San Pedro de Atacama and Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley)

Do you want to explore a desert? Or rather some salt flats? Or maybe you want to bath in hot springs, observe flamingos, or marvel at some geysers? Well, San Pedro de Atacama is the perfect base for all of that and much more. This small mountain town located in northeastern Chile on a 2.500 meters high plateau in the Andes is surrounded by some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen.

In this blog series I share my favourite spots around San Pedro de Atacama, including a few tips on how to combine them on daytrips and on how to avoid the tourist crowds.

Driving from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama

The road cuts straight through the desert.

Driving towards the moon valley and the colorful salt flats next to San Pedro. 

Just a few kilometers before San Pedro the road leads downhill to the huge high altitude plateau. 

The town 

The building in the old town have been constructed using adobes (earth blocks) and tapial (rammed earth). They’re mostly pained white.

A lot of the restaurants have beautiful hidden courtyards, protected from the sun and sandstorms.

Such as this one…


We stayed at 3 different campsites around San Pedro de Atacama but Andes Nomads Desert Camp and Lodge was by far our favorite one. It’s located around 17km outside of town surrounded by nothing but nature. The campsites are simple and let you feel like you’re somewhere out in the middle of the desert while still being close to some convenient facilities. The owner Mauricio is also an overlander and knows what people living in a van need. The campsite has a washing machine, drinking water, showers with hot water for cold desert nights, and even a pool for hot summer days.

Our campsite…

…surrounded by nothing but nature.

Sunset is the perfect time for a delicious Pisco Sour,

…especially when you have this view. 

Valle de la Luna  / Moon Valley 

The moon valley is one of the highlights close to San Pedro de Atacama. A lot of tour busses drive through the valley but if you visit at the right time, you might get as lucky as we did and have some of its major sights to yourself. Here are my tips:

Arrive at the ticket office at around 4:00pm. Last entrance is at 5:00pm but you can stay in the valley until later.

Leave the highlight, the walk to the mirador at the Great Dune for last and head straight to Mina Victoria. 

Take a short walk around some of the old buildings and mining equipment.

Unfortunately, you can’t get down into the mine.

Drive further into the valley to the Tres Marias, or the “upside down horse” as Silke called it. (judge for yourself....) This is the furthest accessible point. 

Now it’s time for the highlight, head back to the Great Dune and park your car at the Estacionamento next to the toilets and follow the arrows.

Most tourist busses will have left by this time, as they are all heading towards the sunset point. Should there still be some, they will most likely just take the short hike from the other parking area up to the Great Dune. 

You’re in for a treat. 

This 40-minutes walk takes you to a stunning 360-degree viewpoint (mirador), overlooking the salt flats, volcanos and of course the Moon Valley.  

Don’t worry, on the way back you will still pass the viewpoint on the Great Dune and have it most likely to yourself. Enjoy! 

We still managed to head to the sunset point just in time. 

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