Great ‘Cultural’ Spa Experiences From Around The World

spasEven if you’re not a spa junkie, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a great massage or other self-indulgent treatment. I’m actually a massage school graduate, and although I ultimately decided not to pursue that career path, I’ve parlayed my experience into doing the odd spa writing assignment. Not surprisingly, I’m a tough judge when it comes to practitioners, facilities and treatments. I also don’t have any interest in generic treatments. What I love is a spa and menu that captures the essence of a place, through both ingredients and technique.

Many spas around the world now try to incorporate some localized or cultural element into their spa programs. It’s not just a smart marketing tool, but a way to educate clients and hotel guests, employ local people skilled in indigenous therapeutic practices, or sell branded spa products made from ingredients grown on site, or cultivated or foraged by local tribes or farmers.

Sometimes, it’s not a hotel or high-end day spa that’s memorable, but a traditional bathhouse used by locals (such as a Moroccan hammam) that’s special. The low cost of such places is an added bonus: think Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, and parts of the Middle East.

Over the years, I’ve visited a number of spas and bathhouses that have made a big impression on my aching body or abused skin, as well as my innate traveler’s curiosity. After the jump, my favorite spa experiences from around the world.

ninh van baySix Senses Ninh Van Bay: Vietnam
Located on an isolated peninsula accessible only by boat, Six Senses (near the beach resort of Nha Trang) is a seriously sexy property. Private villas nestle in the hillsides and perch above the water, but the spa and restaurants are the big draw here, as many of their ingredients are sourced from the property’s extensive organic gardens.

The “Locally Inspired” section of the spa menu features treatments like the Vietnamese Well-being Journey: three-and-a-half hours of pure hedonism. A scrub with com xanh (Vietnamese green rice) is followed by a bath in “herbs and oils from the indigenous Hmong and Dao hill tribes of the Sa Pa Valley,” and a traditional massage using bamboo, suction cups and warm poultices filled with native herbs.

On my visit, I opted for a refreshing “Vietnamese Fruit Body Smoother” made with ingredients just harvested from the garden: papaya, pineapple and aloe vera. Other body treatments include applications of Vietnamese green coffee concentrate and a green tea scrub.

Foot reflexology: Hong Kong
Foot reflexologists and massage parlors are ubiquitous throughout Asia, and in my experience, it’s hard to find a bad one. That said, one of the best massages I’ve ever had was an hour-long foot reflexology session in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong. It cost me all of ten dollars, and interestingly enough, it also proved eerily accurate about a long-term GI problem I’d been having that had defied Western diagnosis.

My bliss was momentarily interrupted when my therapist pressed a particular spot on the ball of my foot, causing me to nearly leap out of my skin. He informed me that my gallbladder was inflamed, information I processed but soon forgot. I’d already been tested for gallstones with negative results – twice. A year later, I had an emergency cholecsytectomy to remove my severely diseased gallbladder. A trip to Honinh van bayng Kong for a foot massage would ultimately have been cheaper and far more enjoyable than three years of worthless diagnostics.

Verana: Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico
One of my favorite places on earth is Verana, an intimate, eight-guesthouse hilltop retreat located in Yelapa, a fishing village one hour from Puerto Vallarta by water taxi. Husband and wife team Heinz Legler and Veronique Lievre designed the hotel and spa and built it entirely by hand, using local, natural materials.

Although the spa doesn’t focus on traditional Mayan or Aztec technique, Verana grows or forages all of the raw ingredients for its treatments (the gardens also supply the property’s outstanding restaurant), including banana, coconut, lemon, pineapple, papaya and herbs. Try an outdoor massage, followed by a dip in the watsu tub, or an edible-sounding body scrub made with cane sugar and coffee or hibiscus-papaya.

Morocco: hammams
A staple of Moroccan life (as well as other parts of North Africa and the Middle East), hammam refers to segregated public bathhouses that are a weekly ritual for many. A “soap” made from crushed whole olives and natural clay is applied all over the body with an exfoliating mitt. Buckets of hot water are then used to rinse.

Although many hotels in the big cities offer luxury hammam treatments tailored for Western guests, if you want the real deal, go for a public bathhouse. While in Morocco, I got to experience three types of hammam: the hotel variety, a rural DIY hammam at the spectacular yelapaKasbah du Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, and one at a public bathhouse.

