Honeymoon Part 1 – San Pedro de Atacama

And so it comes to an end, our month-long honeymoon to South America. We had many, many requests for our itinerary, so I thought it would be fun to share in parts how we made it to so many places in such a short time. This was an incredible trip, and I strongly encourage everyone who hasn’t, to put Chile & Argentina on your travel lists.

The first portion of our trip took place in San Pedro de Atacama, the far North of Chile (close to Bolivia). This has been on my bucket list for ages – actually since high school when I did two Spanish projects on the Atacama Desert – and it did not disappoint. This trip consisted of 11 flights overall, and we want to breakdown all the nitty gritty details for you regarding our travel days. In each part, we will let you know how we got to and from our destinations!

NOTE: San Pedro is approximately 3,160m above sea level at its lowest points. Some of the nearby excursions can get up to 5100m, which means there is a high probability for altitude sickness if you climb too high, too fast. We visited a travel clinic before leaving Canada and received 3 rounds of shots (for the other portions of our trip) and were also prescribed Diamox. These are pills to be taken 2 days before reaching altitude, until 2 days after reaching your highest point. I will say that these pills had some strange and uncomfortable side effects such as tingly fingers, excess urination, upset stomachs, and cramping. You also need to drink lots of fluids while taking the pills, but I will say we did not experience any altitude sickness while others we were with, did. We also planned our excursions from lowest altitude to highest to make sure we were properly acclimatized.

Flight 1: we left Toronto Pearson Airport and flew direct to Santiago, Chile on an overnight flight. The flight was about 11 hours, and we arrived in Santiago at 11:30am.

Flight 2: we wasted no time in getting to our final destination, so instead of staying the night and taking a flight the next day, we decided to hop right onto our second flight from Santiago to Calama (a very small airport, closest to the desert). The flight was only 2 hours and we booked a flex ticket through LATAM Airlines just in case we were delayed from Toronto. LATAM was fantastic and comfortable.

* One thing I will mention about all the South American Airlines we flew with – they were all ON TIME, and not once did our bags get lost. *

Once we landed, I had arranged a transfer with our hotel to pick us up and drive us about an hour to San Pedro. It was a very scenic drive and it wasn’t long before we arrived at our hotel for the week – Noi Casa Atacama.

Noi Casa Atacama is located a short 5 minute walk from the centre of town. This is so handy because there’s no need for a car or taxis while visiting here. Our room was spacious, clean, and comfortable and our room keys all had a woven llama attached to them. So cute! There is also an on-site spa, pool, and restaurant. The best part was the 2 coffee machines in the main building. You could stop by and make yourself a coffee, espresso, hot chocolate, etc at any time, free of charge. This was something we made full use of, because little did we know, the other places we visited would charge $3 USD per espresso or more!! The front desk was very accommodating and helped us book an excursion as well as our transfer back to the airport (approx $100 USD per way). We did notice the service was quite slow at their restaurant and opted most nights to venture to town for our meals.


Now I’m not usually one for excursions with groups, but in Atacama that’s the only way to safely and easily visit all the main attractions. We booked our first excursion through our hotel, which was amazing, but we soon realized that they charged a lot more per excursion than the agencies in town. We had a free morning the day after we arrived, so we went into town and booked all our other excursions with Atacama Magic (an agency with high ratings). The only excursion they didn’t offer was the Hot Air Balloons, which we booked separately – and in Spanish. You can also book the Balloons straight through the company’s website – Atacama Balloons. Given it’s a small town, there is not a lot of non-Spanish speakers and I would absolutely suggest brushing up on some basic phrases before visiting.

Valle de la Luna – the Valley of the Moon was our first excursion at 4pm the day after we arrived and one of our favourites. Since the desert is so hot and the UV is very high (12 + on average while in Canada it only really reaches 7 in the summer) during mid-day, many excursions take place only in the mornings, or evenings. This is also labelled as a low altitude excursion, so it’s great to do on one of your first days in town. Keep in mind the desert gets chilly at sunset, so make sure you bring a fleece just in case. We were picked up and dropped off at our hotel. * Many excursions do not include park entrance fees in their prices. This one cost 10,000 CLP per person.

