South America Sojourn
A newlywed couple seeking romance and adventure discovers this captivating continent.
Most people associate a honeymoon with heat — tropical as well as amorous. But I will always think of ice, because on the first day of our trip, my husband, Nirav, and I came face to face with a 40-foot-tall wall of it. We had hiked seven miles with a guide and a few other guests of explora Patagonia to Grey Glacier, which is fed by the Southern Ice Field (located between Chile and Argentina, it’s the second largest frozen mass in the world). Along the way, intermittently adding layers of clothing from our backpacks (the drop in temperature as we approached was palpable), we spotted icebergs the size of small islands floating in Lake Grey. But we still weren’t prepared for the scale of the glacier itself when, after boarding a waiting boat, we drifted within a stone’s throw of it. While we marveled at its aqua-hued majesty, the crew prepared fresh pisco sours. It was our first taste of the Chilean national drink, unforgettably served over glacial ice.
I hadn’t always expected to pack a parka for my honeymoon. Like any engaged woman in the throes of wedding planning, I’d been tempted to book a tropical all-inclusive. But when Nirav and I asked ourselves what we wanted to get out of this particular vacation, we realized that relaxation was only part of the answer. We sought to seal our marriage with a unique adventure, an opportunity to see a different part of the world and experience new wonders together. Of course, we also wanted to be spoiled. We settled on South America for its ideal blend of nature (surreal scenery, outdoor activities, a sense of seclusion) and nurture (luxe lodging, gourmet food and wine, lack of jet lag—at most there’s only a one-hour time change from the East Coast).
Our first stop was Chilean Patagonia, at the southernmost tip of the continent. Getting there is an odyssey in itself: After flying to Santiago and then Punta Arenas, it’s a five-hour van ride to Torres del Paine National Park. We arrived late at night in pitch darkness, so the jagged tableau out our window when we awoke was as startling as it was sublime. The boxy architecture of explora’s Hotel Salto Chico is meant to balance the imposing peaks that surround it. Inside it feels like a contemporary cruise ship—sleek and understated as if in deference to the dramatic landscape. The service and amenities are five-star, but what you’re really paying (quite a bit) for is the knowledge, experience and passion of the guides. They are the ones who convinced us our first night, utterly exhausted from travel, to sign up for the hike to Grey Glacier and commit to the following day’s far tougher feat: the trek to the base of the park’s namesake towers.
The infamous Patagonian wind was whipping that morning as we set out on the grueling 10.5-mile climb with, coincidentally, two other pairs of honeymooners. The sun shined the whole way, and as we scrambled up the final rocky stretch a few wispy clouds parted to reveal a postcard-worthy view of the giant granite spires. That night, after a much-needed massage and soak in explora’s outdoor hot tubs, we relived the journey over a three-course meal paired with local wines. We were proud of pushing our bodies to new limits, but much more so of accomplishing something together as husband and wife.
Two days later we found ourselves staring at other awe-inspiring summits: the Andes. We’d moved on to northern Chile’s Atacama Desert—the driest place on Earth. Parts of the desert haven’t seen a drop of rain in 400 years—yet because of geological activity ages ago, you can stroll in a field of active geysers, soak in thermal hot springs and swim in a salt lake. We did all these things and more during our stay at the romantic Awasi hotel in San Pedro de Atacama. Guest programs are personalized at this eight-cottage enclave. You’re assigned a private guide and design your own excursions. We chose to hike a cactus-studded canyon, explore ancient archeological ruins, ride bikes on chalky salt flats, and scale a sand dune overlooking Moon Valley (our guide provided a bottle of carmenere, Chilean red wine, for us to enjoy while watching the sunset paint the volcanoes with strokes of scarlet).
Despite all that action, we still found time to unwind in our spacious rondoval room with two patios and an outdoor shower. But our most memorable moments at Awasi occurred when, after indulging in a decadent dinner of grilled Patagonian lamb or quinoa risotto (the cuisine is outstanding), we snuggled under blankets by a raging bonfire and gazed up at the luminescent tapestry of stars.
At this point, having nearly overdosed on natural beauty, we were ready for some urban diversions. Luckily, we’d planned to spend the last leg of our trip in Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina has been called the Paris of South America, and the comparison is apt—especially in the posh Recoleta neighborhood that was home to our hotel. Even if we hadn’t known the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires is a converted palace, we felt like king and queen as we were escorted to our chic corner suite. Later, we toasted cocktails on the terrace of the Oak Bar.
The next day we visited La Recoleta Cemetery, where the nation’s presidents and political heroes, including Eva Peron, are buried next to artists, scientists and writers. It’s easy to lose track of time wandering the maze of marble mausoleums bathed in shadows cast by angels’ wings. But eventually our growling stomachs snapped us out of our reverie. After refueling with picachu (onion, cheese and pepper) empanadas, we explored the hip Palermo district. This barrio where Jorge Luis Borges first wielded his pen is now the center of BA’s nightlife, and its outdoor bars and cafes are packed at all hours.
We’d saved something special for our final evening: an authentic Argentine tango show. At Faena Hotel + Universe, “Rojo Tango” begins with a candlelit dinner in an intimate cabaret. Once you’re blissfully full and foggy from sipping malbec, the live musicians and dancers take their places. To call the ensuing performance steamy would be an understatement. The pairs exude passion as they strut across the stage, their lower limbs intertwined and eyes locked in longing. Our honeymoon may have started with ice, but it was sizzling by the end. n
When to go: South America’s seasons are opposite ours, so expect warm temperatures from December to April and wintry weather from June to October.
How to get there: Several U.S.-based carriers, including American, Delta and Continental, offer connecting flights out of Orlando International Airport into Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. Travel time varies from 11 to 21 hours. Within South America, LAN (lan.com) is the principal regional carrier.
Where to stay: Explora Patagonia (four nights from $5,320, all-inclusive; explora.com/patagonia); Awasi (two nights from $2,560, all-inclusive; awasi.com); Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires (doubles from $405; buenosaires.park.hyatt.com)