Touring Death Valley and the Valley of the Moon in the Atacama

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At the entrance to the Valley of the Moon park

The Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon) and Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley) tour is the most popular excursion people go on from San Pedro de Atacama. It was our first tour and one of our favorites. It is only about 11 miles, or 17 km, from town. Avid mountain bikers will skip the tour and bike these areas.

Our tour took us first to the Piedra del Coyote (Coyote Rock). This is an amazing rock overlooking the Valley of the Moon. Its name is from the popular cartoon the Road Runner. This is because it looks like the same rock that Wile Coyote planned all his devious traps for the Road Runner. This rock is a great spot for a photo that will freak out your parents, family, and friends who are afraid of heights. It freaked me out a little too!

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Coyote Rock

The second stop of our tour was Valle de la Muerte (Death Valley). This valley was actually supposed to be named Valley of Mars because the landscape is red and looks like the planet Mars. However, the word for Mars and death sound familiar in Spanish and a reporter became confused so they started calling it the Death Valley. This is a colorful canyon composed of red rocks and sand.

The third part of our tour included a hike through Quebrada del Diablo (Ravine of the Devil). This place had us wishing we had our mountain bikes. We mountain biked a few days earlier, without bike shorts, and we were hurting. We had not been mountain biking in some time. So we knew we would not have it in us to go back.

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Mountain Biking outside of  San Pedro. The Valley of the Moon is just over that ridge

It is an awesome small canyon with lots of twists and turns through the rocks. The formations are interesting. But do not attempt to climb the canyon walls like a couple on our tour did, because it is not actual rock but more clay-like and it crumbles easily.

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Scrambling along the trail

The final leg of our trip took us to the Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon. It is named this because it is said to look similar to the surface of the moon. It is definitely an otherworldly sight that you have to see to believe! This amazing valley lies between the Andes and the coastal mountain range. When the mountains were formed the tectonic plates moving together placed tremendous pressure on the earth between them. This caused the layers to bend and become almost vertical. With the erosion, you can see how the once flat layers of earth are now angled straight upwards. Over millions of years erosion  has created the colors and textures of the Valle de la Luna.

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A view of the volcanoes towering over the salt flats

We started at the end of the valley and made our way towards the entrance. We then climbed the sand dunes to watch the sun set over the valley and the Atacama. It was a beautiful ending to an extraordinary day!

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On the ridge overlooking the valley floor

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Looking East towards the Andes as the setting sun begins to paint them pink

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As the sun set it seemed to light the whole sky on fire

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It really was this pink!

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Heading back down the trail at last light. We kept turning around to look at the amazing colors

Tips:

We booked our tour through CosmoAndino Expediciones. It’s a little more expensive than the other tour companies but we read that they give ample time for photography. We felt that we were not rushed and had plenty of time to enjoy the sites, take photos, and learn from our guide. (We have no financial interest with this tour agency, we just highly recommend them).

Be sure to wear and reapply sunscreen because you are outdoors a lot on this tour and you even go on a few light hikes.

Bring a hat, sunglasses, at least 1 liter of water per person, and wear comfortable shoes.

One word of caution, you need to drink a lot of water in the desert so you will need to pee a lot. There is one restroom at the entrance to Valle de la Luna and one emergency restroom near the sand dunes inside the park. That is it. Plan accordingly.

Take a lot of photos, but remember to also take in the scenery and enjoy. This place is amazing!