Walking on the Moon in La Valle de la Luna – San Pedro Part 3

Lunar landscapes of earthly proportions grace the edges of the Atacama Salt Flats. When we heard about Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) the name alone was enough to peak our curiosity.

Many tours operate buses to Valle de la Luna to watch the sunset over the 22 million year old geological site. However, afternoons and evenings still get quite hot in San Pedro de Atacama, so we thought, “what if we hired a bicycle to see sun rise over Valle de la Luna?”

So, one morning we rose bright and early to leave our hostel by 5.30am before the sun started to rise. That way we would see the glorious colours of sunrise and avoid the scorching midday sun. We had hired the bike and equipment the night before by negotiation with one of the bicycle hire companies in the main street.

There’s something about free-wheeling in the black of night underneath a blanket of stars that gets the blood pumping, and we forgot that it was ridiculously early. We were riding under the southern sky, seeing the same stars as back home but somehow it was different.

Valley de la Luna is located 19km from the centre of San Pedro de Atacama at 2,550 metres above sea level. Even in the dark it was a relatively easy place to find.

As the sun started rearing its head over volcano Licancabur we started to get a glimpse of the terrestrial landscape.

So deserted and surreal is this landscape that you can’t help but imagine that you are in a far-off place. The name is definitely well earned. So much so that rumour has it that NASA has tested its mars probes in this part of the world.

We parked our bikes at Casa 1, which is the first station hut in the national park. Die-hard cyclists can continue on their bicycles further on the uphill, high altitude trail. We opted for a two-legged, especially as we were still affected by the altitude here.

From Casa 1, it was approximately a 1.5 hour walk through terrestrial terrain to reach the Tres Marias, past famous landmarks like el Amphiteatro. The Tres Marias is a rock formation dating back 1 million years.

As we walked through the valley, we were in awe of the gigantic sand and rock formations formed by changes in wind and water over millions of years. Massive rocks are strewn all over the place, some carved out in such a fashion that we were obliged to stop and admire them.

Valley de la Luna is considered to be one of the driest places on earth. Some scientists believe that there has been no rainfall here for over 350 years.

Before making our way back to the bikes, we made a pit-stop to check out the nearby canyon. At first glance it didn’t look like much. Then we weaved our way in between the narrow paths of the orange-coloured rock face and found ourselves deep in the canyon. At some points we were crawling on the ground with our head lamps, unsure exactly of where we were going, until we saw daylight and an arrow that led us back around in a loop, back to our bikes.

For us, hiring a bike was the best option. After 3 months of travel it’s nice to get some cardio exercise, but further than that, there are environmental concerns in this region that mass tourism is causing ecological disturbance in areas like Valle de la Luna. By treading lightly we could help lessen the impacts.

As we made our way back to the centre of town through the heat of the midday sun, we devised our next stop…Los Geysers del Tatio. Another avant-sunrise itinerary awaited us.

3 Responses to “Walking on the Moon in La Valle de la Luna – San Pedro Part 3”
  1. great travelogue and pictures Brendon

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  1. […] sunrise bike ride to Valle de la Luna was a good practice run for waking up early for a 4am trip to Tatio Geysers. At 4,320 metres above […]

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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