In most public hammams, you’ll strip down in a massive, steam-filled, tiled room. Request an attendant (rather than DIY), who will then scrub the life out of you, flipping you around like a rag-doll. Massages are often offered as part of the service or for an additional fee.

Yes, it’s intimidating and unnerving to be the only naked Westerner in a giant room of naked Muslim men or women, all of who are staring at you and giggling. Once you get over being the odd man (or woman, in my case) out, it’s fascinating to have such an, uh, intimate glimpse into an everyday activity very few travelers experience. The payoff is the softest, cleanest, most glowing skin imaginable.

At hammans that accept Westerners, the vibe is friendly and welcoming, and it’s a way to mingle with locals and participate in an ancient, sacred ritual without causing offense. Do enquire, via sign language or in French, if you should remove all of your clothing, or leave your skivvies on. I failed to do this at the public bathhouse, and increased the staring situation a thousand-fold, because at that particular hammam (unlike the Kasbah), the women kept their underwear on. Oops.

Three highly recommended, traditional, wood-fired Marrakech hammams are Bain Marjorelle (large, modern multi-roomed), Hammam Polo (small, basic, one room), and Hammam el Basha (large, older, multi-roomed). Expect to pay approximately $10 for an attendant (including tip, sometimes massage). Independent travelers can easily find a hamman if they look for people of their own gender carrying buckets, towels and rolled-up mats near a mosque. To ensure you visit a Western-friendly hammam, it’s best to ask hotel or riad staff or taxi drivers for recommendations, and enquire about male/female hours.

Daintree EcoLodge & Spa: Daintree, Queensland, Australia
The Daintree Rainforest, located near Cape Tribulation in Far North Queensland, is over 135 million years old. It’s home to some of the rarest and most primitive flora on earth, muchalto atacama of it traditionally used by the local Aboriginal people for medicinal purposes.

The Daintree Wellness Spa at the low-key, family-owned and-operated EcoLodge has received international accolades for both its work with the local Kuku Yajani people, and its luxe treatments. The spa relies on ochre (a skin purifier) harvested from beneath the property’s waterfall, as well as indigenous “bush” ingredients from the Daintree such as rosella, avocado, native mint, wild ginger, bush honey, quandong, tea tree and spring water. The spa also produces its own line of products, Daintree Essentials (available online).

All treatments integrate traditional Kuku Yalanji modalities and spiritual beliefs, and have received approval from the local elders. I opted for the Ngujajura (Dreamtime) package, which includes a full body and foot massage, Walu BalBal facial and rain therapy treatment (a specialty at Daintree, consisting of an oil and sea salt exfoliation, ochre mud wrap and spring water shower administered tableside … trust me, it’s revelatory). An added bonus: the lodge offers Aboriginal cultural classes that include jungle walks, medicinal plants and bush foods (try eating green ants, a surprisingly tasty source of vitamin C).

Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
This absolutely enchanting adobe property on the outskirts of the village of San Pedro is a slice of heaven, even if you skip its Puri Spa. But that would be a mistake, because then you wouldn’t be able to succumb to treatments and ingredients adapted from what’s been traditionally used by the local Atacameño people for thousands of years.

Atacama is the driest desert on earth, so on my visit, I chose the “Royal Quinoa Face Mask,” made with locally sourced quinoa (for its exfoliating and regenerative properties) mixed with local honey and yogurt. I left the treatment room looking considerably less desiccated.

The real splurge is the Sabay Massage, which uses pindas, or cloth pouches, filled with rice (used here as an exfoliant), rica rica (an herbal digestive aid also used in aromatherapy) and chañar berries (medicinally used as an expectorant and to stimulate circulation, as well as a food source) collected from around the property, which has extensive native gardens designed by a reknown Chilean ethno-botanist. You’ll emerge silky-skinned and tension-free. Dulces Sueños.

[Photo credits: Massage, Flickr user thomaswanhoff; Six Senses, Laurel Miller; Verana, Flickr user dmealiffe]

10 Unique Experiences To Have In Chile

moon valley chile When I backpacked South America, one country I found difficult to plan was Chile. While I had heard they had great wine, adventurous hikes and beautiful landscapes, I had no idea where to actually go and what to actually do. After traveling through the country, I now realize there are way too many worthwhile experiences to have to narrow it down into just one list. However, these are 10 I think everyone should try to incorporate into a trip to the country.

