Deep in the heart of Chile’s Atacama Desert lies the Valle de la Luna (“Valley of the Moon”).
The name’s not an exaggeration.
Standing in the middle of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range) – surrounded by a barren moonscape of silence – you can’t help but feel like you’re standing on the moon.
It’s the colors that get you.
Surrounded by volcanoes on all sides, the colors begin to show themselves in the late afternoon: hints of greens, blues, purples, pinks and gold adorn the valley walls… and then… at sunset… those first hints burst into plain view across the valley’s oddly shaped rock figures.
It’s dry here. Really dry.
There are places here which haven’t seen rain in centuries. It’s one of the driest places on earth and is so inhospitable scientists have tested Mars rovers here before firing them into space.
So perhaps “Valley of the Moon” isn’t entirely accurate.
The valley was formed by the collision of the Atacama desert and the Andes mountains. Salt lakes were pushed below surface, leaving salt flats to bake for centuries under the merciless desert sun.
This collection of salt provides a white film which covers most of the valley. The film adds a colorful sheen to the rocks, as they sparkle like diamonds during the hottest parts of the day.
It’s beautiful here. Really beautiful.
The complete lack of moisture actually adds to the valley’s beauty: while there aren’t any plants or animals, minerals thrive here like few places in the world. The result leaves you with the impression of alien life forms looming in the distance.
The Three Marias
Perhaps the most impressive part are the three rock formations – known as the Three Marias – which are located at the highest point of the Valle de la Luna. From there, you’re afforded a stunning vista of the valley in all its glory.
Credit: Phillie Casablanca
For this reason, it was declared a natural sanctuary – and included in the Reserva Nacional los Flamencos nature reserve – in 1982. Despite being one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, it remains a highlight for visitors in Chile.
You should visit here. You really should.
When To Go
The best time to visit Valle de la Luna is during the winter (June to September) for clear skies and mile weather.
From June to September, the average high temperatures range from 71 to 72°F (22ºC) and average low temperatures range from 39 to 40°F (4ºC).
Getting There & Around
The Valle de la Luna is located 8 miles (13km) west of San Pedro de Atacama.
The best way to get to San Pedro de Atacama is to fly into El Loa International Airport located in Calama which is a 63 miles (101km) bus ride south east to San Pedro de Atacama.
From San Pedro de Atacama take a bus or tour to Valle de la Luna.
- Mid-range accommodations: $75-125
- Meals: $10-15
- Bottle of beer: $2
- Visit the Tourist Information Office (corner of Toconao and Le Paige) for maps and up-to-date information on activities.
- Visit the Paseo Artesanal for souvenirs.
- Bring sunscreen, chap-stick and lotion for the high and strong desert sun and air.
- Waste water in the area. It’s in very short supply.
- Jump the gun. Give yourself time to acclimate to the high elevation..
- Plan on buying alcohol after 1pm.
- The stone and sand formations of Valle de la Luna were formed by water and wind.
- The white film among much of the area is a salt deposit.
- In 1982, the Valle de la Luna was declared a National Sanctuary.
Feature Image Credit: navandale