What is the best way to explore the beautiful landscape of Valle de la Luna in Chile. For us it was a bike tour through the breathtaking Valle de la Luna in San Pedro de Atacama and it was quite exhausting to cycle through the dust-dry heat. But the moon-like landscape and the possibility to stop when and where you want definitely compensate for the efforts.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
What to know about Valle de la Luna
San Pedro de Atacama
The dusty town is the starting point for different tours in the Atacama Desert and therefore quite touristy. There are many restaurants, tour providers, souvenir stores, bars and everything the backpacker heart desires. As a tourist stronghold, the price level is unfortunately also relatively high. Dinner is available from about 8000 CLP (about 10 Euro), a beer or coffee costs about 4 Euro. Overnight stays start at 30 Euro in a double room.
San Pedro is the gateway to the Atacama Desert and the Uyuni region of neighboring Bolivia. But also the Puna de Atacama in Argentina can be reached very well from here. The region around San Pedro de Atacama has a lot to offer and you can book numerous excursions with tour operators* or do them on your own. For example a bicycle tour to the Valle de Luna.
Hotel Recommendation in San Pedro – The Perfect Oasis of Tranquility
The Hotel Pascual Andino* is a true oasis of tranquility in the rather bustling San Pedro de Atacama. The Hotel is just off the main street, so that it is the perfect place to start excursions. The individually and lovingly designed rooms are the right place to relax after visiting the harsh desert during the day.
How to Rent a Bike in San Pedro de Atacama
In San Pedro de Atacama you can rent bicycles everywhere. The bikes usually cost 3000 CLP (4 Euro) for 6 hours or 6000 CLP (8 Euro) for 12 hours. Included in the rental are helmets, repair kit, bike lock and a nice yellow high-visibility vest. The bikes are usually in good shape and have at least also a suspension fork. It still makes sense to compare a few providers and also make a short test ride before you decide on a bike. You don’t want to be stuck in the desert with a defective bike.
What to take with you on a Bike Trip?
In any case, plenty to drink. You can’t buy anything on the way. We recommend 2 liters per person… At least! You should also protect yourself from the sun. It burns mercilessly from the firmament and there is almost no shade on the way.
Therefore, a cap and long clothes (if you are very sensitive to the sun) should be part of your equipment. And of course good sunscreen. I had a pretty bad sun burn on my calves after our trip to Valle de la Luna.
What should you not take with you? Dogs!
Sounds strange, but unfortunately it is so. If you feed or pet dogs in San Pedro or also on the way on the route, they like to run after you, even if you ride your bike. And not for nothing there is a sign at the entrance to the national park that forbids you to enter with bicycles and accompanying dogs (no joke!).
If dogs follow you into the Moon Valley, they can die of thirst very quickly and will certainly not have a good time there in the heat. Therefore, please make sure that no dogs follow you.
How to get to Valle de la Luna
From San Pedro you drive for about 30 minutes on the road towards Calama and turn left at a clearly visible sign just outside the city limits to the entrance of the national park. The approach is relatively easy. At the beginning there is a short uphill. After that, it goes on paved roads continuously slightly downhill and you reach the entrance quickly and without much effort.
At the entrance gate to Valle de la Luna you pay 2500 CLP (before 1 pm) or 3000 CLP (4 Euro) after 1 pm. As a cyclist you are only allowed to enter the park until 1 pm. In the morning there are already quite a lot of bicycles on the road.
In the afternoon there are more tour groups with buses and jeeps or tourists with normal rental cars. So if you want to avoid the cars racing by, you should go early, which also has the advantage that the heat sets in only at noon.
The Route through the Park
The route through the park is not a circuit. There is a main road through the valley, which you drive through to the end and then turn around to come back to the entrance. So you can’t get lost. First you drive 7 km to the first viewpoint (big dune).
Then, at intervals of a few kilometers, there are more viewpoints to drive to. The last viewpoint is at kilometer 11. Afterwards, the same route is taken back. The way there is often uphill and therefore much more strenuous than the way back.
Viewpoints in Valle de la Luna
First comes the Duna Mayor (big dune). You walk uphill for about 30 minutes. At the top you have fantastic views of the surrounding area and large sand dunes. The second view is the Mirador Achachnes. To the actual viewpoint you walk uphill for about 20 minutes.
After that, you can continue to follow the trail for some time until you reach the final top of the cliffs. Here again you have the view of the peculiar rock formations with the volcanic chain on the horizon. The third stop is the Mina de Sal Victoria. This is located only about one kilometer behind the Mirador Achachnes. The Mina de Sal Victoria is only a little spectacular hole in the ground and can be skipped in our opinion.
