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11th April
written by Justin

For our second day out at San Pedro de Atacama, we decided to visit a very famous couple of valleys near the town. Our tour was run again by CosmoAndino Expeditions, who ran our tour of the altiplano, and whose guides and equipment we found to be really nice. We were lucky to meet a couple who had been on the last tour we took, and had a great time chatting with them and enjoying the scenery! Their talk of packing much of Chile into a 10 day trip really made us appreciate the luxury we have by taking our year vacation – time to relax.

Our first destination was ‘Piedra del Coyote’, a place with a really dramatic view over a valley, and with a precarious rock outcropping whose image frequently graces postcards and tour books:

On A Cliff

Wide Angle Cliff

After a few minutes here, we packed back into our tour bus…

Lonely Tour Bus

… and headed for Valle de la Muerte, a valley whose name was forever lost in the translation between the French of its explorer and the Spanish of the local cartographers. The name was originally supposed to be Vallée de Mars, but the French pronunciation sounded like Muerte, so Death Valley it became. The Mars name is much more apt, as there are jagged outcroppings of red rock throughout the valley:

Happy in Death Valley

Death Valley Panorama

More Death Valley

One of the remarkable features of this valley were its giant, smooth sand dunes. In fact, it was possible to see sandboarders, little dots on top of the dunes, in the distance. They looked really fun to ride down! But we weren’t to be disappointed – our guide soon told us we’d be getting back to our bus by walking straight down the dunes! They were about 500 feet tall and at quite a steep grade. So we took off our shoes (because each step sinks into the sand past your ankles) and began to come down. Check out how steep it is by our shadows!

Hazel coming down

Traversing the Dunes

I quickly decided that walking is not nearly as fun as running. When you are on a 50% grade, on a sand dune with silky smooth sand, you can run really fast and really far. I found myself dropping 3 feet in altitude with each step! Also took to doing the long jump, where I travelled 8-10 feet in a single jump. Maybe someday I’ll be able to show you the video of me doing that! I had a blast here.

Once we met up with the bus, we headed over to the Salt Canyon. This whole area is still in the Salt Flats of Atacama, and we didn’t realize that all the rocks in this canyon are actually rock salt, some of which was crystallized into halite, a quartz-like clear vein of pure salt:

Salt Canyon

Salt Crystals

Rock Formations

As if a canyon wasn’t enough, our guide led us through a salt cave! It was dark and cramped, but a fun excursion through and then over and back down the salt.


Out and Up

Once out of the bus, we headed over to the main attraction, the Valle de la Luna. Unfortunately, we spent about 15 minutes too many on the bus, as we missed sunset there, which is reportedly fantastic. However, the sun was still high enough to get great colors on the clouds overhead. Unfortunately, all this walking was beginning to get to Hazel, so she didn’t get to tramp around as much as me, but we both got some nice views of the area:




That about does it for our tour! We had an excellent time and loved every minute! Back to Santiago today, for the flight to Lima! Keep an eye out on our blog for some precolumbian ruins, coming soon!


  1. Hazel

    Yeah, the combination of the altitude and the hills did me in! My heart started pounding like crazy and was pretty painful – good thing we had altitude medication. That calmed it right down. Awesome tour though!!!

  2. Bob D

    Somehow I missed this post! What an amazing place. Did you have to walk up the dune too?

  3. admin

    No, our tour guide was nice enough to drop us off at the top and pick us up later on at the bottom!

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