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From Patagonia to Rapa Nui: Re-discovering wonder in South America

We're thrilled to share one of our travelers' inspiring stories! In this article, Richard Gannon tells us about his recent family trip across South America as an invitation to continue discovering our magnificent world.

Richard and his family in El Chaltén, Argentina

Isn’t everyone one of us … always searching for those rare moments in life where we feel completely illuminated?

The stunning isolated beach at sunset, the iconic live music experience shared with 100,000 people, the adrenaline of a white-water rapid descent.

As an extraordinary celebration of my wife’s birthday, our young family recently spent a month in South America. The magic of Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the Atacama Desert.

Because, don’t we all – yearn to create more memories. To re-discover the genius of nature. To walk in someone else’s shoes. To savour the flavours of faraway lands?

I can think of no greater feeling in this world, than sharing extraordinary travel experiences with our children. This, surely, is true happiness.

Explora Atacama Lodge, Chile

We stayed in Explora hotels in El Chaltén, Rapa Nui, and Atacama

Explora was founded in 1993 by a group of friends who were passionate about adventuring through untamed terrain. Explora’s founder, Pedro Ibáñez, says Explora was born out of “a nostalgia for the Chile of 25 years ago. Nostalgia for its landscapes and how people used to be: the simplicity of their lives and their lack of pretension, their authenticity.”

The Explora hotel buildings themselves, are beautiful. Their architecture actually complements the extraordinary natural beauty surrounding the hotels.

The food & service is exquisite and focused on sustainable & local produce. The most succulent red meat of Patagonia, the endless tuna of Rapa Nui, and the immersive local nutrients of the Atacama.

But what makes the Explora experience so unique, is your stay is based around half-day and full-day expeditions, accompanied by local guides.
Your hotel is merely base camp – the start of your adventure.


Richard and his family in Atacama, Chile

Whether it be gentle riverside hikes, ascending majestic mountain trails, tracing the steps of settlers from centuries earlier, or majestic horse-back journeys led by gauchos, your Explora experience is defined by your time in nature.

What an extraordinary privilege for the curious tourist. Endless hours to observe, and to learn with enthusiastic local tutors. Multiple different host guides, to shape your understanding of cultures of these faraway lands. To provide alternative histories, informed views on social issues, and a perspective from locals of their place in the world.

This is beauty.

We suddenly appreciate why El Chaltén, the trekking capital of Argentina, is a magnet to like-minded folk from around the world. Tucked away from the world, shielded by mountains and glaciers, El Chaltén is an extraordinary physical landscape. We pass endless hours staring in tranquility at Monte Fitz Roy. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, climbed the mountain in 1968 and made a movie about it. To this day, Monte Fitz Roy is the silhouetted logo of the clothing company.

We are awe-struck by the mysteries of the world’s most isolated populated island, Rapa Nu (Easter Island). How its Polynesian ancestors tackled the wild Pacific in wooden canoes perhaps around 800 AD. And the ability of the island’s craftsmen, 500 years ago, to create the giant moai (statues), weighing up to 80 tonnes each, and transport the moai up to 20km each before reaching their final resting places. An evening workshop with world-leading National Geographic anthropologists, Terry Hunt & Carl Lipo, to discuss their pioneering research about how the moai statues “walked”, captures our imagination.

Easter Island, Chile. Photo by Richard Gannon

And we discover the Atacama Desert, far beyond we could ever imagine from the holiday magazines. Its altitude and lack of humidity, its surrealist landscapes, its other-worldly rock formations, its piercing blue sky, its enormous salt flats, and the NASA research collaborations. We rawdog some brief hikes at 15,000 feet without oxygen before returning to easier elevations. We explore in the footsteps of its various settlers over thousands of years, the nomads, the Atacameño tribe, the Inca Empire, the Spanish, Bolivia and, for the last 100+ years, Chile.

And yet whilst appreciating all this beauty, you also start to realise … the human quest for development could imperil each of these treasures, sooner than we think.

The delicate water balances, the quest for minerals development, and the boorish tourist driven by social media likes.

As visitors to these worlds, we surely become vastly more empathetic to the challenges of balancing the local people’s dual objectives, of realising both economic development plus sustainable tourism levels.

We now think about South America every day. We day-dream about the miraculous, and we feel a deeper connection for the cultures & environments.

South America has gifted us some of its magic. South America will change you.

I think we re-discovered what is essential, even though it is invisible. It is wonder. It is silence. It is awe. Where does your mind go when it wanders? This might be where your heart is.


* Richard Gannon (@imagineif200 and is a seasoned explorer with a passion for uncovering the hidden gems of the world. As a parent and adventure-seeker, Richard cherishes the opportunity to share these experiences with family, believing that travel is a powerful way to educate and inspire young minds. He invites readers to join him in continuing to discover our magnificent world.