Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Surreal Valle de Luna (Valley of the Moon).

The Tres Marias rock formation at Valle de Luna.

Pinch me.  Did I really see a most surreal looking landscape today?  Why, yes I did!  It's called Valle de Luna.

Earlier this afternoon, Bro and I returned to the office of Agencia Tourismo Layana to talk with the manager about getting a refund for the cancelled tour to Valle Arcoiris.  While there I was also hoping to get a more accurate update on the tour for Cejar Lagoon.

The manager, Pas (?) turned out to be very helpful.  Instead of refunding us for Valle Arcoiris, she agreed to allow us to go on the same tour tomorrow except we would sit aside while the rest of the group went around Yerbas Buenas and then we would rejoin them for Valle Arcoiris.  I was willing to give it a second try as was Bro so that worked out.  With all the scheduling changes that were taking place, our itinerary was a bit messed up.  Looking at, the manager suggested some changes that had has going on the tour of Valle de Luna tonight instead of on our last night.  Tours to Valle de Luna start in the late afternoon as it's a popular spot to watch the sun set.

Bro and I discussed the proposed itinerary changes and we agreed to the revised schedule.  With that, she quickly scribbled our names down on the passenger manifest for tonight's tour to Valle de Luna.  The meeting place tour was the office so as we were ironing out our itinerary issues with the manager, people were arriving to go on the late afternoon tour of Valle de Luna.  A large tour bus soon pulled up outside and our guide, a young, blond haired was crossing off names from the manifest as people boarded.  It wasn't hard to pick out our two names :-)

I think we had a pretty full bus so there were at least 20-30, if not more, passengers.  As we rolled out of town, our guide worked through educating us about the geology of the region.  Considering she is Russian, her Spanish was flawless, down to her accent. She struggled with her English at times but overall, I thought she did an excellent job communicating to us.  Not to mention that she has a very warm and enthusiastic personality. 

Located 13 kilometers (8 mile) west of San Pedro de Atacama, in the Cordillera de la Sal, Valle de Luna is one of the most visited places in San Pedro.  The attraction of Valle de la Lunais the unique landscape. The valley is filled with mountainous sand dunes, sand and stone formations, caverns, dry lakes, colorful escarpments, and saline outcrops, all of which contribute to the unusual landscape.

It was a very short drive to our first stop where we all got off the bus to see the salt crusted terrain.


The sand and stone formations are the result of hundreds of years of erosion by the wind, and the escarpments vary in color as the sunlight changes throughout the day. A great time to visit the Moon Valley in Chile is at sunset.





Next stop was to see a unique rock formation called Tres Marias, Three Marias.


Looks likes snow and ice but it's all salt!


Tres Marias is a rock formation that supposedly once resembled three nuns kneeling in prayer. Erosion as well as recent damage by a tourist who climbed on top of one of the pillars to capture his perfect selfie (sheesh....really??) have left the formation looking nothing like 3 kneeling nuns.  I don't think any amount of imagination will bring forth images of nuns.

I had Bro hold up 3 fingers so I could remember the name of the formation :-)

Okay, there's a sign....

One of the tourists in our group was wheelchair bound.  Though the man was obviously handicapped, I was impressed at this determination to visit Valle de Luna though his safety was obviously a concern for not only those that he was traveling with but our guide and driver as well.  I was so impressed with everyone helping him get in and out of the chair.

Next stop was to see an abandoned salt mine.  For this, we had to take a short walk on a path that led part way up a hill.







We did a quick walk through the abandoned camp.


The next stop allowed us to hike up to an area for a more panoramic view of the valley.  This place is incredibly beautiful.  I took a lot of photos :-)

It was here that we also encountered some really large sand dunes.







For the real views, you had to do a bit of climbing, over uneven terrain.  I, the natural born klutz lugging a heavy camera, opted out. Bro went on his own.  I didn't want to hold him back so we pretty much split up; we just had to make sure we were back at the bus by 7:30p.

Our guide was busy taking photos with the camera belonging to the handicapped passenger.  He had asked her to do him the favor and she kindly obliged.  She had been making sure he was okay at every point on our tour. She's a very considerate guide and I decided even if no one else was going to tip her, as tipping is not required here, we would give her a small token.  Her good deeds should be rewarded.







Our last stop was to see the sunset. Our driver pulled the bus into a parking where there were probably a handful of buses already parked along with who knows how many other vehicles.  My heart sank as that meant that there would be a mob of people but at the same time, I expected it given the popularity of this place.  I'm not much of a sunset viewer but even I have to admit, this place is gorgeous bathed in the warm light of the setting sun - the colors of the landscape are just intensified.










We arrived back in to San Pedro around 9:15p and Bro tipped our guide as we got off the bus.  She was surprised at the gesture as we were the only ones who gave her anything.  Having to look after a full bus load of people is not easy and she did a great job!  

From the Tourismo Layana offices, we decided to just go back to O2 Salon de Te for dinner; it's become our tried and true place to grab a quick, easy and very affordable meal.

Tomorrow, we're repeating what we did this morning. Hopefully, we'll make it to Valle Arcoiris on our second try.  Fingers crossed!

Goodnight from San Pedro de Atacama!