A Sunset Tour of Atacama’s Valley of the Moon

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!

Atacama Moon Valley at sunset

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!

Landscapes of the Atacama Moon Valley

Volcano in the Atacama Desert

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!)

The salt caves in the Atacama Desert

Hiking in the lunar landscapes of the Atacama Moon Valley

Salty landscapes in the Valley of the Moon

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.

Massive sand dune in the Valley of the Moon

Fiery sunset in the Moon Valley

Moon Valley Sunset Tour

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.

Sunset Valley of the Moon Atacama

Where’s the best place you’ve watched the sunset?

11 Comments

  • Jessica says:

    This is awesome! What tour did you go with?

    • Audrey says:

      Good question! I forgot to mention that; I went with “Grado 10” and they are the same company I did my sunrise tour of the geysers with.

  • Yara Miora says:

    Oh my goodness this sounds like an amazing experience! Bit creepy to be crawling through such narrow places but I’m sure you’ll remember the experience for ever. Great post, thank you so much for the inspiration!

    Love,
    Yara

  • Nicole says:

    Lugging around water is something I have become used to in travelling haha! This place looks so beautiful.
    Nicole recently posted..Some drawingsMy Profile

  • Love this, can’t wait to visit this place. So beautiful and whimsical looking. Can I make a small suggestion? You should add “pinnable” images to your blog posts. I don’t mean add the “pin it” button, but you should format your photos so that they appeal to the Pinterest interface (ie. vertical). I really wanted to pin this so that I could save it to one of my boards (which would get your post more exposure) but since you didn’t have any images formatted for Pinterest I didn’t pin any of them. But I’m sure there are others out there who would also pin your images more if they were formatted (or at least one at the very end of the post) for Pinterest and just imagine how much more traffic that would drive to your blog! Just a tip from one blogger to another! Beautiful photography though! Love that top photo, I just wish it was vertical!

    • Audrey says:

      Thanks for the suggestion, Kayti. I’ve slowly started adding pinnable images to my posts (one of my many ongoing projects!), but it’s still a work in progress. I’ve now added a pinnable one to this post too. Thanks for reading along. 🙂

  • Christina says:

    That looks amazing, Audrey. I’ve been to Chile but ran out of time. After seeing your photos and reading your post I wish I had made the time to visit the Valley of the Moon! I really enjoyed cruising around Cape Horn though

    http://travel2next.com/stella-australis-cruise-ushuaia-to-punta-arenas-chile/

    • Audrey Bergner says:

      That’s so cool that you made it to Cape Horn! I feel like I also didn’t have enough time in Chile. I got to see Arica, Atacama, Santiago, Valparaiso and Easter Island, but the Lakes District, Patagonia and beyond got put on hold until next time. Your photos of the place look amazing!

  • Hung Thai says:

    Holy cow the colors, the vastness of the landscape, and the amazing trek make this place so surreal. This is actually my first time reading about this place and it looks absolutely awesome. I just love that vast landscape 🙂
    Hung Thai recently posted..Best Places to Paddle Board in HawaiiMy Profile

  • I didn’t know such a place exists!! It’s stunning, and your photos really make me dream. Thanks for sharing all you traveling tips – it inspires me to never stop exploring!

  • Jolene says:

    Oh wow, gorgeous gorgeous photos!! To answer your question, I think we have seen the best as in most vibrant sunsets in Thailand! We were lucky that the sky performed there for us every single night!!
    Jolene recently posted..Comment on A Journey through the Local Villages in the Hoi An Countryside by Jolene EjmontMy Profile

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