There are countless ways to see the Atacama. Because it is so vast, a local guide is key to experiencing its intense beauty. Since there are tour companies on almost every block in San Pedro, it pays to do your homework first, as there is always someone ready to grab you off the street and entice you with their colorful photos.
Given how much I loved my first tour with CosmoAndino Expediciones, who seems to steadfastly adhere to their motto “quality time in the Atacama”, I booked a second tour, and this time I would have my hubby by my side and Pablo as our guide once again. 🙂 Valle de la Luna, also part of the Los Flamencos National Reserve, was our tour of choice.
The tour began at the CosmoAndino office where our little group of roughly a dozen hopped onto an awaiting van. A short drive outside of San Pedro we stopped at the Mirador Piedra Del Coyote for some photos of this windswept landscape, warming us up for what was to come.
From here we jumped back on the van for the short drive to Mars Valley, where the real adventure began. The soil here has been compared to that of Mars, hence the name. NASA has used this region to test instruments for future Mars’ missions.
Hiking along the rim of a vast red rock canyon rimmed with towering mountains and volcanos, sand dunes rose at dizzying angles before us, the steepest the perfect setting for sandboarding.
Pablo took us back in geologic time as we hiked to the point, then proceeded to share our next adventure, running down a 230-meter (755 feet) sand dune to join up with our van parked far below us. That sounded intriguing, except none of us could see how we were going to get down from the top of the canyon to the top of the sand dune. As we continued our trek, Pablo joked about making sure we all had our travel insurance cards handy.
Our escape route was finally made known and we were helped down from the rim. Pablo assured us there was no danger, then proceeded to begin running down the steep dune, encouraging us to join him, running in a zigzag fashion. We all giggled as we sank to our shins in loose sand. Halfway down we stopped on a ridgeline for photos and removed our shoes. There was nothing better than pulling off hiking boots we had lived in for the past two months and playing in the warm sand.
With huge smiles on our faces, we piled into the van and headed to Moon Valley, a striking lunar landscape formed by eroding salts and minerals. Several mountain ranges surround this region, as well as a chain of volcanos, not surprising, as this stretch of Chile falls within the Pacific Ring of Fire. The most active in northern Chile is 5592-meter tall (18,346 ft.) Lascar, which looms over Lake Miñiques.
Gnarled fingers of rock reaching skyward came into view as we walked through red-rock sand rimmed with salt. One of the more famous formations in this area is “Tres Maries”, created by gravel, clay, salt, and quartz, worked by the whims of wind and erosion for over one million years.
We found one of the more interesting structures in Moon Valley to be the “Amphitheatre”, part of the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Chain), formed by horizontal accumulations of sand, clay, salt, and movements in the earth’s crust.
The action of wind, with a little water thrown in for good measure, created a sequence of peaks that are similar to the bellows of an accordion. Some see a resemblance to the Colosseum in ancient Rome. I have to agree.
Our final hike was up to a vantage point overlooking a ridge skirted in dunes, with the Amphitheatre as a backdrop. This is where one hopes to get the iconic shot of the moon rising over the Atacama, as well as a sunset shot bursting with color. We were not confident of either as clouds had chased us all day, with rain a possibility, a most unusual occurrence in this land devoid of moisture. We saw neither the moon nor an enchanting sunset, but still labeled this a magical day.
As I perched on the ridgeline overlooking this ethereal void, I mused how an area so remote, so empty of life, could make me feel so alive, so full. I was reminded of the quote:
“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.”
Next Up: Night Sky, a Stroll through San Pedro, and Final Thoughts
39 thoughts on “Like Nowhere Else on Earth ~ Atacama Desert, Chile (Part II)”
What an awesome place to go hiking, LuAnn. I could almost feel the warm sand particles between my toes. 🙂 Great set of photos.
Thanks Sylvia. I found the Atacama to be magical.
Such and interesting place. Glad you had a good guide. It makes all of the difference.
That it does. Thanks for stopping by Debbie.
Beautiful! I remember running down the sand dunes in the California deserts east of us… it was so fun! Wind, like water, is an amazing sculptor.
Nature is so fascinating!
Your ending quote was perfect. There’s so much beauty to be found in such surreal and austere landscapes. Magical indeed! Anita
I have always loved that quote Anita. No better place to use it than the Atacama.
Should I not have read a word of your article I would have thought you had decided on space travel. Mars, the Moon and Beyond. It could make a great blog post title. Astonishing rock formations. Your description of the warm sand on feet recently set free from the chains of long time hiking boots made my feet happy from afar. What an extraordinary place. Yet another one for the itinerary.
I think you and Dave would love this area of the world. I cannot stop thinking about the Atacama.
Your header photo is gorgeous! Even without a moonrise or sunset, it looks like a magical place. I think the expansiveness of such an austere landscape encourages the same expansiveness within us. You described the feeling perfectly.
Thanks Laurel. I didn’t need the iconic shot to make my day complete, although it would have been nice to see for myself. 🙂
Looks like another fun and adventurous day spent amongst stunning landscape!
It certainly was Ingrid!
Loving following your fabulous journey!
Thanks Marilyn! It has been a trip of a lifetime, so diverse!
Wow! What beautiful landscapes! Each place you visit seems to be perfect for your camera shots. I’m so glad you two are such great hikers and curious people, so that you will go to the ends of the earth to see what’s there, like the bear that went over the mountain.
This trip has been a dream of mine for many, many years so I am so grateful that we were able to pull it together.
I’ve always thought the Atacama would be intriguing to visit. Do I remember correctly that no rain has fallen to the ground in at least 50 years? Or perhaps in the memory of anyone living there?
There are several weather stations in the Atacama that have never registered any precipitation. The annual rainfall has averaged one millimeter until recent years when locals say they are experiencing more, they believe due to climate change. Words defy its beauty.
Not sure I can find the words for this tour. What an amazing day! The photos are spectacular and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there in person. With your beautiful narrative, I can just imagine all of you running down the dune!! What fun! Sorry you didn’t get to see the moon rising or sunset, but as you said it was a magical day anyway:) Thanks for sharing so many spectacular photos:)
It is a magical landscape, and there are red rocks too!
I did forget to mention how absolutely gorgeous your header photo is! A big Wow!
I told Terry that I thought you would like it. 🙂
The rock formations were incredible! And I could feel the sand upon my feet and face! Beautiful writing and explanations of this wonderful journey! Thanks for taking us with you!
My pleasure Nancy!
Stunning, incredible and a huge WOW! So glad you hiked the amazing place for us and coupled with your description, I felt I was there with you. Your adventures are fantastic and thank you for the beautiful photos.
I did see the Tres Marias, one is bowed down (left side), one is looking up (center) and the kneeling one on the right side.
Patagonia and the Atacama were both magical. Thanks for tagging along with us!
Wow and Wow! Such rugged terrain, yet so beautiful. You are always learning something on yours treks. Love that you share it with us all.
I am happy to share. Thanks for following along Gale!
Your photos of this moonscape and its salmon pastel tones are quite lovely. Sounds like an amazing adventure.I would love to run down those huge dunes barefoot ~ it looks like so much fun!
The sand dunes were a blast! I am so grateful we decided to make this one of our stops.
Wow! Amazing photos! Brought out the breathtaking scenes magically.
That’s looks amazing to do new adventure and also live in a van. but I didn’t have any campervan yet but soon I’ll buy because I also love camping and traveling to new places and discover the whole world the same as you…
Good luck to you Nina. Thanks for stopping by!
I’m planning a trip to San Pedro and the Atacama in a few weeks, I found this really helpful! Thanks LuAnn! 🙂
So glad I could help! Have a fabulous time!