Nestled deep in the jungle of Misiones, in Argentina’s northeastern corner – the country’s most biodiverse province – lies an oasis of calm, of unparalleled luxury, a place where the superlative Iguazú Falls are not the centerpiece but more of a bonus track.
Crossing over the threshold into the Awasi Iguazú main lodge, you’re lead into a portal where stress melts away and it becomes apparent that leaving the 14-villa refuge at the end of your stay will be perhaps the most difficult thing you’ll ever do (no, that’s not an exaggeration). Here, you’re vibrating on a different frequency and trust me, it’s better than Xanax.
The hotel, part of the Relais & Chateaux family and Awasi’s first Argentine endeavor – its sister properties are in Chile’s Atacama desert and Torres del Paine – opened in February. After being named one of TIME Magazine’s Top 100 World’s Greatest Places in 2018, it’s already booked solid through the first months of 2019.
The Spirit of the Place
Guests come to Awasi for tailor-made, off-the-beaten-track experiences against the backdrop of understated opulence. Don’t be mistaken: you won’t be lounging in marble-clad lobbies with overdone crystal chandeliers while myriad white-gloved butlers scurry about. The staff of 75 highly trained experts in hospitality crafts a more relaxed and candid approach to it all. Of course, this isn’t by chance: it lays the groundwork for a space free of egos and pretension. You’ll do things at your own pace, having time to connect on a deep level with the lush forest and the magic it contains within.
Rather than impose an external aesthetic or ethos upon the rainforest, Awasi draws inspiration from the place itself, which is what sets it apart from other hotels. Verdant vegetation comes into stark contrast with the area’s signature copper-red earth, so rich in nutrients it nearly comes to life on its own. Massive palmito and palo rosa trees loom above, where birds have free reign and tropical downpours penetrate the canopy. The main lodge sits low among this greenery, with picture windows providing up-close-and-personal views of abundant local flora and fauna, and along with the villas, incorporates local materials and muted color palettes that blend in seamlessly with the landscape.
This ethos is reflected in the cuisine: here, locally-sourced ingredients take center stage and are elevated to sophisticated perfection. From fried surubí empanadas to yerba mate-infused ice cream, Misiones is present in every course. A more classic lunchtime selection allows the dinner menu to really shine. Dishes change every night, according not only to what’s fresh but also to the creative inspiration of chef Aarón Castillo Telleria. Paired with premium Argentine wines, it’s an indulgent way to end the jam-packed days full of adventure and wonder.
It’s essential to recognize the influence of the native tribes that called Misiones home long before we stepped foot here. The indigenous Guaraní – around 74 communities comprising 3,000 people reside in the province – share a close bond with the Awasi family. Local artisans often drop in to share their knowledge and culture with guests in easygoing, natural encounters – unlike the eerily voyeuristic visits that tourists can make to certain communities nearby. Weaving intricate baskets made with reeds dyed using natural materials (which are found throughout the hotel), they educate us about their history, their customs, and their connection to the land. It’s an enlightening experience, one that feels more like a privilege than anything else.
The villas – built on stilts to minimize environmental impact – strike the perfect balance of laid-back and luxe. Each has its own private plunge pool that amplifies the feeling of being at one with nature. No detail has been ignored, and you’ll wonder how the staff is so adept at anticipating your needs before they even cross your mind. There’s no TV in sight, and while the wifi is surprisingly speedy, you won’t even think about queueing up Netflix before tucking into bed, lest you spoil the tranquility. Either way, the oversized window next to the bathtub will provide enough visual meditation as you soak away the day’s excursions while sipping on a glass of fizz in the candlelight.
Out & About
At Awasi, part of the safari-inspired, all-inclusive model means that guests are given access to their own expert private guide as well as a 4×4 vehicle to get around, meaning no two experiences are the same, nothing a simple copy/paste repeated time and again. Shortly after arrival, a detailed briefing lays out the plans for your time in Misiones. Based on your preferences and interests, different options are presented, and an optimal itinerary confirmed. In fact, it’s the only time you’ll have to really think about anything. Once it’s all decided, the team gets to work to make it happen, moving deftly behind the scenes while projecting such an air of calm and tranquility that you won’t even have to think twice about how they’ll get it done.
More than 2,000 species and plants, and over 400 different birds, call the Atlantic Rainforest home. Thanks to their calls, you’ll be treated to the most intimate of symphonies from the deck of your villa, but it’s nothing compared to what awaits you deeper in the jungle. Meaning, to limit your focus to the Falls is to stop so very short of such a captivating place, brimming with history, culture and so rich in biodiversity that it almost doesn’t feel real.
Yes, Iguazú Falls is considered one of the “new” natural wonders of the world, and the impact their beauty will have on you cannot be understated. The day you spend roaming the park’s trails, getting drenched in the Garganta del Diablo’s roaring spray, and realizing that no photo you take will ever do it justice, does not disappoint – that’s a given. But you’ll also be eager to return to the hidden gems that only Awasi seems to know about, far from the selfie-stick wielding crowds.
Though no one will guilt trip you for sleeping in, early wake-ups here have their rewards. After a delicious sunrise breakfast, hit the road with your guide and driver and head straight into the heart of it all. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot fresh tapir tracks while waiting for the toucan to make themselves known. The more elusive jaguar is a tougher find, but there’s a chance you’ll spot an ocelot, making its rounds once the sun has gone down, on a trail camera located on the hotel’s private reserve along the Yacuí river.
After a morning of hiking on secluded trails – consider it a private class in botany, ornithology, and some insectology for good measure – tuck into a specially-prepared asado before relaxing in the sunshine, alone for miles and miles.
Animal lovers are treated to VIP access of the GüiráOga (“house of birds” in guaraní) sanctuary. Before doors open to the public, you’ll tour the space dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of local fauna. Due to humans’ encroaching on the natural habitat, some animals are either hit by cars, hunted by illegal poachers, or simply found by residents in unlikely places. GüiráOga aims to return all specimens to the wild, but those that can’t be released get to hang out here. It’s a center for research and outreach that educates the public on how to best preserve both Misiones and the creatures that call it home.
More of a history buff? Three hours from the lodge lie the ruins of the Jesuit missions, like San Ignacio Miní which was founded in 1632. According to UNESCO, the sites are an “important testament to the systematic occupation of the area and to the cultural relations forged between the area’s indigenous populations, mostly Guarani, and the European Jesuit missionaries.”
In the era of “doing it for the ‘gram” and competing to see who can reach the farthest-flung destination, it’s truly special to discover the quiet transformations that await us in our own backyard. Marveling in the wonder of still-virgin landscapes and learning to appreciate the details we so often overlook while searching for the perfect filter provides the opportunity to slow things way, way down.
Dipping your toes in the Awasi universe, you’ll appreciate this turning inward, the incredible things you will uncover when given the chance to just be present in the moment. And you thought you’d just spend a quick weekend checking another destination off of your bucket list…