How to get there
Routes: from Santiago-SCL
Flight time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Aircraft: all-economy class Airbus A320
Average price: $770 roundtrip from SCL, or loop it in with your flight from the US for a better deal, with total prices like $1400 roundtrip from New York via Santiago. LAN is also a member of the Oneworld alliance, so mileage redemptions are possible for this route.
What to know about flying in/out of Calama El Loa Airport
· If you're flying in from an international destination to Santiago, to connect to Calama, you'll have to collect your checked luggage and pass through immigration and customs before re-checking and re-clearing security, this time through the domestic flight terminal portion, "Embarques Nacionales."
· There is no free WiFi at Santiago Airport, but various cafes (like Dunkin Donuts, Gatsby and La Pausa) do offer a password with purchase.
· Liquids over 3oz are allowed on Chilean domestic flights, and you won't be required to remove your shoes or laptop at domestic security check, unless your shoes are really heavy-duty.
· Unlike on US flights, you'll be fed free snack and drinks on the 2-hour flight from Santiago to Calama. LAN provides beverages and your choice of two snacks from four options (nut mix, coffee cake, fruit cup or savory breadsticks).
· The approach to Calama Airport is a windy one, seeing as how you're flying over ever-changing terrain with an area known for high winds. Our flight in wasn't scary, but there was some turbulence.
· Calama's El Loa Airport is nearby the town of Calama, but a good 2 hours of driving away from San Pedro de Atacama. Have your transportation pre-arranged either through your hotel or with a rental car, since you cannot just hop in a taxi and ask them to drive you to your hotel in the Atacama. In a related note, the drive gets bumpier the nearer you are to the Atacama, so this is one time to definitely consider upgrading to an SUV/4-wheel-drive rental car.
· You'll notice this as you walk off your plane, but El Loa Airport is busy building an all-new terminal, new control tower, and second runway due to open in a few years. Tourism to the Atacama is on an upswing, so best to get in before the crowds.
The desert scenery begins nearly immediately after leaving the airport:
We traveled to the Atacama as a guest of LAN, but all photos, observations and opinions are completely our own.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]