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February 2018, Moon Valley – Atacama desert, Chile
We’re all tightly packed in a mini-van, heading to Moon Valley, part of Atacama desert, Chile. Only 17 kilometers separate us from the incredible dry stone formations, carved by wind and floods for millennia.
As we get closer and we keep staring excitedly out the windows, something changes.
Far in the distance, the sky is blanketed with gray, followed by a gradient of deep purple. Hm…we’re all thinking the same: what on Earth is this? It cannot rain, we’re in the driest area on the Planet!
The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world, the only one who receives less precipitation than the Polar deserts. This is because of its position between two mountain chains (the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range) of enough height to prevent any rain producing systems being transported from the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. The average rainfall is about 15 mm per year. There are also weather stations in the region that have never received rain!
So, with this in mind, we are in completely denial for a few minutes. But finally the question pops up: what if it’s raining, are we still going? Our guide is completely relaxed and keeps driving. “That’s ok, when it’s bad, I’ll tell you!” 🙂
After a few more kilometers and the car parked, we’re setting foot on the grounds. One by one, we start walking on a trail, all sand and stones. Eyes are firmly locked on the horizon. Nothing good out there, so we increase the pace. The sand keeps making room in my boots. As the wind starts blowing and a few drops of rain appear, we all cover ourselves with whatever waterproof jackets we have. But keep going. After all, the guide is leading the group and he seems fine. Moving forward gets harder. The little rain drops turn into giant chunks of ice! The sky is black and crossed by lightning.
And suddenly, we see the guide turning around and running the opposite direction. He seems to be screaming, but the sound is blocked by thunders. As he passes by, we finally hear it: “It’s baaaaaaaaad! Ruuuuuuuuun!” One by one again, as we hear what he’s saying, start sprinting back to the car.
My heart is already shrunk to the size of a walnut. We run like our lives depend on it. Guess what, they really are! 🙂
I don’t know how we get to that minivan. We jump in like crazy, soaked, with sand all over the place. Right now, behind the car’s windows feels like the safest place ever. The guide is alert and starts driving. “We don’t want to end up here when the storm comes”, he mumbles.
In about 20 minutes we’re already in San Pedro de Atacama, our safe place for the night.
And so, here ends our first attempt to see the Moon Valley.
Next day, the history repeats (until the rain part): same meeting place/guide/hour, same people. Except for the fact that we have a sunny horizon ahead.
- Panoramical view
Looks like we start the tour from a different point. I cannot be happier for this. I don’t want anything to remember of the run we had the other day. Down below we see giant rock formations like spikes on the back of a dinosaur.
- Salt Mine
As we keep going, everything gets white. Rocks, sand, walls covered in salt. An abandoned mine stands right in front of our eyes, bricks entirely made of salt.
- Duna Mayor
We start climbing under the unforgiving sun, among canyons made of red minerals, to the best viewpoint of the valley. Getting on top feels surreal. To the right are huge sand dunes, to the left – sand and stone formations. Now we’re actually riding the dinosaur!
Snow-capped volcanos are silently watching over the desert, some of them from almost 6000 meters high.
- 3 Marías
Next stop is at the famous rock formations carved by wind, millions of years ago. The ‘3 Marías’ (women praying) attracts most tourists. But we’re getting away of that and make funny pictures with our favorite, Rex the dinosaur.
Didn’t feel quite right if we’re not going underground too. Be ready to crawl through tiny spaces! And bring the flashlight, there is absolutely no light source in there.
- Sunset in Piedra del Coyote
At the end of the day, we finally rush to the best viewpoint of Moon Valley for the best sunset around here. You just pick a place and wait for the nature spectacle to begin.
How to get to Moon Valley
The goal is to reach San Pedro de Atacama. Once you are there, buy a tour to Moon Valley. We went with Whipala Expedition, from 16-20 PM.
This is how to get to San Pedro de Atacama. We took the second option. Crazy, huh? 🙂
Santiago de Chile airport – Calama airport (plane, 1200 km, 2 hours fligh) +
Calama – San Pedro de Atacama (bus, 100 km, 1.5 hours)
Santiago de Chile – San Pedro de Atacama (direct bus ride, 1700 km, 23-hours)
What to bring
- Trekking footwear
12 000 CLP (20 USD)/pers, for shared transporation + english guide from San Pedro de Atacama
- Park entry
3000 CLP (5 USD)/pers
For sure, the Atacama desert hides more treasures than the Moon Valley. Here’s our short guide of things to do in San Pedro de Atacama.
In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word!
Happy travels and stay safe!