Ever dreamed of going to the moon? Or pretended to be Neil Armstrong as a child? Going to the moon may be years away, but visiting the Atacama Desert has to be the next best thing. Declared a nature sanctuary in 1982, the Atacama Desert is often overlooked for Chile’s more popular southern region, Patagonia. However, we think the Atacama Desert is one of the most impressive natural wonders of the world.
The Atacama Desert in Chile is full of things to do and natural wonders to explore, but you cannot visit the Atacama Desert without visiting its crown jewel. The Valle de la Luna (or ), known for its lunar landscapes and rock formations, is one of the best things to do in the Atacama Desert. Here’s all you need to know to visit the Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert Chile.
How to Get to Valle de La Luna
Visiting Valle de la Luna On Your Own
Valle de La Luna is located only six kilometers from the main city of San Pedro de Atacama. Getting here on your own, however, is not easy as there are no public buses available.
We recommend renting a car while in San Pedro de Atacama to explore the Valle de La Luna as well as other things to do in the Atacama Desert. A rental car is best booked in Calama and picked up on arrival at the airport.
We did see some people biking from San Pedro de Atacama to the Valle de la Luna, however, it seemed like a slog. In the hot desert sun, this would have to be my last option. If biking is for you, however, bikes can be rented from one of the many tour agencies lining the streets of San Pedro de Atacama offering both half (less than 6 hours) and full day rentals.
Taxis in San Pedro de Atacama do exist but are rare. And if you do hire a taxi, expect to pay a pretty penny even for short distances.
With a Tour Guide
Another easy way to visit the Valle de la Luna, if you do not have your own vehicle,e is with a tour guide . There are plenty of tour operators in San Pedro de Atacama with trips only to the Moon Valley or those combined with a larger Atacama Desert trip.
The Best Time to Visit Valle de la Luna
There is no best time to visit the Atacama Desert as the whole year truly is a great time. Temperatures during the summer months (January, February, and March) reach highs of 27°C (81°F) and lows of 16°C (61°F) which seems pretty pleasant. And winter (June, July, and August) isn’t much worse with highs of 22°C (72°F) and lows of 4°C (39°F). When we visited during the winter months, the temperature was amazing during the day but as soon as the sun went down it quickly became chilly especially with the wind.
If you do have flexibility of when to go, the shoulder season is always a good time. Fewer tourists mean lower prices and less crowds. Shoulder season runs from September to November and again from March to May.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Valle de la Luna
The cost to visit Valle de la Luna varies depending on the time of day that you enter. A ticket purchased before noon costs $2,500 CLP per person and if purchased during the afternoon costs $3,000 CLP per person. If you purchase a ticket during the morning, you can leave the valley and return again in the evening at sunset which is highly recommended.
Things to See in Valle de la Luna
Lunarscapes. Mile and miles of lunar landscapes. Plus a few other rock formations. No really, there are plenty of areas to explore in the Valle de la Luna and you could spend days hiking these extraterrestrial landscapes. But, here are a few our of favorite places that we visited.
Cuevas de Sal Canon
The Cuevas de Sal Canon or Salt Caves Canon is the best place to start your exploring. The small trek through the caves is a labyrinth of twists and turns and ducking and climbing. Some of the spaces are small even for me at only 5’3″, so if you get claustrophobic this may not be the hike for you.
The short hike, or maze, isn’t very long. It is suitable for all ages, however, the elderly may have trouble with their knees.
And, a word of advice. Make sure to watch your head or you will end up with more than great photos at the end of your hike!
The Great Dune
The Great Dune is, well, you guessed it, a large sand dune and the most visited attraction in the Valle de la Luna. The dune offers views of truly out of this world landscapes straight out of a lunar landing or perhaps more accurately a mars rover expedition with red-tinged dirt stretching out in every direction. Whatever out of space location you think you may be in, visiting the Great Dune in the Valle de la Luna will be memorable.
And, if you like sunsets, then you are in luck. The Great Dune is the spot to be to watch the sunset in the Atacama Desert. Just make sure you face the right direction. While the sun sets in the west, the best views are in the east.with the sun casting incredible rainbow colors of pink and orange over the Andes Mountains. It was truly an incredible location to watch the sunset in the Atacama Desert.
While it is truly incredible, it is also extremely popular. Don’t expect to get the place to yourself as many tour groups end their all day tours here with this spectacular view. We recommend going early to grab the best seats. We even took a few beers and dinner to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.