We turned around at this point and went back towards the entrance. If you still have some energy left (or are there by car) you can drive to the last point of the route and have a look at the Tres Marias. These are, by erosion formed, about 1 million years old rock formations.
The Parking Lots on the Route
You can always park your bike there, lock it and then walk the appropriate route. At the first viewpoint there are even toilets with running water.
Important: Sun protection!
Take enough water and sunscreen with you. Best also a hat and if necessary long clothes. You are exposed to the burning sun all the time. There are only very few places in the shadow.
Our Bike Tour to the Valle de la Luna
The experience started for us right after we left San Pedro de Atacama and were on the highway heading to Valle de la Luna. “Honey, isn’t this totally crazy that we’re biking through the desert?” Yes, for us it was just that. Because when do you ever ride a bike through a desert. And then in Chile. That sounds almost unbelievable.
The journey to the national park we brought quite relaxed and easy behind us and were already looking forward to our further tour. But first the organizational things had to be done. So quickly bought the ticket, discussed the plan with the friendly employee (who spoke extra very slow Spanish with us) and we were ready to go.
Immediately after the entrance, the nicely paved road changed into a gravel road, which is interrupted every now and then by short stretches over cobblestones. Also, the mogul track had a slight slope that requires you to pedal continuously. Since it was not yet soooo hot in the morning, this was no problem. In addition, we had the opportunity to stop again and again and take photos, while the other people with their guided tours could make the photos only from the moving cars.
After the first kilometers we found the first great photo spot right next to the road. The dry ground had formed tile-like patterns that we had to look at up close. This is normal for the desert. We had never seen anything like this live before.
After that, it was uphill, downhill and steeply uphill again. The sun was also burning mercilessly in the meantime and, in combination with the thin air, this was really exhausting. So we had to take a break and then push the bike. And so the way to the first vantage point was quite long. Hope came up again when two cyclists met us and said that we had almost reached the first goal. So we gathered all our motivation and started pedaling for the remaining meters.
And there it was: the parking lot to the first viewpoint of the Valle de la Luna. So we quickly parked our bikes and took the marked path to the viewpoint. The first piece led thereby past a large dune, where also directly a sign pointed out that one may not enter this… this sign we should still get to see often.
After a few minutes we could already see a few people in the distance on top of the rocky ridge, which made it clear that we still had to walk a few minutes… and that after all the effort of cycling. 😀 But it was clear that it would be worth it. At the fork in the road we turned left and then kept walking towards the viewpoint. And the view at the end was awesome.
You could look for miles over the desert and had the white, red and brown rocks in view. The view to the right showed a large dune in a narrow canyon. After some photos we went further up along to the big dune, which may not be entered, however. Here we allowed ourselves a little breather before the descent brought us back to our bikes.
After about another kilometer on the bike, which again left us speechless with its view, we went to the second viewpoint. Here we could park our bikes again and then walk the path slightly uphill for about 15 minutes. The sun was burning and so the 15 minutes seemed twice as long to us. I fortunately had my hat with me, Andreas continued to wear his bike helmet (yes, it looked funny) to seek some protection from the sun.
At the top there were smaller sections with shade while going further and further towards the top. The panorama was again incredible. It always leaves you speechless. So we stood there, took a few photos, enjoyed the view and tried to absorb the impressions. The look at the clock told us unfortunately that we had to continue … so quickly went back to the wheels and continue.
Mina de Sal Victoria
The third and for us last point should be the Mina de Sal Victoria. One last time we parked our bikes at the little stop house and followed the path. First we passed some old mining equipment and dilapidated small huts. A few meters further followed the entrance to the mine. However, this was simply a hole in the ground with an old metal ladder that did not look very trustworthy.
Moreover, there was no corridor in the hole that could have been followed. Somewhat disappointed we made our way back. Actually, we wanted to drive to a viewpoint at the end to watch the sunset. But since we were so knocked out, we left that out. After all, there were still a few kilometers to San Pedro de Atacama ahead of us. Therefore, we did not continue to the last viewpoint, the Tres Marias.
The first part of the way back was done quickly, because it was downhill most of the time. But the stretch after the entrance dragged on for us without end. We were just tired and knackered. We pedaled as hard as we could and were glad when we reached the city and could return the bikes. That’s how our first exciting day in Chile ended.