Have a favorite destination or experience in Chile? Share it in the comments below.

Sandboarding In Death Valley/Hiking In Moon Valley

While these are technically two different experiences, you can book a tour in San Pedro de Atacama that allows you to do both in one day. Death Valley is surreal, with gigantic sand dunes and unworldly rock formations. In fact, the site looks so out of this world, many people say it resembles Mars. The basically barren landscape and dry climate is also similar to the red planet. NASA scientists and university researchers go there to test outer space equipment and hypotheses. Moon Valley is also bizarre, with jagged mountains covered in salt, stone and sand formations carved by water and wind, mysterious caves and dry saline-coated lakes. Because of its lunar appearance, a Mars rover was once tested there by scientists.The only company I saw offering the combination tour for both destinations with sandboarding was Atacama Inca Tour. For 12,000 Chilean Pesos (about $25), plus 2,000 $CLP (about $4) to enter Moon Valley, you get transportation, a sandboarding lesson and about two hours of sandboarding, a tour of the Chulacao Caves, which are covered in edible salt, an uphill trek to a viewpoint in Moon Valley to sip Pisco Sour while watching the sunset and a free DVD of the afternoon.

Explore Chile’s Lake District

When visiting Chile’s Lake District, you’ll be surrounded by more than just lakes. The area extends throughout a 210-mile stretch between Temuco and Puerto Montt, and features numerous activities in a world of natural beauty. Along with 12 major lakes, there is also larch forest, jagged peaks, serene waterfalls, green valleys, snow-capped volcanoes and many opportunities for cultural interaction through traditional folklore and indigenous handicraft markets. For many reasons, the destination is often compared to Switzerland. Both have similar landscapes, as well as cultural diversity. While Switzerland has four official languages, Chile’s Lake District was settled by Germans in the 19th century and also has a still existent native Mapuche culture. Make sure to visit Lago Llanquihue, one of South America’s largest lakes with an amazing scene of colors, mountains and volcanoes. For some deep relaxation, visit the geothermal pools at Termas Geometricas. The attraction features a red-planked walkway of slate-covered hot and cold thermal water pools. You’ll also see rivers, waterfalls and canyons. For some, adventure, hiking, biking and rafting are popular modes of transport for exploring Chile’s Lake District.

easter island Go Back In Time On Easter Island

Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not only one of the most isolated travel destinations on Earth, it’s also one of the planet’s most sacred sites. Once in Chile, you can take a flight from Santiago to reach the destination. Most people know the Chilean Polynesian island for its moai, large, personified stone monoliths with very large features. They were created by the Rapa Nui people between the years 1250 and 1500, and average 13 feet in height and 14 tons. While the architecture is impressive – especially given the time period they were built in – the mystery behind why these structures were constructed still remains a mystery. It is believed the moai were built to honor ancestors or another important group of people; however, the Rapa Nui left behind no oral or written history. Popular ways to view the statues are via horseback riding, renting a jeep or car or biking, although the many potholes and unpaved roads making cycling a bit difficult. Other worthwhile activities on Easter Island include scuba diving, snorkeling, relaxing on the beach and visiting volcanic craters where you can see the rock that created the moai carvings.

Climb The Highest Volcano In The World

At 22,615 feet in elevation, Nevado Ojos del Salado (“Source of the Salt River” summit) is the highest volcano in the world. It’s located on the Chile-Argentina border, and can be accessed via Copiapó, Chile. When making your way up the enormous stratovolcano, you’ll be able to hike most of the way, although a bit of scrambling is necessary towards the top. Additionally, once you reach 20,960 feet on the eastern side of Ojos del Salado, you’ll see what is said to be the world’s highest lake. Wondering if it’s active? The last eruption was in 1993, leading scientists to believe there is a possibility it still is.

If you’re interested in doing a longer excursion and scaling multiple volcanoes, the companies Andes Mountain and Amity Tours offer 13- and 14-day trips.

torres del paine Hike In Patagonia Via The “W Circuit” In Torres del Paine National Park

Whether you hike this circuit or just visit the national park on a tour, seeing the bizarre scenery of Torres del Paine is a must when in Chile. The entire time I was there I felt as though I were in the most beautiful Tim Burton film ever created, with animal skulls and twisted roots in front of a snow peaked background, and jagged rock formations and pointy pink mountain spires coming together with shimmering glaciers and colorful skies. The “W Circuit” will allow you to see some of the best views in the park. It takes about three to six days, with the highlights being beautiful lakes, the French Valley and the iconic Towers of Paine, enormous granite monoliths shaped by glacial ice. Note that the hike can be challenging for some, especially due to common strong winds and rough terrain.

