Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Best Off... A Year Long Journey Around the World...Off the Beaten Path & SPG Luxury Stays

Best Off-The-Beaten-Path Stay: Casa de Charlie (The Llanganuco Lodge), Yanguy, Peru
The Llanganuco Lodge is locally known as Casa de Charlie.
Casa de Charlie (or Dirk) depending upon the day
The proprietor, Charlie, is a British expat rugby player who has managed to build, piece by piece, a little slice of heaven tucked under the shadow of some impressive mountains in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to meet Charlie while we were there; instead we had the immense pleasure of being hosted by Dirk, a Dutch expat who gave up the trappings of working for a Big 4 accountancy firm and turned it into living on a whim in Peru. Needless to say, it all worked out to our advantage.

Sunsets: Also working out to our advantage
The Llanganuco Lodge, like all off the beaten path stays, is a bit of a pain to get to but one is rewarded with some of the best hiking Peru has to offer, literally out your front door. It's located at over 10,000 ft so the view is not the only thing taking your breath away. We stayed 4 nights here, did 4 different day hikes and loved the family style meals each time we dined.

At the time, we felt as if we were splurging a little because it was so expensive. However, in looking back at our expenses it turned out that we spent $500 for 4 nights of lodging and all food included for the two of us. So I guess it turns out it was a steal.
Our daily hikes would start here... 
...And end places like this. 

Kate, over the course of the trip became an expert at searching out these type of places and making sure we found a way to work them into our itinerary. And, without fail, they usually ended up being some of the favorite places we stayed in a given country. In my opinion, it all started with Casa de Dirk.
Kate, Dirk & Charles
Honorable Mention: The hiking, mountain views, all you can eat pizza and general splendor of staying at El Pillar (El Pillar Hosteria, El Chalten, Argentina);  the nicely appointed log cabin, delicious food and lively conversations provided by Patricio, our gracious host at Refugio Tranquilco (Refugio Tranquilco, Huerquehue National Park, outside of Pucon, Chile); the 4 hour hike into Refugio Cochamo rewarded us with the best deck, food and hiking in Chile (Refugio Cochamo, Cochamo Valley, Chile); Kate's well documented love affair with tented camps in the Cape of Good Hope (Hoerikwaggo Tented Camps - Smitswinkel & Slangkop, Cape of Good Hope, Western Cape, South Africa); Estancia Rio Mitre, where Kate's childhood dream of galloping through a mountain plain came true - the endless food, drinks and hospitality of our host, Estaban didn't hurt things either (Estancia Rio Mitre, half way between El Calafante & Glaciar Perito Moreno, Patagonia, Argentina); once we found out what luxury safari tenting could be like at Oliver's Tented Camp, we were happy that we choose it to be our last night on safari - anything else after would have only disappointed (Oliver's Tented Camp, Tarengeri National Park, Tanzania); the simple luxuries like a soft bed, a flush toilet, a warm fire and world class views over Middle Earth while hiking through the Routeburn Milford tracks and staying at the DOC huts in New Zealand (Routebun Huts & Milford Track Huts, Fiordland National Park, South Island of New Zealand.)
Refugio Cochamo: The best deck in South America
Patricio: The Best Host in South America, Refugio Tranquilco 
Oliver's Camp: Lux safari'ing will never be the same after
The NZ DOC Hut System: Simply the best in the world
The Hoerikwaggo Huts: Still have no idea how to pronounce that name... 
El Pillar Hosteria: Simple luxury in the shadow of Fitz Roy
Estancia Rio Mitre: The best dinning room view in South America
Favorite Starwood Hotel Stay: The Krabi Sheraton (Krabi, Thailand)
Our travel mentors, Dave & Jesse, provided no shortage of inspiration to us when we were planning our trip. That being said, one of the best pieces of advice that they provided to us was how, when and where to use our Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points.

We liked to say that we'd stay high brow and low brow. Mixing in suite nights at the Cape Town Westrin with a dirt floors in straw huts in Moshi, Tanzania. Truth be told it was a lot more low brow than high brow time, but that only meant that we appreciated the high brow moments ("Another go at the free happy hour appetizer buffet? Don't mind if I do!") all that much more.
Another on the house? Don't mind if I do...
All told we spent 45 nights (or about 12% of the year) laying our head in the luxuries of the Heavenly Bed, loving the Heavenly Shower, enjoying the free breakfast, club lounge and drinks associated with Charles' years of traveling finally paying off in Platinum status. So we'd like to think ourselves a bit of an expert when it comes to Starwood hotels.
Soaking up the good life at the Krabi Sheraton
That being said, we'd have to say that our favorite Starwood was the Krabi Sheraton. It wasn't nearly as nice a room as the Cape Town Westin. It wasn't nearly as nice a breakfast buffet as the Delhi Westin. And it didn't have the great open bar happy hours of some of the other SPG's that we stayed in but it did have a lot to offer.

First. There was this: The multiple pools and beautiful beach to walk on:
One of 3 infinity pools to choose from
It also had above average breakfast buffets and happy hour offerings:

Happy Hour became a great time to check email and do planning
And it had walking proximity to other restaurants, convenience stores and activities. Should I pay $90 dollars for a Thai massage in the resort? Or $8 at the massage place just 2 minutes down the beach? (It's a no brainer...)
Same meal at the Sheraton would cost $15 - $20. This cost closer to $4. 
Honorable Mention: the massive suite overlooking the waterfront AND Table Mountain in Cape Town at the Westin (The Westin Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa); the super modern decor, huge breakfast buffet and generous happy hour (except on Ghandi's birthday) at the Delhi Westin (The Westin Gurgaon, Delhi, India); the sprawling resort, beach, breakfast buffet and hospitality at the Westin Phuket (The Westin Phuket, Phuket, Thailand).
The Westin Phuket from afar...
...and upclose
Our top floor suite at the Westin Cape Town
Never has a clean bathroom looked so good!
The view from our Westin Cape Town suite on the top floor
The hospitality of the Westin Phuket (no need to mention that it wasn't my birthday...)

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