Valle de la Luna in Atacama desert – the stunning surreal landscape
Valle de la Luna in Atacama desert – the Moon Valley forms part of the Cordillera de la Sal – Salt Mountain Range which lies between Domeyko Range and the Andes, just 19 km from San Pedro de Atacama. This place will take your breath away. No vegetation, no animal life, no humidity and yet so beautiful! It was declared a Nature Sanctuary and no wonder why.
The Moon Valley was formed 22 million years ago and is located at 2,550 m above sea level. Its small sharp crested hills remind of the surface of the Moon, hence the name.
When I heard of the existence of a place like this, I just had to visit it. Once I came back from the ruins of Pukara de Quitor, I took a trip with travel agency Turismo Layana to the Moon Valley the same day. The tour started at 4 pm as it is the best time to see all the different colours of the Valley.
We hopped on a bus and headed off to the entrance to the Moon Valley to pay the entrance fee. Then our first stop was Cordillera de la Sal – Salt Mountain Range with caves, white salty surface on the ground, greyish sand and reddish huge rocks forming the canyon all around. After the huge rain in Atacama in February 2012 which doesn’t happen very often, the Cordillera completely changed its shape. The water shaped the rocks, left the salt minerals on top of the sediments and the strong stream took a big part of the sand from the ground in between the rocks, leaving a layer of sand at its banks. It literally looked as if there was a river before. We were lucky as it was the first time that Cordillera de la Sal was open to the visitors again after that heavy rain a month before. We could even enter one of the caves where I scratched my arm letting an older woman to pass. Typical! The guide explained us how to listen to the rocks cracking there in the silence. Sometimes it sounded like someone playing a musical instrument.
Afterwards, we continued the bus trip and on the way saw the Duna Mayor – the Big Sand Dune and some other dunes.
Then we finally entered Valle de la Luna – the Moon Valley. I was left without words, so amazed by the beauty of the landscape. The images speak more than words right now.
After a short walk through the Moon Valley, the bus took us to Tres Marias – Three Maries. It is 2 salt formations made due to intense process of erosion over 1 million years ago. It used to be three of them like the name says, but one of them, the first one on the left, was destroyed. There are two stories about its destruction, or a tourist climb it and broke it, or it was a strong rain which caused it.
Still in 7th heaven surrounded by all the beautiful moon-looking nature, we drove out to get to another jaw-dropping place called Valle de la Muerte – Death Valley.
The Death Valley is located just 4 km West of San Pedro de Atacama and it was an emerged lake where the old horizontal layers of sediment and rock 23 million years ago were pushed and folded, leaving some layers in a vertical position. With the time, rain and wind made enormous mineral structures in the valley that we can see nowadays. It is possible to do sandboarding at 120 meter long dunes of the Death Valley.
For me, Valle de la Muerte was a place with really strong winds, a stunning rainbow and the best view ever. The name Death Valley was actually a mistake when its visitor said with his bad Spanish that it looked like marte (Mars in Spanish) and it was understood like muerte (death in Spanish).
Then, our last stop was to watch the sunset from Anfiteatro – Amphitheatre with the view of the whole Moon Valley and Salt Mountain Range. We arrived when the Sun was still out and stayed until a couple of minutes after the sunset so we were able to see so many different colours of the Valley. The rock minerals are more vivid before the sunset. I could stay in this place for ages!
- Max velocity is 40 km/h and only allowed to drive/ride through the main roads, not out of them
- No camping nor fire allowed.
- No picking up natural material (rocks and salt minerals).
- You can take a trip with a travel agency or come by a rented bicycle or car.
- The best time to visit is before sunset when the colours of the valley become more vivid due to the sunbeams, or before the sunrise.
- Bring bottled still water and food with you, there is no place to buy it there.
- Toilets are only at the entrance to the Moon Valley.
My trip to Valle de la Luna in Atacama desert was made possible due to the travel agencies Turismo Layana, together with Andes Expediciones. Once again many thanks to them to let me explore such a nice landscape which soon became my favorite place of Atacama desert. For more information, please visit Turismo Layana website, send them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, call to the mobile phone 056-9-90893109 or to the land line 056-55-560233.