Travel Underground In The Largest Open Pit Copper Mine In The World

In the north of Chile you’ll find Antofagasta, home to Chuquicamata, the largest open pit copper mine by excavated volume in the world. Its open pit is 14,108 feet long, 9,843 feet wide and 2,953 feet deep. Despite being exploited for over 90 years, the mine still manages to be one of the largest known copper resources on Earth. In fact, copper is one of Chile’s major exports. Codelco, the official owner of the mine, requires visitors to take a free guided tour if they want to visit. You can choose between English or Spanish, and can contact them at visitas@codelco.cl or +56 55 322122 to make a reservation.

santiago Get To Know History And Culture In Santiago

Santiago is Chile’s capital, and a great home base for exploring nearby areas like the Casablanca Wine Valley, beautiful beaches and the Andes Mountains. You’ll learn a lot just from hanging out in Plaza de Armas, the city’s main square. Here you’ll find the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, a church as well as a national monument. You’ll also get a firsthand look at the influence of Peruvian immigrants through ethnic food, shops and recreation. Additionally, the city is home to many beautiful parks, like Parque Metropolitano, home to San Cristobal Hill, which offers excellent city views and Parque Forestal, home to the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Modern Art Museum. Moreover, cultural establishments like the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, the Presidential Palace, and various cultural centers will give you a wealth of insight into Chile’s heritage. You should also stop by the Church and Museum of San Francisco, the oldest church in the city. Here, you’ll also be able to see a monolith from Easter Island.

Go Scuba Diving On Robinson Crusoe Island

Robinson Crusoe island, part of the archipelago of Juan Fernandez, is a national park as well as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. This volcanic island of rugged mountain is often described as a deserted area of unspoiled beauty, and for good reason. Both on and off land, the island offers one of the most endemic ecosystems in the world. Furthermore, it features warm, crystal clear water, perfect for scuba diving and submarine hunting. You’ll see a diverse array of marine life, including vidriola, rock salmon, moray, pampanito, corvina, breca and more. You can access the island via a flight from Santiago.

penguins Cross The Strait of Magellan To See Penguins On Isla Magdalena

You can take a ferry from Punta Arenas and arrive on Isla Magdalena, where you’ll see thriving groups of Magellanic penguins. This is where Chile’s largest penguin colonies reside. It is said there are about 60,000 breeding pairs. It’s not surprising this island is the main part of the Penguins Natural Monument. There is a big hill with a lighthouse on top, where most visitors climb to begin their photo taking. If you’d like a tour, Adventure Life offers an excursion to the island via a high-speed zodiac.

Go Wine Tasting In Casablanca Valley

Wine is one of Chile’s biggest industries, and the country is a major exporter of wine. Casablanca Valley is located just 45-minutes outside Santiago. The first vine was planted in the region in the mid-1980s, and quickly made a mark in Chile’s history becoming the first cool-climate coastal region to produce wines. The maritime, foggy mornings and cool Mediterranean climate greatly influence the grapes, which produce crisp, flavorful, aromatic wines. The three major varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although high quality Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer can also be found. Because it can be a bit tedious to get to, many people either hire a driver or stay the night in Casablanca. Other popular wine valleys to visit include Colchagua Valley, Maipo Valley, San Antonio Valley and Aconcagua Valley. If you’re interested in touring one or more of these regions, Ecotours Chile and Uncorked offer excellent excursions.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey, Anetode, Jessie on a Journey, Metaforico, Hector Garcia]

Sandboarding And Sunset In The Atacama Desert, Chile

sandboarding “They call this Death Valley because of all the people who don’t make it out alive,” our tour guide, Steve, whispered in a haunting voice.

Staring at the enormous sand dunes and unworldly rock formations, I felt fearful of what I was about to do. Of course, Steve was joking. The name actually comes from a mispronuciation by a Belgian priest, Gustavo Le Paige, who thought the landscape looked like Mars, or Marte. Because of the way he spoke, locals believed he said “death,” or muerte.

