Enjoy the many geological wonders of Moon Valley, where you will truly feel like you are walking on a lunar landscape!
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Located just outside of San Pedro de Atacama, Moon Valley (Valle de la Luna) is a protected nature sanctuary that is part of the National Flamingo Reserve (a national park). Within a small area, you will see many incredible geological formations – the results of thousands of years of interaction between rocks, minerals, and wind (that your geologically-trained guide will be able to explain much better than us!). You will also get a front row seat to one of the best sunsets you will ever experience! Aptly named, while you gaze out over Moon Valley, you will feel like you’ve departed our planet and landed on a lunar landscape!
You will see the following destinations during the tour:
Compared to many other locations in the desert, Moon Valley sits relatively low. However, it is important to note that the Atacama Desert as whole sits at a higher altitude than you may be used to. Especially if you are prone to it, even this tour could lead to altitude sickness.
Symptoms of altitude sickness can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and drowsiness. None of these symptoms are very ideal when you want to be enjoying an awesome trip to Moon Valley, so warnings about hydration and avoiding alcohol should be heeded closely to help mitigate the risk. It is also more difficult to breathe at higher altitudes. This tour is not physically demanding so you should not be affected for the most part, but this is still important to take note of.
The Atacama Desert has been inhabited for over 10,000 years. However, the first organized tribes only began to roam the area as hunter-gatherers about 7,000 years ago. The Loa River acts as the main water source of the desert with sustained agricultural and llama-herding villages scattered around it and San Pedro de Atacama since about 900 BC. Near Lake Titicaca, the Tiwanaku culture grew in power, and its influence is still seen today in the region’s textile iconography. As this group faded, the Atacamenos took control in the desert in 1000 BC by developing a system to transport goods from the coast to the Andes. Then, the 15th century saw the rise of the Inca Empire.
The origin of the name, “Atacama,” is still debated. Some believe the name stems from the black-and-white-coated Tacama duck, a species that is indigenous to both northern Chile and the Peruvian coast. Others trace the name to the indigenous Kunza language, which has a word, “Atchamar”. This means “head of the country”, and it is how the Atacamenos referred to their land.
Tales of gold somewhere south of the Inca Empire it was first led Europeans to the Atacama Desert. Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro first set foot in the region. From there, the Spanish invaded and brought the downfall of the Incas and Atacamenos, who had resisted European rule. The Atacamenos were killed in masses before they signed an agreement to remain subjects of the Spanish.
Chile claimed the Atacama Desert as part of its territory following the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), and labeled the indigenous groups in the area as Chilean nationals. Tribes were torn apart as the national borders between Chile, Peru and Bolivia broke ties. Many Atacamenos engaged in silver nitrate and copper mining in the 19th century until the silver nitrate industry collapsed in the early 20th century, leading to an economic crisis. In 1933, the Chilean government finally acknowledged the Atacamenos as one of nine indigenous groups in the country. However, the state never fairly redistributed the tribe’s ancestral land, which they view as sacred.
Recently, tourism has built new economic opportunities for indigenous groups and other peoples in Atacama. Cultural tourism acts as a crucial source of income for locals in tiny villages that practice llama herding or mining, and some find they no longer need to migrate to larger cities like Calama to support themselves and their families.
The Atacama Desert is much like any other desert in the sense that no matter the time of year, you’ll experience warm weather and strong sun during the day, followed by cold temperatures at night. The lack of precipitation makes it pretty easy to plan trips to San Pedro de Atacama as the only difference between the summer and winter is a greater extreme of heat during the summer. Dressing in layers is ideal for this sort of climate. That way, as the day heats you can shed clothes that you will be able to put back on as night begins to fall. And if you have a lightweight long-sleeve shirt, you can decide whether or not to keep it on to guard against the sun’s rays.
Radiation from the sun is quite high year-round. So not only should you be careful concerning the heat of the sun, but you should also seriously consider applying sunblock as it will not only protect your skin but help ward off the sun from draining your energy.
When people think of deserts, sand is often the first thing that comes to mind. Which makes it interesting to think that much of the sand in deserts likely didn’t originate from that location. While some desert sand is formed by the erosion of rocks in the area, much of it was once brought there. It often traveled by means of water flow from sources such as a river. As deserts are now often found without bodies of water, it is believed that the sand was carried there before the area developed the arid climate that makes water scarce and transformed into the deserts we see now. Desert sand also tends to be finer than that of beaches, for example, leading it to also be blown around in the wind much easier.
Sand in the desert also heavily contributes to rock formations. The constant shifting of the sand wears away at the surfaces over time, shaping or flattening them. Rocks are mostly made up of crystals of a variety of minerals, though some can form from the remains of animals or compressed pieces of plants. Rocks are also broken up into three different types: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic.
Igneous rocks are the product of volcanoes, forming when magma crystallizes and solidifies. Granite is actually a type of igneous rock. Sedimentary rocks form from previously existing rocks (clastic sedimentary), remains of creatures (biologic sedimentary), or from chemical precipitation (chemical sedimentary). Sandstone and shale are both examples of sedimentary rocks. Metamorphic rocks aren’t quite as common on the Earth’s surface, as the process through which they are formed most commonly occurs in the Earth’s inner layer. Metamorphic rocks begin as other rocks, and adopt their name as they are transformed by conditions such as high pressure and high heat. A combination of these factors makes the formation of metamorphic rocks even more likely, which is why this tends to occur underneath the Earth’s surface where tectonic plates meet.
Sand and rocks work in a cycle of sorts that spans thousands of years, as sand can eventually transform into sedimentary rock. This happens through two joint processes called compaction and cementation, which together are called sedimentation. Compaction occurs when layer after layer of sediments pile on top of each other over an incredibly long period of time, the sediments at the bottom pressing tighter and tighter together until they eventually become sedimentary rock. Cementation contributes to sedimentation because as these sediments pack together, the minerals from them act as a sort of glue that helps fuse these particles together.
And then there are sand dunes, considered to be an icon of deserts. These are formed simply by wind blowing sand together, and this causes every sand dune to have a windward side and a slipface. The windward side is where the wind pushes up the sand while the slipface is the side without any wind. Dunes can also have multiple slipfaces. For example, star dunes are identified by having at least three slipfaces. The only dunes that don’t have a slipface are dome dunes, and those are quite rare. Other shapes of sand dunes include crescentic, linear, and parabolic.
When on a tour through the desert, please listen carefully to your guide and respect boundaries set out in the parks. They don’t simply serve a mundane purpose. These instructions and boundaries exist for a reason, and that reason is often to preserve this beautiful landscape. In recent years, a tourist decided to climb around on the Three Marys and broke part of it. It’s not only a shame to see that such damage has happened to such an icon of the park, but is also gives other travelers a bad name. Also, aside from damaging the environment, climbing these structures can also be quite dangerous. Because even though they may appear as solid rock, they often aren’t and could easily crumble, ruining the structure and putting you at risk.
After you book your experience, you will receive a confirmation email from us confirming that your payment went through. You will then be connected directly to the tour operator, in case you have any further questions. We are also happy to answer any questions about the tour, or travel in general in your country of destination.