Preserving local knowledge and celebrating culture with Annette at Tierra Hotels, Chile

11 minute read

Written by Rebecca Woolford, Senderos

Set in fascinating and remote regions of South America, Tierra Hotels help their guests to create profound connections with nature, cultural traditions and community. 

Read on to find out more about this unique collection of hotels named among South America's top 20 must-visit places. 

With nearly two decades of experience in purpose-led travel, Annette Bottinelli, Tierra’s market manager, is passionate about sharing experiences inspired by the destination. In the interview below we spotlight Tierra Chiloé, a wooden hotel with a modern chic architecture, inspired by the traditional ‘palafitos' houses.

Senderos' stories celebrate the positive impact sustainable tourism can bring to destinations, and Tierra Hotels is a shining example of just that.

Annette Tierra hotels Chile
Tierra Patagonia Window Seat
Left: Annette Bottinelli | Right: Views at Tierra Patagonia

Welcome Annette, thank you for your time. Tierra Hotels transverse three culturally rich and remote locations. The arid desert, a mythical ancient island and wild rugged Patagonia. What can you tell us about each of them? 

"Tierra Atacama is located in the northern desert of Chile, it’s the founding hotel, followed by Tierra Patagonia, covering two of the most emblematic destinations we have in Chile. Both equally spectacular landscapes, with vastly different cultures and traditions. 

That, I guess, is one of the interesting things about Chile. In one country you have so many different ecosystems, cultural expressions, and environments. 

The third hotel is Tierra Chiloé, which is fun and exciting to talk about. It’s located on this lush island in North Patagonia, it’s like a jewel in the Pacific and what you find there is completely different to what you experience in Atacama or Patagonia. 

The hotels across these 3 locations are like these ‘motherships’ where everybody gathers, but it’s the small group excursions that create the connections between like-minded travellers. It’s amazing how often people end up making lifelong friends at Tierra, returning to meet those same people the following season is commonplace. It’s a country you can keep coming back to and you’ll keep rediscovering it. 

It’s truly unique what Tierra Hotels have accomplished. It’s rare in hospitality.”

There is a great deal of thought that goes into how each hotel works in balance with the environment, community, and culture. From your experience, how unique is this in tourism?

"Tourism can quite literally make or break a destination when it comes to cultural expression. At Tierra there is this rich cultural exchange and a tight-knit closeness between the community and the hotel. 

Hotel groups who do consider ‘their impact’ do it mostly as an afterthought. At Tierra, it breathed into the very ‘being’ of the project, even before the architecture plans were first drawn. Tierra looks specifically for the kinds of places that have a captivating story to tell. They're destinations where traditional knowledge and culture still prevails, and where you find pristine-like nature. 

Chiloé Island is a UNESCO site because of its cultural heritage. The communities still live in traditional wooden houses that inspired the architecture of the Tierra Chiloé hotel (see image below). 

Tierra Chiloe Chile - Senderos Stories
Tierra CHiloe

Unique Architecture Left: Tierra Chiloe | Right: Tierra Patagonia

Every year our team scouts out what is going on in the region, from grassroot projects, both environmental and community based, to connecting with local farmers; ultimately to help focus our efforts.

In previous years we've worked with local foundations to recycle fishing nets, as well as repurpose debris which has been discarded in the oceans. When the hotel is closed, local female artisans knit these wool slippers for the hotel that we leave in the bedroom for our guests.

One of the projects that we do on a permanent basis, as opposed to seasonal, is the work we do with the local school. Our guides provide the children with nature-based education walks and talks.

We also have some incredible local food producers to supply our kitchens as well as offer unique ‘food and culture based’ experiences. For example there is a family that has a honey project on the island. They've been producing honey for decades, and were recently awarded a prize for the quality of their produce. Chiloé island has a unique type of vegetation that creates some of the world’s best tasting honey. 

We combine this honey visit with another local farm run by a hard-working indigenous lady who shares the Williche Culture, her wonderful farm and lifestyle with our guests. These rich cultural exchanges between ‘hosts and ‘guests’ help preserve the traditions of this ‘older’ generation who are eager to share it.”

Why is tourism so important to places like Chiloé and what’s its role in preserving cultural heritage and traditions?

“The challenge a lot of these rural and indigenous communities face is that the younger generations are drawn to the city lights, with promise of prosperity. Which can also involve shunning away their ancestral knowledge. 

The question to answer is: How do we keep these younger generations enchanted with their roots and connected with those traditions?

This is where tourism helps showcase and preserve cultures, when it’s perceived as an income source. When done well, it sparks the younger generations interest, it gives them options, a creative outlet for their interests and sparks new possibilities that celebrate their roots. 

It's not a spectacle, or a tourist attraction, it's an encounter, a conversation, it's what humans have done since the beginning: storytelling and sharing. 

