The other day when a friend asked what was the highlight of my Argentina/Chile trip, I replied 'the Atacama' right away without hesitation. The Atacama desert is the top attraction in northern Chile and it is easy to see why. This otherworldly land is composed mainly of salt flats and sand. The desert is believed to be the driest on earth with some areas having never received even a drop of rainfall. In the middle of the desert at about 2400m elevation, the village of San Pedro de Atacama is the base for most visitors. Most travel agencies in San Pedro offer similar packages and I did four of the most popular (half) day tours here. I will publish each of them in separate posts.
It was a tough choice but I picked the Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) tour for Day 1. The tour began at three in the afternoon and headed first to the Death Valley (Valle de la Muerte). The Cordillera de Sal (Salt Mountains) with a variety of natural sculptures and colorations by the mineral diversity and spectacular volcanoes including the Licancabur which could be seen from hundreds of kilometers away in the background. Next, a short drive brought us to an ancient salt river bed and caves. We walked through the river bed and some caves for only about 300m before rushing off to Moon Valley for the sunset. On the way, we made a quick stop to see some strange rock and salt formation known as Las Tres Marias. The Moon Valley make for a dramatic setting to watch the sunset. To one side, a large rock formation shaped by the wind to form a valley with panoramic vista. To the other, the severe peak of Mount Licancabur shed shades of gold and orange as the sun sets. The pamphlet that I picked up from the park office read 'An Experience Outside this World' - considering the Atacama is so Mars-like that NASA frequently uses it as a test region for their personnel and equipment, that statement is not far-off.