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by Jerry Guo
The view outside my window began at wild horses roaming near the pool, followed by an empty prairie that extended to the rugged coast, and finally to the 3,000 kilometers of open sea between me and mainland South America. Most travelers think of Easter Island, and expect a crash course in austere island living. But once they get there they might stumble inside the Posada de Mike Rapu, the island's first luxury property and the most recent venture of the Chilean travel company Explora. Never mind that it takes a month for food to arrive via cargo ship. I was soon eating beef tenderloin flown in by jet and choosing between such wrenching options as pampering myself at the spa and scuba diving in the legendarily clear water.
The 2008 opening of this ultrachic designer boutique hotel in such an unexpected location marked the coming of age for luxury travel to South America. For years, the continent's properties lacked the aesthetic pizzazz of more high-profile alternatives: Africa's sumptuous safari camps, Asia's jet-set urban hotels and beach resorts, Europe's courtly manors and country estates. But thanks to a number of red-hot economies, led by Brazil, and successful crackdowns against crime in places like Colombia and Peru, South America has become the new hotspot for developers of high-end designer boutiques, resorts, and villas.
The Jumeirah Group, creator of the iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab in Dubai, will open its first South American hotel-complete with eight polo fields-this September in Argentina. Brazil's much-anticipated Natal Ocean Club, where suites come with private gardens and Zen pools, should be completed in October, while the posh Brazilian hotel label Fasano will expand into Uruguay this November with a property in party central Punta del Este. And hoteliers from as far away as India, like the Taj brand, are drawing up long-term plans to set up shop on the continent. "There's definitely been a lot of really substantial openings and announcements in the area," says Andrea Lemon, vice president of sales at Kiwi Collection, an online guide to high end hotels.
On a recent whirlwind trip through Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, I sampled a half-dozen new villas and designer hotels that exemplified this emerging high-end hospitality scene. My first stop was a lavish French Belle