After a fun sunrise visit to El Tatio Geysers, Sam and I signed up for yet another tour. This one was a sunset tour of Atacama’s Valley of the Moon and I was pretty excited to see what magical landscapes the desert had to offer. Spoiler alert: sunset did not disappoint!
Our tour left San Pedro de Atacama at 4:00 p.m. and we had a very short drive ahead of us. The Valley of the Moon is located just 13 kilometres outside of town, so by the time we got comfortable in our seats, we were already there.
As soon as we climbed out of the truck it became pretty evident how the valley gets its name. In front of us lay an expanse of stone and sand formations carved by millennia of wind and water. Sprinkled like flour in a messy kitchen, there were white patches of salt which marked the remains of ancient lakes that have long since evaporated.
“This is your iconic postcard shot of Atacama,” our guide said as we pulled up to the canyon’s ridge and looked out at the Cordillera de la Sal which stretched out before us.
Snap, snap, snap!
After going trigger-happy at the sight of the canyon, we continued on to the salt caves, also known as Cañon de Sal. When our guide asked us if we were claustrophobic back in town, I thought we might be crawling through some narrow spaces, but then he really downplayed it on the drive over and I completely forgot that the caves were even on the itinerary.
The tour of the salt caves started out easy enough. We entered a gorge that didn’t seem all that impressive at first glance, but it grew narrower and narrower the deeper we walked in, until it finally became a dark tunnel. Our guide had asked everyone on the truck to bring their cellphones along so we could look at the salt crystals, but once we were in the tunnel, it turned out that we really needed the cellphones as flashlights.
The thing about that tunnel is that once you’re in there, there is no turning back. The space is only wide enough for a group to snake through in a single file, so if you change your mind, you’re blocked in by those behind you. Not all of us had brought our cell phones out to the desert so there was a bit of stumbling, crawling, and blindly feeling our way around, but when we finally emerged we were met with a landscape that resembled Mars (or at least it looked a lot like the scenes from The Martian!)
Pretty dazzling, right?
By then, we were getting close to sunset, so it was time to hop back in the truck. We took a short detour to visit some salt flats and from there we hiked up to a ridge to watch the sun do its magic.
The wind was whipping our hair and blowing sand in our faces by the time we reached the top, but as far as sunsets go it was a pretty spectacular one.
On the way back our guide let us climb on top of the truck and ride with the cool evening breeze blowing in our faces. We had to climb back down once we approached the town, but it was a pretty nice way to finish up our sunset tour of the Atacama Desert.
Tips for visiting the Valley of the Moon at sunset:
- Wear shorts. Afternoons in Atacama are really hot, and while it does cool down towards sunset, it’ll be nowhere near the freezing temperatures you experience in the desert in the early morning. I was perfectly fine in shorts and I just made sure to bring a sweater for later in the day.
- Bring lots of water. Our guides insisted that we each carry a 1L bottle of water (they even made people run to the convenience store before heading out on the tour), and I was glad we had them. It may seem like a hassle to lug a bit bottle around, but you’ll be glad once you’re out in the scorching sun.
- Shield yourself from the sun. Don’t forget to wear sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses.
- Choose your footwear wisely. Closed shoes are best for this activity. You’ll be crawling through caves, hiking up rubbly slopes, and trekking through a few sandy stretches.
Where’s the best place you’ve watched the sunset?