Full moon rising: an eerie and ethereal spectacle in Chile’s Valle de la Luna

Sunset is a popular time to visit Valle de la Luna in Chile’s Atacama Desert, but if you are fortunate enough to go during the full moon, you will witness a marvelous landscape.

Valle de la Luna – “Valley of the Moon” – is so named for its unique lunar-like landscape. Rambling sand dunes and humanoid rock formations create illusions of an alien terrain, and because of this rugged environment, scientists tested a prototype of the Mars Rover there. Like much of the Atacama Desert, Valle de la Luna is extremely inhospitable to plant and animal life, and some parts of the valley almost never receive rainfall.

After the sun goes down on a full-moon night, silver light drips and settles into every dry crevice of the valley, creating spooky shadows and eerie impressions, and transforming salt columns into skeletal fingers reaching up into the apparently unlimited desert sky.

Discovering Valle de la Luna

Valle de la Luna is part of the Cordillera de la Sal range of weather-sculpted mountains, and it is also within the boundaries of the Los Flamencos national reserve. Located only about 15 km from the rustic and popular tourist destination of San Pedro de Atacama, Valle de la Luna is an accessible spot for incredible hiking and biking.

Guided tours of the valley, including mountain bike rentals, are available via tourism agencies and hotels throughout San Pedro, or you can choose to embark on a solo excursion to explore at your own pace. Uncover hidden salt caves and canyons among the dunes and hiking areas. And be sure to visit the famous spires of rock known as Las Tres Marías.

Photographers will find aesthetic ecstasy in Valle de la Luna, especially at sunset and full-moonrise, when the valley is painted by a vast sea of rainbow colors. Atacama’s clear, dark skies are an astronomical hotspot, so perhaps you might consider training your cameras to the sky and trying your hand at astrophotography amid the lunar landscape.

How to arrive?

Visit Valle de la Luna at any time of year, taking advantage of numerous other attractions in the area, including the unequivocal village of San Pedro de Atacama. Prepare for the intense desert sun with appropriate clothing, sunscreen, and sufficient water.

Numerous travel options are available from locations throughout Chile. Flights arrive from Santiago and Antofagasta to Calama, about 57 km northwest of Valle de la Luna on Route 23. Busses also stop in nearby San Pedro, where one can find lodging, tours and transportation.

By Gretchen Stahlman, written for Chile.Travel

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