Another popular attraction is the amphitheater. The rock formations aligned themselves in such a way that they resemble an amphitheater. While this amphitheater isn’t quite like the ones built by the Romans, it is still quite impressive.
Las Tres Marias
Las Tres Marias, or the three Mary’s, are three rock formations formed by erosion from salt and the fierce desert winds. I’m not quite sure that I could see the resemblance to three women, but let us know what you think!
Mirador de Kari and Piedra del Coyote
Visiting the Valle de la Luna is impressive, but seeing the whole valley from above provides a different perspective. The sheer magnitude of the desert is awe-inspiring. From this vantage point, you can truly see the vast expansiveness of the desert. Sand and rock formations stretch for miles and miles in all directions with no sign of life in sight. Maybe I haven’t been to the moon, but I bet the view from the Mirador de Kari and Piedra del Coyote gives you a small glimpse into what astronauts feel like when disembarking on the moon.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
- Water. You are in the middle of the desert, so water is scarce. Make sure you take lots of water to drink as the sun is fierce and you are higher elevation although not quite enough to trigger altitude sickness.
- Sunscreen. Again, this is a desert! Sunscreen is a must and Hawaiian Tropic with Silk Hydrating Ribbons is our absolute favorite. Trust me, it is worth the extra few bucks.
- Layers. I sound like a broken record, but again this is the desert! The temperature in the desert can change quickly and drastically. Especially if the wind is blowing like it is prone to do in the Atacama Desert. Having clothes you can layer allows you to adapt in all circumstances.
- Hiking Boots. There is no worse thing that having sore feet when you are meant to be exploring all day. Quality hiking boots are essential so that your feet don’t get sore (‘your dogs start barking’ as my dad loves to say) through the day. I have had lots of hiking boots, and my favorites are those made by Salomon.
- Camera. Don’t forget your camera. The lunarscapes are incredible, so you don’t want to leave your camera at home.
- Headlamp. If you plan to visit Salt Cave Canon, then a headlamp (torch) will be handy. You probably could use your phone camera, but I found it helpful to have free hands while crawling through the small spaces.
- Offline Map. If you plan to explore on your own, downloading a map of the area could be helpful as service is not always guaranteed. No one wants to get lost in the desert.
Where to Stay in San Pedro de Atacama
Figuring out where to stay may be one of the hardest parts of travel. Do I want to stay somewhere flash? Or, should I spend that money on activities and eating or drinking? Luckily, in San Pedro de Atacama, the closest city to the Valle de la Luna, has plenty of options for every type of traveler.
Don’t let the word hostel fool you as Anka Hostel is more like a small bed and breakfast with a couple of shared rooms. Anka Hostel is unparalleled with lovely staff, a delicious breakfast, and the perfect courtyard to hang out and make friends or to escape the heat during the day with a book. You won’t regret staying at Anka Hostel.
- Address: Toconao 500, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
- Cost: Private room two persons, two nights < $200 USD and dorm beds available <$25 USD per night
Ckuri Atacama is a charming guesthouse located on the outskirts of San Pedro de Atacama. Decorated in traditional Chilean style, this beautiful guesthouse will make you feel right at home. The owners, Edgar and Silvana, make it feel more like a home away from home than a hotel. Big comfy beds, hot showers, and true hospitality are what awaits you here. The only downside is breakfast is not included as with many other hotels, hostels, and guesthouses in the area.
- Address: Los Laureles 170
- Cost: < $200 USD for two nights, two people
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa
If luxury and style are what you are after then Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa is the place to be. This four-star resort offers all of the amenities you could ever want complete with a spa, pool, and impeccable rooms with stunning views over the Andes Mountains and the Atacama Desert.
Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa aims to provide you the best luxury getaway experience, so you can make the most out of your time in the Atacama Desert. Another added bonus…air conditioning. Air conditioning in the Atacama Desert is hard to come by, so if this is a must-have then a stay at Tierra Atacama is a must!
- Address: Las Chilcas Road, San Pedro de Atacama
- Cost: ~$1,660 USD for two people, two nights
(Steep? Yes. But you are only in the Atacama Desert once in your life!)
Visiting the Valle de la Luna in the heart of the Atacama Desert is truly a remarkable experience. We only hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Let us know what you think!
Looking for other great things to do in the Atacama Desert? Consider getting off the beaten path at Chacabuco, Chile’s abandoned ghost town.
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