Tourism is that vehicle to create new opportunities to diversify a local economy. It's this rich cultural exchange that creates a win-win for both the guest and hosts.”

When local people are in the centre of delivering travel experiences, amazing things happen. Can you give us some examples of how Tierra approaches the community.

“In Patagonia, we have a real closeness and connection with the community. We know of the significance of the fiesta ‘costumbrista’ each year which brings everyone in their community together. 

The government has previously provided funding to make it possible, but this year the community didn’t have the same support, they had less than expected. So, a couple of hotels including Tierra stepped in to keep this long-standing important tradition alive. 

At Tierra Chiloe, with each new season we run a series of activities with both children and teachers from the local school. This includes nature walks and outdoor english lessons. 

These are just a couple of examples of the actions that show the level of importance we put on the local community. 

Furthermore, those same people often form your operation team. When a large part of your operations team comes from the local communities you generate this fidelity. And that influences things like staff rotation, which can often be high in hospitality. People are not just working to make money, it's so much deeper than that.”

School trip with Tierra Hotels
Tierra Chiloe curanto dish
Left: School trips curated by Tierra Chiloe | Right: Preparing the Curanto dish at Tierra Chiloe

What can you tell us about Chiloé, often referred to as the island of myths and the birthplace of the potato?

“The cuisine on Chiloé island is a key part of the culture. It's incredible and fascinating, like a whole other universe. You could ask anyone in Chile to describe Chiloé and they would mention the word ‘potato’. There are 285 varieties of all different shapes, colours, sizes and flavours. 

The diversity of native varieties of potato in Chiloé is part of the heritage and I haven't even begun to explain the variations of preparations. I’ll share two with you. 

The first is a gnocchi style potato dough rolled over a stick and barbecued on a rotating spit. The second is an ancient dish called a ‘Curanto’ which is native to the Chiloé Archipelago

It begins with a hole dug in the ground layered with hot rocks, you then cover it with giant viridescent leaves and add potatoes, a variety of seafood and even homemade sausage chicken or meats, each family has small variations. Then it’s covered with more giant leaves, a final layer of turf is added over the top and this cooks for hours in this beautiful earth hot pot. This is always accompanied or served with a rich hot seafood broth.

The preparation and cooking time takes hours, it's a ritual. Everybody loves it. It's so well received by our guests. We usually do a ‘curranto’ once a week if there are enough guests.

It's unique and memorable and we love to share this ancient tradition. There are often local musicians playing, not necessarily hired artists, just people from the community. There is of course some dancing. It’s a fun way to connect with the food, the ‘gifts’ of this magical island and to honour ancestral traditions."

tierra chiloe map
Left: Tierra Atacama map Credit Jame Florio | Right: Tierra Chiloe map

Tierra Chiloé is a foodie’s paradise. Whereas, Patagonia is adventure-led. Tierra Patagonia’s head guide is an inspiring role model for women. Can you tell us a bit about her?    

“You’re more likely to find a male guide than a female one in mountainous hiking, but particularly in a destination like Patagonia.

Our head guide Kineret, coordinates all the excursions and leads the whole guiding team. She's an amazing woman and I don't know what we'd do without her. 

I think it comes as a surprise to most people when they first arrive, as Kineret is in a wheelchair. An accident many years ago means she has to approach things differently because of the mobility aspect. 

She's a very inspiring woman who also runs some of her own projects focused on inclusion and accessibility in adventure destinations. In 2018 Kineret won the PURE Awards ‘Unsung Hero’ prize.”

tierra patagonia horses
hiking tierra patagonia
Tierra Patagonia activities from horse riding to hiking. 

As we know sustainability and regeneration is an ever evolving journey, one with no end goal. Looking ahead, where do you see the biggest area for improvement or development? 

“It's not a straightforward answer because each hotel is located in a drastically different landscape, each with its own set of challenges.

Composting food waste works well at Chiloé, and at Atacama. However, Tierra Patagonia is a different challenge entirely because of the wildlife. Our locations are somewhat remote, so we have these unique off-the-chart logistics to manage all of our recycling and waste.

We always have our antennas up, looking out for creative ways to reduce our impact. But if I had to pick one area I would say I’d like to be able to say Tierra is zero carbon but we have a long road to travel. There is a long way to go taking into account the operational challenges presented by being in remote locations.”

What's next for Tierra Hotels? 

“Tierra Atacama has a very exciting renovation planned. We will be closing temporarily at the end of this month and will reopen in march 2025 with a fresh look. The project will be carried out with the same innovative and talented architects and artisans that we worked with before. 

However, there are some elements that will never change. The feeling of a ‘home away from home’ - a place where you’ll make lifelong friends. The works of art with the sustainable architecture brilliantly conceived using noble materials and blending in the local culture will remain our trademark.”

To learn more about Tierra Hotels please click below.

Tierra Atacama

Tierra Patagonia 

Tierra Chiloé

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