I am getting married in January of 2012, and I am looking for a honeymoon spot for me and my fiancé in Central or South America. We are really adventurous and are looking for an all-inclusive place to stay for the first half of the week; then we’d like to do some exploring to get the real feel for the city and country that we are in. I thought I would ask you for suggestions since you guys are the travel experts. Are there any trips that some of the employees have gone on and loved?
My recommendation: Split your time between Santiago, Chile’s capital, and San Pedro de Atacama, an off-the-grid desert oasis set about 8,000 feet above sea level and perfectly positioned for romance.
San Pedro de Atacama:
A quick commuter flight whisks you from Santiago to Calama, San Pedro de Atacama’s nearest entry point. Less than an hour later, you’ll enter the tiny town of San Pedro De Atacama, home to the driest desert on earth, only 2,500 full-time residents, and a handful of 4 and 5-star all-inclusive properties.
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa (pictured above) and Explora (pictured at left) are your top town-center options, while Hotel Alto Atacama Lodge and Spa is an idyllic 5-star hotel nestled just above in the hills.
Wherever you stay, renting a car is not necessary as your respective hotel is truly all-inclusive: Expect the property to scoop you up at the airport, drive you to the hotel, and provide transportation to all of your excursions throughout the trip. Onsite, you’ll enjoy three meals a day, wine and cocktails, daily excursions, guides, and any and all necessary equipment.
I stayed at Tierra De Atacama Hotel & Spa and can’t say enough about the staff, the property, and my experience. Upon arrival, the crew warmly welcomed us and wasted no time in setting up our excursions for the week.
Our first excursion was nice and easy: A visit to a local village en route to the Chilean Flamingo Reserve and the Atacama salt beds. Savor this first evening with a prearranged picnic of wine and cheese as the sun settles over the Andes Mountains.
Once back on property, enjoy dinner in the open and airy dining room, backdropped by the Licancabur volcano. The architecture and design of the Tierra De Atacama was done by Chilean designers who set out to create a seamless feeling between the region’s natural aesthetics and the building itself.
The chef’s cuisine onsite is simple but sublime, with a distinct European influence. Even so, expect fresh Chilean ingredients (produce, seafood) and healthful foods that sustain throughout the action-packed days.
As you look around the buzzing restaurant, you’ll see that it’s almost all couples celebrating romantic holidays, honeymoons, and anniversaries. You can be as social or as reclusive and romantic as you want on property. The choice is yours.
Pre- and post-dinner most guests gather at the open bar for a drink, which at some point will have to include Chile’s national treasure and signature cocktail, the Pisco Sour. Peru and Chile both claim it as their own drink; don’t get into the debate, just enjoy a sour or a Chilean wine (by the glass or bottle). After dinner, relax in an outdoor bed under a blanket of those famous Southern stars by a blazing fire pit.
Once settled in and acclimatized, the excursions are full-tilt. A trip to Moon Valley is truly otherworldly. In the silence we could actually hear the craters expand in the heat. Afterwards, we took the it picture in Death Valley on an extended desert cliff and embarked on a long, dusty bike ride to a salty bed of water similar to The Dead Sea. After a sunny soak, we had beer and wine on the banks and watched the sun set before heading back.
The third excursion I recommend is to the Tatio Geysers. Although I was initially ambivalent about the trip, the 80-some natural water fountains, set at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, wowed me. Just as the sun was starting to rise, geysers shot up enthusiastically everywhere around us. The nearly 40-feet-high spouts looked like special effects on a movie set, and the sunlit spectators resembled black and white shadows.
A much-needed cup of coffee and a full breakfast is served onsite mid-finale. On the way back, we stopped at The Puritama hot Springs and in the Machuca village to sample local dishes.
After another flawless lunch of Shrimp Timbale, Grilled Turbot with wild mushrooms and an orange and chocolate tart at Tierra Atacama, we biked in to the tiny colonial town to pick up beautiful baby alpaca scarves, some trinkets, and to enjoy some time with the locals.
There are plenty of local restaurants and bars in town worthy of a visit. It’s an easy walk or bike ride by day; by night, make arrangements with your property for drop-off and pick-up. The town is truly a destination until itself, similar in its quirky feel to Sayulita, Mexico.
For the final excursion, I met up with two Chilean cowboy guides. We strolled through town on our horses and galloped in to Death Valley to experience surreal peaks and stunning sandy valleys I couldn’t have imagined on foot. As we rode in, we passed sand-boarders fearlessly hitting the sandy slopes. Once at the top, it was a spiritual experience for us to stand there in awe and in silence with 360 degrees of natural beauty before us and the gorgeous horses beside us. It was a sight and a sound visitors will be hard-pressed to forget.
Tierra Atacama Lodge & Spa: There are three room styles. Oriente is the most romantic setting of the three, with an outdoor shower, private setting, and a view of the Licancabur volcano. Rates start at $1050 USD per person for two nights. Call 800-529-8235 to book.
Alto Atacama Lodge and Spa: Alto Atacama has been touted one of the top hotels in South America and one of the world’s top honeymoon hotels. It’s just minutes from the center of the tiny town, yet worlds away from any sense of civilization. The daily excursions are similar Tierra Atacama’s. The starlit pool and luxury spa are impressive, and the expansive grounds provide several opportunities to roll around in romance. Rates start at $1,218 for two nights (all-inclusive).
Explora: Explora offers chic and sleek, minimalist accommodations; the luxury is in the locations and surroundings. Rates start at $2,760 for three nights. To book, call 866-750-6699, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Similar to Buenos Aires, Santiago has European influences in its lifestyle and architecture, as many wealthy Chileans spent half of their year in Paris at the turn of the 20th century.
Start your Santiago stay by checking in to The Aubrey, a boutique hotel in the trendy Bellavista neighborhood, once home to Pablo Neruda. The once private mansion of an influential Chilean businessman and politician now houses fifteen well-appointed rooms and suites. It’s an impressive, yet approachable place.
Its cozy, rustic restaurant Pasta e Vino, once home to weekly political meetings, is known for rich innovative pasta dishes and Piscos, by night. By day, the melt-in-your-mouth yogurt is worth a visit. Everything is fresh, including hot, homemade baked breads.
For the active couple, take in the city on a biking tour with Paseos En Bicicelta. Santiago is a very cosmopolitan city with an abundance of parks, vibrant bars, restaurants, cafes, colonial architecture, museums, graveyards, floral and wine shops, outdoor markets, and famous graveyards.
There are several bohemian enclaves and a great mix of upmarket, arty, and edgy neighborhoods The city’s graffiti art creates a virtual urban art gallery, but behind the sprawl the snowcapped Andes beckon.
Just an hour or two outside the city you can be at a beach, vineyard or a mountain. Two hours outside of Santiago is El Morado National Park, a daunting trek at first with severe inclines and a high altitude and the stunning San Francisco Glacier before you.
The Aubrey Hotel: The Art Deco and the San Cristobal Suites, which double as honeymoon suites, start at $450.
The W Hotel: A new addition to the city of Santiago, the sleek and sophisticated W Hotel in Santiago has one of the best rooftop bars in the city. Regardless of whether or not you stay in the hotel, you want to be sure catch the sexy Santiago nightlife and the stunning skyline at The W Hotel. By day you can detox in the Wellness Club, then retox nightly at Whiskey Blue. Rooms from about $289.
Ritz-Carlton Santiago: Set in El Golf, one of Santiago’s most prestigious neighborhoods, The Ritz Carlton once again offers its unrivaled signature service, a rooftop health and fitness center and four distinctive restaurants. This is where the jet and celeb set sleep while in Santiago. Rooms from about $478.