15 luxury holidays in South America that don’t require a backpack

Every continent delivers bespoke luxuries. In South America, many are free, including wide-open wild spaces,

Every continent delivers bespoke luxuries. In South America, many are free, including wide-open wild spaces, extraordinary natural attractions such as glaciers, deserts and rainforests, and star-filled night skies.

But Argentinians, Brazilians, Peruvians and the other citizens of each great country throw in extra style and services, pleasures and perks, according to where you happen to be travelling. Estancias, haciendas and fincas are variations on the country estate theme and tend to offer old-world comforts with a laid-back new-world accent.

Luxury in the cities is distinctive. In a carnival town like Rio, there are more leisure than business properties and, ever since the Copacabana Palace opened its palatial doors in 1923, hotels have been providing the international jet set with gracious accommodation and a touch of glamour. Lima, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Santiago de Chile all have their grand-dame five-stars as well as upmarket boutique hotels. Almost all the big cities have burgeoning gastronomy scenes that build on the popularity of ceviche, Nikkei cuisine and Southern Cone wines around the world.

The pound and dollar don’t necessarily go further in South America than the North these days, but the degree of effort made by local guides, drivers, hoteliers and experts to inform and inspire is almost always greater. Whether you’re after private guiding, a dream road trip down one of the continent’s empty highways, glamping in true wilderness or adventure and good living in a remote redoubt – without once heaving a rucksack – you won’t be disappointed.

For many Europeans, South America typically came on to their radar as a backpacker destination. Like those who travelled there in the heady days of Che Guevara, the hippie trail and the brick-sized South American Handbook, the continent has grown up somewhat, evolving into a destination fit to be explored in mid-life and beyond. It can now rival Asia and Africa for wilderness luxury and its cities can take on Paris or New York when it comes to arts and music, dining and retail. Yet, for all that, there’s always a feeling of adventure and discovery to be had, too – and that is priceless.

1. Pampered in the Pampas and Patagonia 

The saying “Riche comme un Argentin” was once whispered enviously in the salons of Paris. Argentines are good at luxury, laying it on in their grand city hotels and estancias with equal aplomb. Start a holiday in the grand style at the Alvear Palace, Buenos Aires’s most opulent hotel, which opened in 1932 – when this city was among the wealthiest and most advanced on earth. It’s a couple of hours by road to Estancia la Bamba de Areco, a colonial-style Relais & Châteaux ranch. Go riding, or admire the gauchos doing it, before an open-air asado barbecue to remember. Swap the grasslands for Patagonia, staying at the cool, contemporary Eolo hotel, with trips out to the glaciers and lakes. Toast your odyssey at the Cavas Wine Lodge in Mendoza’s sun-blessed winelands, where 14 adobe-walled apartments open onto Andes-facing patios.

How to do it: Journey Latin America (020 3733 8024; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) has a 13-day private journey staying at these four top-end properties from £8,960pp, including flights, transfers, most meals and excursions