I found myself here after booking a “Sandboarding in Death Valley + Sunset in Moon Valley” excursion with Atacama Inca Tour. It was during a trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, where tour agencies occupy every other storefront. However, this company was the only one I noticed offering this unique combination package. For 12,000 Chilean Pesos (about $25), plus 2,000 $CLP (about $4) to enter Moon Valley, you get transportation, a sandboarding lesson and about two hours of sandboarding, a tour of the Chulacao Caves, which are covered in edible salt, an uphill trek to a viewpoint in Moon Valley to sip Pisco Sour while watching the sunset and a free DVD of the afternoon. The tour also stops at many lookout points, so you’ll be able to get many photos. While Death Valley holds a surreal beauty, Moon Valley has some interesting landscape as well. In fact, the area gets its name due to its resemblance to the moon’s surface.

For a more visual idea of the day, check out the photo gallery below.

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Tierra Atacama: luxury base camp for desert adventures

The Tierra Atacama, a luxury resort in Chile's northern desertFor the past few days, I’ve been sharing stories about my recent travels to the Atacama Desert, located in northern Chile. I’ve mentioned several of the highlights of that destination and even wrote about my climb to the top of an 18,000-foot volcano. Hopefully those stories conveyed a sense of the adventure that can be found in the Atacama, which is amongst the most beautiful and diverse places that I’ve ever visited.

While visiting some remote destination, adventure travelers often find themselves huddled inside tents and making do without their favorite creature comforts. I’m happy to report that that doesn’t have to be the case in the Atacama however, as San Pedro has a number of options for nearly any budget. Options range from youth hostels all the way up to all-inclusive luxury resorts, with a number of options in between. During my stay in Chile, I had the pleasure of staying at the Tierra Atacama, a resort that falls on the higher end of that spectrum.

We first told you about Tierra Atacama last summer, when it was awarded a Juli B style award for “Best International Resort.” At the time, it was lauded for mixing both adventure and luxury in a fantastic natural setting. Now, having visited the place first hand, I can appreciate that combination even more.
The Tierra Atacama Resort and SpaI arrived at Tierra Atacama after more than 24-hours of travel that included four flights, three layovers, and an hour long car ride from nearby Calama. Needless to say, I was quite exhausted, but upon my arrival, the resort staff were extremely accommodating and within minutes I was checked in and whisked off to my room. The accommodations were spacious, comfortable, and featured a large comfy bed, indoor and outdoor showers, and free WiFi Internet service that was far better than I had any reason to hope for. The room had no television whatsoever, but one glance out the sliding glass doors, which led out onto a comfortable, private deck, explained why. The view off of my room was nothing short of spectacular, with snow-capped peaks dominating the horizon in all directions. Who has time for television, when you have that to look at?

As you would expect in an all inclusive resort, your food and drinks are part of the package at the Tierra Atacama. But what I didn’t expect was that that “all inclusive” also meant that adventure was part of the package as well. The resort has quite an extensive list of excursions available to its guests, and within 30 minutes of my arrival, I was sitting down with a staff member to plot out my own adventures for the duration of my stay. We came up with an excellent scheduled that allowed me to see as much of the desert as possible, in an efficient manner, while also keeping me plenty active, at the same time. Excursions can include everything from desert hikes and mountain bike rides, to day trips to visit the local salt flats and challenging high altitude climbs up local volcanoes. Each excursion is led by a friendly and knowledgeable, bilingual guide, who have forgotten more about the Atacama Desert than most people will ever know.

After a long day of exploring the desert, you’ll definitely want to refuel in the resorts dining hall. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served on a regular schedule, and the food was always excellent. The offerings varied greatly from day-to-day and meal-to-meal, ranging from classic gourmet fish and beef dishes to more traditional local fare. The chefs never ceased to impress with their creative and tasty combinations, which often included liberal uses of fresh fruits and vegetables as well.

Meal times at the Tierra Atacama are something to look forward to, and not just because of the great food. The atmosphere at the resort is one that is conducive to being social, and the dining room made it easy to gather around with your fellow travelers and swap stories about your daily excursions while enjoying the fine food or a cool beverage. Other communal areas, such as sun decks and observation lounges, were regularly occupied by guests as well, with visitors from around the globe sharing the Atacama experience with one another. It was not uncommon to walk past a table and hear multiple languages being spoken in excited and jovial tones.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the resort also has a full service spa, but alas it was not something that I took advantage of. It seemed very popular with the other guests however, many of whom were visiting the Atacama for a little rest and relaxation. I did take advantage of the hot tub on my final night at the hotel however, relaxing in the hot water, while a blanket consisting of a billion stars twinkled overhead.

