17 Apr 2013

Travel: Jesús Parrilla: Explora

Unfiltered remote Andes adventures (for Vertu)
2013 is our twentieth anniversary,’ says Jesús Parrilla, CEO of explora. ‘To celebrate, we’re asking the first visitors to our lodge in Patagonia back as our guests. 
Chilean farms magnate, Pedro Ibáñez founded Explora to show curious, sensitive travellers his territory’s remote, natural contrasts.
‘We’re known for setting new rules for luxury travel. Our understanding of luxury is providing what travellers need: luxury of the essential. In a world of imitation, “luxury” is getting close to something in its original state.’ 
Parrilla believes explora ‘pushed the envelope’ of travel. ‘Other operators might bus people from one stressful city to another in the shortest span, inevitably gleaning commission from gift-shops. What we’re about is connecting guests with their inner-selves.’
A glacier white liner, Hotel Salto Chico is scored into Patagonia’s Torres del Paine national park which covers 935 square-miles of the world’s most southerly tip. ‘For many years Europeans believed Patagonia was the end of the world,’ says Parrilla. The haven for hikers, pedal-bikers and horse-riders is hewn from cherry wood. It peers, sheerly, onto a powerful waterfall. 
In Atacama 2,200-miles north is explora’s second lodge. ‘Although it hasn’t rained in parts of the desert for 300-years, Hotel de Larache occurs in an oasis. There’s a surprising wealth of life, enormous mountains, volcanoes, ravines, geysers, lagoons and salt flats.’ Revered by stargazers, the ranch-like resort also features an observatory.
Rising from Easter Island’s lush grasses overlooking the Pacific is Posada de Mike Rapu. With an orchard, it is explora’s most environmentally-assertive lodge. ‘Five-hours flight from Santiago, the open-air museum has over 10,000 archaeological sites including 887 moai,’ says Parrilla. ‘It’s not a place for people weighing-up whether to go to Paris or Rapa Nui for the weekend! This is a culture of survivors proud of tradition - a culture of hope.’
But hotels are one element of a larger experience. It is explora’s guides (‘travel companions’) who bring to life the experience. ‘Schooled by us, they impart to guests substantial knowledge of geology, botany, zoology, glaciology and history.’
In addition, introduced in 2005, ‘Traversias’ (nomadic journeys) follow four routes, crossing borders. ‘They take 9-11 days, and might feature a stay in a modified sea container (with running hot water),’ explains Parrilla. One takes in the Bolivian Altiplano, lagoons and geothermal fields, the world’s largest salt reserve, and Chilean port, Iquique. ‘Traversias are our first steps in thinking where to build next while dovetailing into the community.’
Although invited to open lodges in Africa and Australia, the Andes remains explora’s heartland. ‘We’ll grow at same pace as before,’ Parrilla insists. ‘It’s been said we’re Chile’s greatest ambassador. We’ve received guests from 94 countries in the past three years, and 100 journalists in the last year alone...’
For Vertu