In South America, Kate Cox samples seven places to rest between road trips.
TOURS can be associated with lacklustre accommodation but pick the right company and you could be in hotel heaven. Because they provide frequent, year-round business, an established tour group has major pull, meaning it can secure great rooms at (probably) excellent rates.
When I travelled through Chile, Argentina and Brazil, I didn't get to weigh up all of the varied accommodation options. The tour company did that for me.
But all the hotels were unique and luxurious, and a lot more thoroughly researched than I would have managed.
The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago, Chile
Located conveniently in the centre of the bustling capital city, the hotel is an oasis of calm: the reception desk is framed by a beautiful, ethereal artwork and the nearby marble foyer is a fabulous place to wait and sip from the jugs of thoughtfully provided chilled water with lemon.
The elegant guest rooms have high ceilings and big windows that frame the whole city (but don't open), and sumptuous linen and curtains. The beautiful spa, gym and pool on the top floor overlook the city and the Andes but the business centre is buried in the bowels of the building, and this is the only hotel to charge for Wi-Fi - $US15 ($14.10) for 24 hours. The staff are friendly and generous, the sizeable bar has regular live jazz performances and the buffet breakfast is big.
Tip: It costs 4000 Chilean pesos ($8) for a little bottle of water in the hotel room, whereas one twice the size purchased up the road is just $1. And ask for a mountain-view room.
Hotel Cumbres, Patagonicas, Chile
More luxury lodge than slick hotel, it's mostly populated by adventure tourists and working Chileans. Top-to-bottom windows abound and there are breathtaking views of the lake and volcano from every room.
There is a small gym and spa on the top levels and free 24-hour computers on the second floor. Food is reasonably priced, whether via room service or at the restaurant, which does a roaring trade night and day and offers charming - if slow - service. The sleepy town of Puerto Varas is a scenic five-minute stroll down the hill but this is the only grand-ish hotel in the region.
Tip: At sunset, wander along the path behind the hotel above the giant lake. You'll pass many local lovers, sitting on the seats, holding hands and whispering sweet nothings. Romantic.
Hotel Natura, Chile
The wild Patagonian setting is the star at this eco-lodge and what the basic rooms lack in lavishness is made up for in the pristine surrounds. This is an adventurers' sanctuary, plonked in the middle of teeming wilderness, with wonderful outdoors activities.
Service is reserved but there's a plethora of easy-on-the-eyes activities guides who are also helpful and professional.
You can zipline, hike (I stumbled across a rustic local cemetery about 200 metres from the hotel), fish, four-wheel-drive, pat animals and horse-ride. The view from all rooms - most with balconies - is outstanding and this hotel gets bonus points for being green and off-the-grid, without compromising guests' comfort.
Tip: Make sure you have some downtime - and possibly a pisco sour - in front of the enormous fire.
Llao Llao Hotel & Resort, Argentina
For the location, the rooms, the service, the food, the library, the restaurants, the grounds, the activities and the whole vibe, put this wonderful hotel in Patagonia on your bucket list right now.
In my cosy room, the stunning view sneaks in from every window. All the finishes and interiors are indulgent: it's the best kind of gorgeous grandma chic. (I even photographed the shower curtain as future home renovation inspiration.)
Breakfast is in a sumptuous room with a view - plants grow indoors, chairs are padded and luxurious, cutlery and crockery seem from another, more special era and nothing is too much trouble for the staff. At dinner at the "casual" (it's wonderful) Patagonia restaurant, the charming waitress notices that I am alone and unobtrusively slips me some magazines.
My simple "lettuce salad from our garden" is delicious, the "signature burger" voluptuous.
I tuck in and juice runs down my arms and no one looks twice and I feel like I'm in heaven. At the next table, three well-behaved 12-year-old boys share a chocolate fondue, with strawberries on sticks. (A fancier dining option nearby, Il Gabbiano, is also recommended.)
There are funky shops - most of them boutiques showcasing local designers and one-offs, and open (dangerously) long hours.
The swimming pool is giant: half indoors, half out. Duck-dive in the warm water outside, under the nearby snow-capped mountains, then swim inside for club sandwiches and cocktails.
There's so much to do: hikes, of course, of all shapes and sizes - I spent a whole day walking through the wonderful, gloriously quiet national park for which the area is so famous. But also fishing, kayaking, canoeing, golfing, the divine spa ...
I cried when I left.
Tip: The area is famous for its lavender: make sure you pocket some of the delightful lavender shampoo to remind you of your stay.
Sofitel Buenos Aires, Argentina
A stylish foodie refuge: we enjoy delicious breakfasts (the hotel is thumping so the Tauck guests get their own private chef and seating inside the luxurious library), dinner at the well-known in-house French restaurant, Le Sud, and a range of great cocktails at the busy bar. To complement all that Argentinian indulgence, they have the world's comfiest beds.
The rooms are gorgeous, too, with a beautiful single fresh flower updated daily. In the rest of the hotel, there are more flowers, plus really great artworks, chic wood-panelled walls and impressive art deco chandeliers. There's a small gym and pool but the best exercise in this vibrant city is walking it - and this hotel is conveniently located among the top shops, restaurants and sights.
Tip: Be sure to mine Pablo, the very talented concierge, for information. His recommendation for a "casual-but-delicious, cosy-for-solo-diner, typically Argentinian restaurant within walking distance" was spot-on. El Almacen de los Milagros also has a delicious seasonal menu, super-friendly service and reasonably priced wine. Go there!
Sheraton Iguazu Resort, Argentina
The location is unbeatable. The famous Iguazu Falls are right in front of the hotel: the thick mist hits your face when you stand on the balcony of your bedroom and you drift off to sleep to the sound of the water.
But the hotel is past its best. Rooms are dated, the spa is worse than underwhelming, the pool steps are broken, and extras such as toiletries are poor or non-existent.
And, as our visit unfortunately coincides with a surgery sales convention, the foyer and surrounds are dominated by mannequins, prosthetics, graphic posters and loud, geeky people with lanyards. Possibly because of this, service is slow and dinner forgettable. And it's no fun lounging poolside with worked-on plastic surgeons' wives. Still, the no-holds-barred breakfast buffet is full, fresh, and delicious. And it's the only place to wake up in Iguazu. That view! The toucans flying past! The thriving jungle! The pounding falls!
Tip: Avoid the lacklustre and overpriced "boutiques" next to the hotel. And if you're going into Puerto Iguazu, take the 20-minute drive by public shuttle bus. It stops near the hotel and is 7.50 Argentine pesos ($1.70) a person, as opposed to 100 pesos for a taxi.
JW Marriott Copacabana, Brazil
This is not the most spectacular hotel: the room is small, the aircon noisy, the bath-plug broken and noise from a party at the popular level 9 function room rebounds around my room.
But it is still a delightful place to stay and I'd return in a heartbeat.
The beachside location is phenomenal and the rooftop pool (with 24-hour gym) a spectacular way to suss it out. The service staff exhibit the perfect balance of super-charming and wisely professional, while the room service is the best I've encountered.
Breakfast is delicious and ridiculously wide-ranging (it would take a month to sample all the options) and the entire place has a brilliant, friendly energy.
It's the dinner I remember the most. The well-known, delicious, great value on-site Japanese restaurant Taiyou Sushi & Sake Bar provides room service: I order my sashimi with a caprioska and have it all in the bath. Decadence at its best.
Tip: Do leave your room. The hotel is wonderful but the vibe outside is even better.
The writer was a guest of Tauck.