While I made my visit to the Chile solo, couples looking for a romantic, yet adventurous, getaway, should consider making the journey as well. Tierra Atacama is a fantastic destination for a romantic escape, as you’ll spend the days exploring a unique destination, unlike any other place on the planet, only to return to the resort in the evenings for a comfortable and relaxing night around the fire or sitting out under the stars.

The resort also sits right on the edge of San Pedro, the town of 4000 inhabitants that serves as the unofficial capital of the Atacama. It is close enough to easily stroll into town for a little shopping, sightseeing, or to simply enjoy a Pisco Sour while watching the tourists and locals go about their day. The proximity to San Pedro adds a healthy dose of local color to your trip, as the town has plenty of character to spare.

In short, a stay at Tierra Atacama offers travelers adventure, luxury, romance, and culture. What more could you ask for on your next journey?

The Tierra Atacama sits on the edge of San Pedro in the Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert’s Valle de la Luna

The Valle de la Luna, located in the Atacama DesertYesterday we introduced you to the Atacama Desert, a dry, yet strikingly beautiful destination, located in Chile‘s northern region along that country’s borders with Bolivia and Argentina. Protected on its east and west sides by towering mountain ranges, the Atacama seldom sees rainfall of any kind and as a result, it is amongst the driest places on the planet. Those dry conditions, combined with centuries of carving winds, have created landscapes that appear otherworldly at times, while still maintaining their ability to take your breath away.

One example of this is the famed Valle de la Luna or the Valley of the Moon, which is so named because of its eerie resemblance to the surface of our closest celestial neighbor. Its towering dunes, strange rock formations, and twisting canyons have made it one of the desert’s most popular destinations, drawing adventurous travelers from across the globe. The valley has even served as a testing ground for NASA scientists, who visited the place to put the Mars rover through its paces before shipping it off to the Red Planet nearly a decade ago.While located just a short drive from San Pedro, the town that serves as base camp for most adventures in the Atacama, the Valle de la Luna never-the-less feels like a completely different world. Its surface is covered in some of the finest and softest sands you’ll find anywhere on the planet, and the larger dunes tower as much as 40 meters into the sky. Rock outcroppings almost appear to have been sculpted by man rather than the natural forces of the Earth, and the maze-like web of canyons just beg to be explored on foot.

When entering the valley for the first time, there are two things that will immediately strike you. First, there is an amazing array of colors that mark the landscape, including plenty of reds, oranges, and browns of course. But there are also a surprising number of greens, pinks, yellows, and whites to be seen as well. This rainbow of colors is often the result of the mineral deposits that are so plentiful in the area, including copper, salt, and many more. The surprisingly colorful landscape is augmented even further when viewed during the rising –and especially the setting sun. During those magical hours, the entire valley is bathed in a soft light that only further enhances the otherworldly feel, and presents a vision that will almost certainly become a lasting highlight for any visitor.

The second thing you’ll notice about the Valle de la Luna is just how quiet is is there. Sounds seem to be absorbed and muffled by the sand and rocks, and when you stop for a moment to listen, you’ll pick up only the whisper of the wind and the ever so slight popping of salt deposits buried inside the rock walls themselves. The silence only helps to further enhance the feeling that you’ve left the Earth behind, and are instead exploring an alien world that couldn’t exist back home. Some travelers will no doubt find the quiet a bit unnerving, while others will enjoy the peacefulness of it all.

Any visitor to the Atacama will want to have the Valle de la Luna on their “must visit” list for sure. But I’d recommend making that visit in the early evening so you can enjoy the setting of the sun over the tranquil landscape. And once the sun has dropped below the horizon for another day, linger a bit longer and enjoy the night skies, which are an amazing sight in their own right. If you’re lucky enough to have a full moon, the pale light will making the valley all the more unique and wonderful.

It is locations like this one that make the Atacama so unique, and while the desert remains a bit of a hidden travel gem at the moment, it is definitely a destination that every adventure traveler will want to make plans to visit in the future. The Valle de la Luna is just one of any number of attractions in the desert, and the others are just as amazing to see.

The Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert of Chile