Moon's valley is a fantastic place to visit, it is known with that name because of the similarity with the surface of the moon.
It is a small depression of 500 m of diameter of saline soil and presents schemers sculptural forms proved from the successive transformations of the terrestrial bark, happened by the foldings of the lacustrine bottom of the salar. Life exists neither in this corner, nor dampness, which turns it into the most inhospitable place of the planet.
You can also walk to the top of a little mountain to watch the amazing sunset and the colours of the Atacama desert. It's amazing!
Book a tour with an agency, it will costs 8-9 dollars, and the tour will take 2-3 hours.
San Pedro is a curious mixture between “Must See” and “Off The Beaten Path” things, so I’ll write here about the unmissable things around the oasis.
The Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) is perhaps the most famous sight of the area, as San Pedro began to get known after it; this is a huge extension of sand, salt and bizarre terrain shapes that lies about 18 kilometres to the southwest of the village, more or less on the sides of the old road to Calama.
Among the most visited attractions, are the Big Dune, where hundreds go every day to watch the sunset the Tres Marías (a strange salt formation), an underground salt mine, and several other natural places around.
Tours leave for it every day, going first to the Death Valley and then to the Moon Valley; these cost about US$ 10 per person, but a $ 1500 (US$ 2,5) “entrance” fee is levied at a booth on Km.14 on all tour passengers and private car occupants (this grants nothing to you).
The Big Dune is on S 22º56’52,5”/ W 68º17’47,2” alt. 2470 mts./8101 ft. at its top
See my Travelogue on the subject.
BEWARE: On the E sides of the road, but not where tourists are usually taken, there are still an unknown number of antitank mines, so be VERY careful if driving offroad in the less visited areas of the Valley (in 1992, a 4WD truck hit one of such mines very close to where the ticket booth is now installed, when they drove too close to the edge of the road; the 2 occupants were seriously wounded, and the car was a total loss).
Dismembered big animal carcasses usually indicate landmined areas: watch for them.
Nikon F4s, 80-200 Zoom-Nikkor (at 180 mm.), f. 5,6, 1/8 sec., POL filter
I took one of the standard sunset tours, which left me enough time to wander around the Valle before sunset but took me home to SP easily after sunset. The Valle is spectacular shapes wherever you look. There are huge sand dunes you can walk and I would recommend to come here with more time. The sunset indeed was fantastic, but I would have loved to come here with a smaller group and more time. Maybe you can manage? Oh, you wonder where the sunset pics are? Tja, once more I was struck by filmitis, which I always get when some area is too beautiful to believe. Then I shoot and shoot and shoot, views, macros, sky, different angles and find lots of ?wow, this is even greater-shots?. So when the sun said adios, my film had said adios already. So what, it looked better without staring through the lens all the time anyways ;-)
This erosion formation is called Tres Marias, because some very religious person thought these three pillars reminded him of three Marias. I don?t know if Mary really would be happy about this comparison, though? At least these three rocks don?t have to stand there all alone all the time and have someone to talk to. Those days I went they had a lot to talk, I guess. You see the white ground in front of them ? thats all salt. As it had rained before those miracle days, the salts and minerals were just popping up from the rich grounds of the deserts and leaving this scenery for our eyes.
Some 10 km away from San Pedro, Valle de los muertos y Vallee de la Luna should not be missed.
The best is to rent a bike in San Pedro to visit them, although you have to do it early in the morning (because of the heat and the wind). If you want to see the vallee de la luna at sunset many agencies organize tours, but I recommend you find other people to go on a "private" tour if you want to avoid the crowd (up to 150 people ...).
Wonderful landscape ! You shouldn't miss it ! Book a tour that will take you to Death Valley and then you will have the chance to enjoy an unforgettable sunset here. On the way you will stop at Tres Marias, a rock formation that looks like three women preying, with a lot of imagination, of course... Then you will have a look at the salt flat nearby. And finally you will walk up on the hill to relax on a panoramic view of the Moon Valley. In the sunset light it gives you the impression you are on the surface of the moon !
