Prefabrication, conscientious transportation, and local materials combine to protect community-owned land in Bolivia
When Explora, the expedition company renowned for deep explorations of remote regions across South America, planned a new nomadic journey connecting Chile with Bolivia, it was understood that the new 4- and 6-room accommodations essential to the experience needed to leave the smallest footprint on the community-owned land. After all, protecting the continent’s natural wonders is as much a priority for Explora as opening travelers’ eyes to their existence.
The three eco-sensitive Explora Mountain Lodges in Ramaditas, Chituca, and Jirira, or the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, are the homes for travelers on Explora Travesía Atacama & Uyuni, a private guided nomadic journey across one of the world’s driest deserts and the largest salt flat at the border of Chile and Bolivia. The Mountain Lodges offer dreamy nights’ stays far from civilization with minimal impact on the stark and fragile wilderness around them.
Light, Modest and Local Construction
Designed by architect Max Núñez, a Master of Architecture with degrees from Universidad Católica de Chile and Columbia University in New York, the Explora Mountain Lodges were inspired by immersive travel and sensitivity to territory that is at the heart of every Explora experience. “Building in remote and uniquely beautiful areas like the Bolivian Andes is a great responsibility,” said Núñez. “Intervention on the ground and in the landscape is part of architecture. So for the delicate environments of Bolivia, in particular the Uyuni Salt Flat, my goal was to minimize these effects by keeping construction light, functional, and local.”
Offering space for accommodation of up to 12 travelers in 6 bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, the Explora Mountain Lodges were conceived as essential refuges: comfortable and thoughtful in detail, yet simple and precise in dimensions. The Explora Uyuni Lodge is the largest with 6 bedrooms; the Explora Mountain Lodges Chituca and Ramaditas can host 8 guests in 4 bedrooms each.
Interior elements including floors, walls and ceilings cladded in mani wood from certified forests in the tropical region of Bolivia supply continuity and warmth to counter the harsh environment of the high plains. Most of the furniture was similarly fashioned from mani by carpenters in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, providing a sense of craftsmanship that contrasts the steel cladding of the exterior. Horizontal windows frame the stark landscape, emphasizing the undulating topography of the Andes and its astonishing geological formations.
To ensure the lightest touch on the terrain, the Explora Mountain Lodges are suspended over the ground to reduce their footprint, and prefabricated offsite to minimize both construction time and impact. Light, pre-built, and with all joints bolted, the construction of the buildings is “reversible,” enabling easy assembly and disassembly should the need ever arise for their re-use elsewhere.
Building at 13,000 Feet
The prefabrication further alleviated much of the technical challenge of building in a remote setting over 13,000 feet above sea level where little oxygen, low temperatures, poor road conditions, great distances, and scarce labor are all part of a day’s work. “The conditions of the location forced us to think about architecture differently,” noted Núñez. “Taken together, they really motivated our creativity and design solutions.”
Each Explora Mountain Lodge is assembled from different modules – bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and more – all sized for transportation to the site in a standard truck. To ensure structural stability during the 600-mile journey from their manufacturing point in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, every piece was manufactured of steel, with the metal cladding reducing the need for inevitable maintenance, and wood cladding for optimal habitability.
A Journey of Stark and Striking Beauty
A private guided nomadic journey of 6 to 10 nights across the lunar-like landscape of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the endless white expanse of the Uyuni Salt Flat in southwest Bolivia, Explora Travesía Atacama & Uyuni treats travelers to mesmerizing scenery and immersive exploration at every turn. The route to the new Mountain Lodges from Explora Atacama to Ramaditas, onwards to Chituca and finally the Salar de Uyuni follows a portion of the ancient Qhapaq Ñan road system of the Inca Empire, which ran 18,600 miles across six countries. Caravans once followed through Bolivia and Chile with llamas carrying supplies, and languages and cultures were exchanged along the way.