With its parched desert plains and wind-sculpted topography, it’s easy to see how Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) earned its name. The sharp sandstone peaks, glittering salt deposits, and crater-like depressions make for some dramatic photographs, and watching the sunset over the valley is an unforgettable experience.
Located just outside the town of San Pedro de Atacama, Moon Valley is the main attraction for most visitors to the Atacama Desert. Half-day tours typically set out in the afternoon, leaving time to explore the valley’s natural wonders before climbing to the top of Big Dune to watch the sunset over the lunar landscapes below.
Guided tours that include Valley of the Moon often stop at nearby attractions such as Atacama Salt Lake (Salar de Atacama), Salt Mountain Range (Cordillera de la Sal), and the Tres Marías rock formations, while multi-day tours leave time to explore such farther-flung sights as the Red Stone Desert, Cejar Lagoon, and the El Tatio geyser field.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Moon Valley and the Atacama Desert are must-visits for nature lovers.
- Pack sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water as there’s little shade in the desert, but bring warm clothing for the evening hours too, as temperatures can drop quickly, even in summer.
- Most of the desert roads are unpaved and the terrain uneven, so a 4WD is advisable, and comfortable walking shoes are a must.
- Cell phone service is scarce throughout the desert, and Wi-Fi is only available at a few hotels in San Pedro de Atacama.
How to Get There
Moon Valley lies at the heart of the Atacama Desert in northeastern Chile, around 11 miles (17 kilometers) west of the town of San Pedro de Atacama. There’s no public transport to the valley itself, although regular taxis, shared taxis, and tours run from San Pedro de Atacama. The closest airport is in Calama, from which buses run to San Pedro de Atacama, 60 miles (98 kilometers) away. You can rent cars in town.
When to Get There
The most popular time to explore Moon Valley is during the summer months (December–February), but winter (June–August) visits can be equally rewarding, although temperatures can plummet below freezing at night. Sticking around until sunset is a must, and most tours set out in the afternoon to ensure a sunset view.
Los Flamencos National Reserve
Moon Valley is part of Los Flamencos National Reserve, although the main reserve actually lies around two hours’ drive east of valley. Additional park highlights include a hike around the Tara Salt Flat (Salar de Tara), bird-watching at the Miscanti and Miñiques lagoons, and the tamarugo forest of Toconao. Common wildlife sightings include Chilean, James, and Andean flamingos, as well as vicunas and red foxes.