When you see the stark, bright colors of San Pedro de Atacama and its surroundings, you may wonder how much of a standout Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris) could really be. The valley, however, located 50 miles from town, is home to tremendous variety of things to see and views to gaze upon. Mineral deposits have left vibrant reds, browns, purples, greens and yellows on the rocks in this area over the course of thousands of years, and in addition, the wind and very occasional rain have carved interesting shapes, rocky spires and small canyons into the valley. At 11,500 feet above sea level, this area makes for slow but worthwhile exploring.
In addition to the bright photogenic colors, Hierbas Buenas also makes for a popular stopping spot for visitors with its thousands of petroglyphs carved into stone by early Atacama dwellers, some about 11,000 years old.
Rainbow Valley is less popular among tourists than other noteworthy sites, so expect smaller crowds here. If you decide to go on your own, bring a good map and make sure to go in the morning when the colors are most visible. Sunscreen, sunglasses, water and extra layers against wind are musts.