Day 1 in Chile - Milky Way in Atacama Desert

ISO3200, 16mm, f/2.8, 30sec

ISO3200, 16mm, f/2.8, 30sec

In the past 3 days, we spent two full days in transition, and sandwiched one full day in Lima.

Yesterday was the longest and not the easiest. We got up at 5am, and arrived at Lima airport just before 7am. The LATAM counters seemed to be jam packed. Even we already checked in online, and took the priority line for family and children, it still took us almost two hours to finally check in our luggage.

When we boarded the airplane, I stood up to help a senior lady to put her luggage in the overhead cabin. She gracefully thanked me and then took my seat. It appeared the airline assigned both of us to the same seat. I waited till everyone got on board before the flight attendant assigned her a new seat so I could sit with my family.

Our 3-hour flight landed in Calama, a small town in northern Chile. It is our entry way to Atacama desert.

We were super excited about the start of a new destination, but another hiccup awaited us at the airport. The Chilean immigration officer insisted us to present birth certificates, in addition to passports, of our two boys, and said that was the only proof we were the parents and they could travel with us. We have traveled to countries in several continents with our little ones and never encountered this. We admitted our ignorance repeatedly and asked for mercy. We were finally granted permission to enter, all four of us. Whew! What a relief!!!

At the rental car counter we didn’t expect another long wait. It took us almost 2 hours - despite an online booking already made months ago. Perhaps we were the first customer ever to rent a baby car seat, we were offered a brand new seat still wrapped in the manufacturer package. There was no help on installation, and the user guide was only in Spanish! Apparently, this took us extra hour.

On top of that, we didn’t have any cash nor could use the ATM to withdraw, and literally couldn’t figure out how to buy water.

Finally, we found a Walmart-sized grocery store that took credit card, 10 minute drive from the airport. We stocked our trunk with week-long supply as if we would never have to deal with any trouble again…

Voila! We were finally on the road. A 1.5-hr desert drive to a village outside an even smaller desert town called San Pedro de Atacama.

Now the good start began!

We have enjoyed a thoroughly beautiful ride in the desert during sunset. There were times I really wanted to step out of the car and take pictures. But we knew we had to drive to a house with no address, in the middle of nowhere. It was best to find it before dark.

By the time we arrived, it was already 8pm, 30 minutes after sunset. Our ice cream purchased from the grocery store has completely melted. We couldn’t see much around the house as we were in a remote indigenous village. In fact that was the biggest reason I rented this place from Airbnb. I wanted to see milky way so badly, and having the potential to photograph it without travel is plus of the plus! (I have shared some tips of how to photograph landscape while traveling with young children, and this is probably my favorite.)

Shortly after a quick dinner, kids bath, everyone went to sleep.

I crawled out of the bed at almost 10pm, grabbed my camera gear, tiptoed to the front yard, and took my first shot in Chile. I couldn’t be happier!

ISO4000, 16mm, f2.8, 15sec

ISO4000, 16mm, f2.8, 15sec


It was mesmerizing to see milky way hanging right over my head. Despite all the effort to travel, the photo itself was almost effortless!