were greeted by a small army of staff members ready to take us along the boarded walkways to our domes. The entire camp is covered in small boardwalks that keep people from treading on the delicate landscape. Each dome is raised up on a platform to make it possible for wildlife to pass easily underneath. From the amount of Andean wildlife that can be spotted right inside the camp, it is easy to see that this design works. It also means that if the day ever comes when the camp has to pack up and exit the area, it will leave little trace of its former presence.
Once we arrived at our dome—warm and inviting with sunlight pouring in through the large window panel—our host gave us a short tour. He showed us how to use the en suite composting toilet, which conserves enormous amounts of water. Next to it was a small propane heater, which a staff member turns on, upon request, while the guests are at dinner. The shower was filled with biodegradable products. The living area had a small wood stove, but we were warned by our guide that we would be best served to not have that lit.
Boy, was he right. The sun more than heated the dome during the day, and the three-layer weatherproof system that the dome was built with kept the heat in and the rain and wind out. Lastly, our host showed us where our one power outlet was located. He warned us not to use a hair dryer, since they suck more power than the camp’s hydro turbines and photovoltaic panels can supply, but there was more than enough to charge our cameras and iPad batteries each night
So that was it; we were “roughing it” in the height of luxury. No hair dryers and no Wi-Fi, so obviously for dinner we would just crack open a can of beans and heat it over the propane heater in the bathroom, right? Wrong. EcoCamp really does help you forget that you are in the middle of nowhere, especially when you eat your first gourmet dinner in the community dome. The same hydro turbines and photovoltaic panels that power the domes also power the kitchen, where culinary wonders are created each night by chef Claudio and his staff. One evening, our group had the pleasure of meeting with Claudio and the restaurant manager, Sebastian (acting as a translator), to hear about how the magic happens in the EcoCamp kitchen.
All food is sourced locally and nothing is wasted. It was fun to see how the chef would repurpose ingredients for his different recipes from one evening to the next. The menu was creatively designed each day with three appetizers, three entrées and three desserts, catering to whatever types of diets the current guests adhered to.
Beyond all that fun stuff, EcoCamp’s food waste composting system is their pride and joy. The staff is more than happy to give guests a tour of the composting system, upon request. All of the bio-waste from the camp is held in tanks and then treated so it can be fully used as compost for the camp’s gardens, as well as the nearby pig farm from which they source their pork products. The treated liquids are able to soak right back into the ground.
EcoCamp is one of only two lodges in Torres del Paine National Park that does not use a generator for electricity or natural gas for running its refrigeration and heating. EcoCamp Patagonia has been a carbon-neutral company for almost a decade, and it is the only lodge in Chile or Patagonia to be certified as complying with the highest international standards of environmental management.
If leaving no trace is your goal, then there is no doubt that EcoCamp is the right place for you to stay when you travel to Patagonia. If you are lucky enough to see a mother puma and her cubs lounging on your porch when you wake up in the morning, remember that she will be more scared of you than you will be of her. And if it wasn’t for the perfect coexistence with nature that EcoCamp has created, the pumas likely wouldn’t be there at all.
This guest post was written by Natural Habitat Adventures Office Manager Mandy Scott. All photos © Mandy Scott.