Travel

Embark on a Mind-Bending Art Odyssey to Uruguay & Argentina

Find out why celebrities like Drake idolize the artist.

José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online

Just when you thought there could be no better way to catch the sunset-sipping on tannat at a rooftop infinity pool in the idyllic beach town of Jose Ignacio, Uruguay-a guide tells you it’s time to enter the skyspace. He leads you to what looks like a domed sepulcher, opens a monumental door, and ushers you into the latest immersive installation by an artist whose work is so “life-changing” that famous people around the world can’t stop throwing money at him. And after what you see in this room, you too might just join the cult of James Turrell.

José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online

During the next half hour, you stare at the sky through a circular cutout in the domed roof. Around the skylight, the ceiling slowly changes colours, tricking your eye into thinking the sky is tangerine when the ceiling glows purple, or that the heavens are ethereal green when the dome lightens to pink.

Even if you haven’t managed to get hold of some of Uruguay’s legal weed, you’re definitely tripping a little. You might even feel like you’re in the “Hotline Bling” video-Drake is also a Turrell stan.

Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé

The Ta Khut skyspace is one of several dozen mind-bending meditation chambers that Turrell has sprinkled all over the world. Another sits in neighbouring Argentina, in a remote location quite similar to the desert in Arizona, where, for nearly 50 years, Turrell has been working on his magnum opus, Roden Crater, a sprawling series of interconnected observatories built into an extinct volcano. Both of Turrell’s South American skyspaces are part of posh posada hotels, which means that visiting them is an especially transportive experience-even if you don’t book a room.

If this all sounds like it should be at the top of your art travel bucket list, well then, baby, you’ve seen the light.

José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online

Head to Uruguay to experience South America’s only free-standing skyspace…

Ta Khut opened in 2021 on the grounds of Posada Ayana, a collection of chic modernist suites in Jose Ignacio, sometimes called “the Hamptons of South America.” With a dome inspired by the stupas atop Tibetan shrines, it’s the perfect place to achieve a moment of zen. Interior photos are strictly prohibited, so don’t even think about doing this for the ‘gram. Instead, lean back against the smooth Brazilian marble walls, bliss out to the crickets chirping in the “sky garden” seeded with 15,000 native plants, and try not to feel like you’re being abducted by a UFO.

Photo courtesy of Posada Ayana
Photo courtesy of Posada Ayana
Photo courtesy of Posada Ayana

Getting there and getting in: Jose Igancio is a 40-minute drive or bus ride along the coast from Punta del Este, the high-rise resort town about 2.5 hours from Uruguay’s enchanting and underrated capital city of Montevideo. Skyspace sessions ($40 for non-Uruguayans) are offered while the hotel is open, November to April. Make sure to book well in advance via the website or by writing [email protected]. Hotel guests can visit for free at their leisure and have access to early-morning sunrise sessions, so they can tap into their brain’s theta waves before hitting some actual waves.

What else to do: Jose Ignacio has plenty of elegant dinner spots where you can tuck into one of Uruguay’s famous grilled steaks, but it’s real charm lies in its chiringuitos, beach shacks serving up cheap caipirinhas or Fernet and Cokes for the Brazilians and Argentinians who flock here.

Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé

…Or trek to Argentina for the world’s only James Turrell Museum

From an art island in Japan to a glowing stone cylinder in the Swiss alps, Turrell pilgrims have been known to travel to the ends of the earth. That definitely describes the mountainous desert near the Argentinian-Bolivian border, where you’ll find the only museum dedicated to the master of light. Visitors are treated to a career-spanning sample of his work, from wall-mounted holograms to immersive light baths that make you feel like you’re standing at the pearly gates. Before all that, you’ll get a sampling of local wines that are also pretty divine. The museum shares a property with Bodega Colomé, home to some of the oldest continuously-producing vineyards in Argentina.

Swiss-born art collector Donald Hess, founder of the winery’s current incarnation, built the Turrell museum against odds that would’ve scared off Fitzcarraldo. The entire thing is run on generators, so visits are limited to just one hour-long guided tour per day. Many locals come here just to taste some of the highest-altitude wines in the world and don’t even realize the skyspace session is part of the package, so don’t be surprised when they unknowingly duck out early and you have the whole thing to yourself.

Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé
Bodega Colomé

Getting there and getting in: Most people making this trip fly into the Andean city of Salta and rent a car-preferably an SUV-to experience some of Argentina’s most scenic mountain roads. The direct route from Salta to Colomé winds through landscapes reminiscent of Death Valley and takes about five hours. The even more scenic route involves driving south to the wineries of Cafayate via Route 68 and then doubling back north to Colomé via route 40. Google Maps will tell you this takes about 6.5 hours, but selfie-addicts be warned: Once you hit Quebrada de las Conchas national park, you’ll be pulling over every five minutes to snap photos of otherworldly rock formations. At Bodega Colomé, you can book a simple tasting and tour, but staying over at Estancia Colomé means lounging by the pool all day and doing some primo stargazing at night.

What else to do: Plan to spend a night in Salta catching folkloric song and dance at one of the free-wheeling peña parties. Locals know to line up outside of La Casona del Molino well before it opens for any chance of being seated for dinner. Break up the drive from Salta by overnighting in the dusty frontier town of Cafayate and exploring local wineries like the stately El Esteco. One of the better lodges, Killa, takes its name from an indigenous word for “moon.” Thank us later for the stargazing here.

José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online
José Ignacio Online

…Or do them both

If you’re determined to see 101 skyspaces before you die, the power move here is to take the three-hour high-speed catamaran between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aires, budget carrier JetSmart offers cheap flights to Salta; from Montevideo, COT runs buses to Jose Igancio. And remember the golden rule of a Turrell trip: Travel light!

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Daniel Maurer is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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