Another very popular (and worth the money) tour near San Pedro is to Valle de la Luna. Located about 8 miles from the town of San Pedro, this valley in the Atacama Desert is so-called because of the strange sand, salt, and rock formations throughout the region.
It is probably best to do an afternoon tour (4 pm-8pm usually) rather than ride on a bike yourself, but if you like deserts and know the area, I suppose going out by yourself is fine. The good news is that this tour is usually the cheapest of all that agencies offer. We booked through Turismo Layana (again) and got another 15% discount through Get South. We paid a total of 8.500 pesos per person, which I think was a pretty good deal. We met at the tour office at 4 pm and were picked up by a bus. We were joined by another American we met at our hostel, who we hung out with for the two days we were in San Pedro.
The valley is a national reserve, so you must pay to enter. Jordan and both used out student IDs (ISIC) and got in for 2.000 apiece, if I remember correctly. Our tour guide spoke both English and Spanish, which was great. I think that’s probably my favorite type of tour.
The bus drove us to various points of the valley, so we could see the most unique sights. All the white behind us is salt. Because of the rain, the salt came up to the surface, making the valley look like it had snowed. In the 1950s and 1960s, miners lived here through parts of the year, digging for salt.
A closeup of crystal salt mixed with the red sand of the desert.
Behind us is a rock formation called the Three Marys. In this remote region, Catholicism blended with the indigenous religions. Miners would leave gifts to the Three Marys, the bringers of spring and good fortune in the desert, before descending into the salt mines.
By the 1970s, for various reasons, the mining dried up. This is all that is left of the salt mines, which have mostly collapsed. If you do hike by yourself in the valley, be careful not to fall into any of these openings!
We ended to tour atop one of the mountains, with a beautiful view of the sunset.
After the sun set, the bus took us back into town. We found a cheap dinner with wifi (because finally internet worked again!) At this point we had been without internet for about five days. It was good to check email and the blog again. We responded to Facebook messages and emails quickly, because we had to get a good night’s sleep before our next tour: the Salar de Uyuni!