The Atacama Desert’s Valle de la Luna

Yesterday 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.