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The Moon Valley In Chile’s Atacama Desert

The Moon Valley in Chile’s Atacama Desert

Chile’s Atacama Desert sits in the northern part of the country; it’s one of Chile’s three main tourist regions – the others being Patagonia and Easter Island.

The Atacama Desert is desolate, dry, forbidding, inhospitable and at first glance you’re going to wonder how you’re going to find comfort in these surroundings.

But the Atacama Desert surprises too.

"Moon Valley landscape"

Moon Valley landscape

What can you do in the Atacama Desert

There is a minimum of a week’s worth of activities to keep you busy in the Atacama Desert and even more if you want to climb a volcano or two. The Atacama Desert has: the world’s third largest salt flat with enough water and food to support flocks of flamingos, a huge number of volcanoes – some of which are technically easy to hike but demanding because altitudes are in excess of 5500 metres (18,044 feet), great hikes up narrow river valleys loaded with interesting vegetation, some of which has medicinal uses, thermal pools, geysers, interesting bird and animal life, fascinating geology, old mines and the engaging and lively town of San Pedro de Atacama.

Unfortunately we only had time for about five activities.

We started with the geologically and visually interesting Moon Valley.

The Moon Valley or Valle de la Luna as it is called in Spanish conjures up images of the moon. In fact the rocky terrain served as a good testing ground for NASA’s Lunar Rover. In the Moon Valley there are many stops with panoramic views as well as a number of short walks. You can see large sand dunes, interesting rock formations, including one adjacent to the highway that looks like a dinosaur skeleton and the workings of old salt mines.

"Giant sand dunes and interesting rock formations"

Giant sand dunes and interesting rock formations

"Rocks looking like waves in the Moon Valley"

Rocks looking like waves in the Moon Valley

"Great rock shapes"

Great rock shapes

Lamborghini has reportedly used the highway below the following picture as a test course.

"Dinosaur looking rocks"

Dinosaur looking rocks

Salt crystals are everywhere – some large, some clean, some covered in dirt from sand blown in by the wind. There is evidence of salt mining which looks like tough, hot, dirty work.

"Close up of a rock formations containing salt crystals"

Close up of a rock formation containing salt crystals

You need a half day to properly explore the Moon Valley. It’s only 15-30 minutes from San Pedro de Atacama, depending on what entrance you use. Lots of tours are offered through operators in town. Otherwise you’ll need a car though you could explore some of the area by bike too…but lock it and hide it.

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

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