The Valley of the Moon Atacama Desert


| June 13, 2013

Adam Dabrowski visited the Valley of the Moon in the Atacama Desert during a Cox & Kings Splendours of Chile tour earlier this year.

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I had been mystified by the late start to the Valley of the Moon tour, but our guide Rodrigo assured us that leaving any earlier would have meant coping with the Atacama Desert’s unbearably high temperatures. And so it was that we were picked up from our hotel in San Pedro de Atacama in the late afternoon and took the short drive, over unsurfaced roads, into the valley. We were shown the dry river beds, through which the rare rainfall run-off flows, before walking uphill to view the remains of the salt mines, which were active until the 1990s.

The heavy rains two weeks before our visit had completely altered the appearance of the normally dark pink and orange landscape, turning it snow white, as though emerging from a recent blizzard. Rodrigo, who has lived in the area for four years, had never seen the desert like this before.

As we moved through the valley, the light was constantly changing, the sun starting to cast long shadows across the razor-sharp ridges of rock above us. I started to understand why it was important to visit during the evening.

After spending an hour or so in the valley, we retraced our tracks to the main road, before driving to a viewpoint on the hillside high above. At first, there were just a handful of people there, but as time went on, more buses started to appear along the very rough track. Eventually there was a small crowd assembled on the edge of the honey-coloured cliffs.

This was when the real show started. The sun dipped slowly towards the western horizon and the colours of the desert became luminous against the dark backdrop of the Licancabur volcano and the Andean cordillera. The stillness of the desert landscape, combined with the vivid tapestry of colours, was mesmerising.

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