Seeing the ever-chaging landscapes of the Valle de la Luna, a place that really is out of this world
We sat on a rock together, heads turned right, eyes firmly locked on the horizon. Despite the fact that there were dozens of people around us, we were felt like we were the only ones there, the only ones to witness this beautiful moment.
At first there was the bright orange of the sun burning brightly before slowly turning a deep purple colour as it descended behind the rocks off into the distance, blanketing the valley floor in darkness.
Around us there was a deafening silence, then an almost audible sigh after the sun had set. The spell was broken; people started to talk to each other again turning to walk back to their cars and buses, happy to head home for the day.
We didn’t though. We just sat there, eyes still firmly locked on the horizon, smiling.
After taking a tour of the El Tatio geysers that morning, that afternoon saw us visiting the Valle de la Luna, the Valley of the Moon.
Just 30 minutes west of San Pedro de Atacama is the Valle de la Luna, and as soon as you enter the valley floor it is easy to understand where the name comes from. Large white rocks carpet the ground while giant red cliffs tower either side. Cutting through the middle is a road. Just the one road, and it is actually quite eerie driving through here.
Our tour started at 4pm (we went with Trip Panda again), and our first stop was at Cuevas de Sal, a place made out of soft salt/sandstone rock.
Because this rock is made out of salt and sandstone, it literally washes away when it rains here, so every year the scenery changes with new channels and gullies being carved into landscape.
One such gully actually formed a tunnel through the rock, and walking through this I couldn’t help but think I was in a scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (that’s the little boy in me). Once through to the other side, the landscape changed again, and for the first time we could truly see the Valle de la Luna.
Vero, our guide for the day, explained to us how this landscape was formed, at how the rocks are always constantly moving and changing here. To highlight her point, she asked us all to close our eyes and listen for a minute. Every now and then you could hear the audible crack of rocks moving, as if fissures were opening up all around us (don’t worry, they weren’t). It’s hard to describe, but being there, hearing that, it made you appreciate just how changeable Cuevas de Sal is, and it’s strange to think that people who come here next year will see something very different to what I saw.
From Cuevas de Sal we drove through the middle of the Valle de la Luna to a place called the ‘amphitheatre’, a huge red rock protruding from the earth that looked more akin to Mars than the moon.
While being on the valley floor seeing those cliffs around me, I knew we had to climb to the top of one, and once we got to the top we were afforded the most beautiful views of the valley before us. I know it sounds clichéd but they really are out of this world!
After climbing to the top of a cliff and seeing the amphitheatre, we headed over to the Great Dune. As the name suggests, this is a massive sand dune, and there’s just the one here.
Getting to the Great Dune is a short 20 minute walk from the car park, and at first you don’t really know what you’re walking towards as you can’t see it, but after a little climb up one of the cliffs you finally see it.
It seems so surprising that there’s just one enormous sand dune here, but that’s what I love about the Valle de la Luna and the Atacama Desert; no matter where you go here you come across some of the world’s most astounding views, and despite only driving for five to 10 minutes from place to place the landscapes are just so different.
Finally, no trip to the Valle de la Luna would be complete without watching sunset in the desert. Here, with the endless landscape before you, you truly get a sense of how deserted and desolate this place is – no life lives here, nor will it. Only rock and sunshine.
As the sun sets, it’s stunning watching all the surrounding landscape change colour from yellow to orange, then from red to brown, until everything is blanketed in a deep purple colour, almost like a velvet curtain has been pulled over your eyes.
There’s a reason why they called this place the Valle de la Luna, and at times it felt like we were transported a million miles away, just us walking around this otherworldly setting. It really is staggering at how beautiful this place is.
A tour to the Valle de la Luna with Trip Panda costs £14 ($18) and includes all transport costs. Make sure you bring an extra £3 ($5) for the Valle de la Luna entrance fees as these are not included in the price.