Laguna Cejar – I had heard so much about the “hidden Baltinache lagoons” and how they were a must-see, however once speaking with the agency, we realized that it was a 2 hour drive one way to get there down a very bumpy road. So, we opted for this excursion instead and it was very much worth it. It was another evening excursion at mid-low altitude (2,300m max). You had the opportunity to float in salt pools – which feels like you are wearing a life jacket on every limb – see flamingos, and visit a salt flat. The evening ended with a picnic and Pisco Sours, a delicious drink that is very popular in Chile, in the desert at sunset. Entrance fee: 15,000 CLP per person

Hot Air Balloon – now this was a very special excursion. It was something neither of us had done before, and turned out to be our favourite excursion in the desert. It was a very early morning (4:30am pickup) and we were driven to the middle of the desert. No washrooms, no buildings, nothing but open air. The hot air balloon team drove up with a large trailer and began assembling the balloon while we had hot coffee and tea. Beware that it is quite cold in the early mornings, so I was wearing gloves, a fleece, and a packable puffer jacket. We flew for about an hour, which is more than enough to enjoy the scenery. It was very peaceful with no sounds other then the wind and the occasional roar of the blowtorch. After this, we landed a smoothly to enjoy a prepared breakfast with local ingredients.

Piedras Rojas – this is a full-day excursion climbing into higher altitudes and covering multiple areas. It was definitely a long day, but worth it in the end if you’re looking to explore a lot in a short time. You start out by driving about 2 hours to the Altiplanic Lagoons, situated amongst the Andes mountains. Here we saw many Guanacos and birds and enjoyed a short walk between lagoons. Next we drove to the Red Rocks – an incredible scene where very blue water meets bright red volcanic rock. The “hazy background” is created by the salt blown rocks. Included was an amazing lunch, before quickly visiting the Tropic of Capricorn and heading home. Entrance fee: 8,000 CLP per person.

Tatio Geysers – this was another very early morning (4:30am pickup) and the highest altitude excursion at 4,820m above sea level. As cool as this was to see, we both agreed we would have left this out as we were exhausted at this point of the trip already haha. Entrance fee: 15,000 CLP per person.


One of our favourite spots for dinner was Adobe. This was one of the few places open past 10pm and the vibe was great. It was a quaint, open concept area with live music some nights, and fires other nights. We ate here 3 nights and there was always something new to try on the menu.

La Franchuteria is a lovely bakery and lunch spot further into town. It was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel but so worth it! They have fresh croissants and bread, as well as sandwiches, juices, and coffees. We even took some snacks to go for our flight the next day.

Travel Tips

* There are many money exchange places in the town (specifically near the pharmacy), where you can exchange USD for CLP. We did this a couple times in order to pay for our excursions, park entrance fees, and tips. We highly recommend bringing USD with you from home as it is harder to get in South America when you aren’t in bigger cities.

* Reservations are not needed at restaurants for dinner but most close by 9 or 10pm. Adobe is the only one open until midnight and there’s always a line. We never had a problem getting in but we suggest putting your name down and arriving 15 minutes before you want to sit down to eat.

* As far as we could see there were no taxis within the city as the roads are small. Plan to walk to most places, but know if you book a group excursion they will do all the driving for you!

* There are lots of very cute market places with local, handmade goods. We brought home an alpaca blanket and sweater, which we got at an amazing price.

Flight 3: after spending 5 full days in the desert, we checked out, took a transfer back to the Calama airport and flew back to Santiago with JetSmart. This was by far our favourite airline because although it’s known as their ‘budget airline’ they offered a lot more than other airlines. We only had to pay for overweight baggage once, and this was it. Other times the employees let us go! Unfortunately no flights connected to our next destination, so we spent a night in Santiago in an airport hotel. This way we received a free shuttle service to and from the airport. There is also Uber in Santiago so we spent the afternoon in a part of the city called Lastarria, and visited the well-known Wonderland Cafe.

Morgan xx

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