For more photos look at my TRAVELOGUE.
The Atacama is not your typical sea of sand-dunes like the Sahara or the Namib. The sand dunes are few, so the interest here lies in the geological formations. And as in many other desert areas, there is always a geological formation called the Valley of the Moon - and this is the Atacama's one. Part of Valle de la Luna is the Cordillera del Sal which are weird wave-like formations rising from the sand and dust like some other-wordly landscape. Other weird formations in the area are Las Tres Marias (the three Marys) - though I usually have a fertile imagination I could not see the Marys at all.
The time to come here is at sunset - though be warned that everyone will know this fact and you will find quite a congregation of people admiring the view.
We took a combined tour which included the Death Valley, Quebrada de Kari (Salt river and caves) trek and finally the Moon Valley to see the sunset.
No visit to San Pedro de Atacama is complete without a visit to the Moon Valley. You will soon see that everyday there are lots and lots of tours that end at the Moon Valley hence there being lots and lots of people there watching the sunset. Nevertheless it is still a very interesting place to visit with its huge sand dunes and moon-like rock formations.
From the carpark you need to walk up the big dune and from there you can go to one of three main vantage points to watch the sunset. There is an interesting formation visible also known as the Amphitheatre which looks like an acordian made of sequence of little rock peaks. The Amphitheatre forms part of the Cordillera de la Sal which originates from sand, clay and salt deposits that were deformed by earth movement into the landscape visible in the area today.
This tour we took through Cactus Tours and the total cost was 4000 pesos plus 2000 to enter the Moon Valley which is a national park.
Everybody go to the Moon Valley when the sun sets. I have to admit that it is a great spectacle, but quite frankly I prefer to spend my time in a place like that by myself, enjoying the silence and the view. If you don´t want to share this experience with a few hundred turists I´d suggest you go in the morning or just after lunch. But remember that you have to climb a sand dune to reach the best view point. So eat lightly and take your time. And don´t forget your water bottle.
Try to visit the nearby Valle de la Luna for an interesting Atacama desert experience. We took an afternoon/ night tour to el Valle de la Luna with Cactus Tours (cost about $5 USD), which is best visited during a full moon. We stopped at a sand dune in the middle of this unearthly valley to witness an amazing sunset. For best views don't look at the sunset itself, but rather at the red glow reflection it gives to the mighty Andes in the East.
Later that night, we saw a surreal moon rise. I know it sounds weird, but I never notice the moon rising out of the horizon while in a city. Funny what we don't notice while we are at home no? It was beautiful!
Dont do a tour to either the death and moon valleys nor the salt lakes.
All are accessible easily enough by bike and you can spend as much time as you want there instead of being hearded back into the bus.
On the tour of the valleys you wont get the full effects of the sun sets because you cant stay up there long enough.
Also you may find yourself to be the only one in the valley when the sun has gone and see only the odd car pass by.
The lakes are amazing at night. You will be able to stand at there edge and believe you are looking down into the sky. Thus with a moon lit night, the trails of water on the edge of the lakes will seem almost like some kind of magic mineral on the ground.
Sunrise is also unbelievable here so I suggest camping out.
El sitio ideal para ver una vista panorámica del Valle de la Luna que está formado por una pequeña depresión de 500 m de diámetro, con suelo salino y rodeada de impresionantes cerros, pequeños y de filosas crestas
Es parte de la Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos , sus formaciones demuestran una profunda transformación de la corteza terrestre, ocurrida por sucesivos plegamientos del fondo de un antiguo lago de aguas bajas que, al elevarse, generaron la cordillera de la Sal
The place is ideal to see a panoramic view of the Moon valley that is formed by an small depression of 500m of diameter , with salty floor and surrounded by impressive hills , smalls and with sharp edges
It is part of the Flamingos National Reserve , his forms demonstrate a deep transformation of the land crust , happened due to several yieldings of an antique lake bottom with low waters that when they lifted originated the Salt Range