Bike the Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert

21 Miles Round Trip - 500 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Unnamed Road - Search Nearby - Added by Jeff Young

Bike through one of the driest deserts on the Earth to see a landscape straight from Mars. That's not a snow covered mountain range, it's a salty one.

There are three plausible ways to explore the Valle de la Luna: bike, car, and tour bus. Biking is the most budget-friendly and arguably the most adventurous way to see the valley. You will also miss the crowds if you time it right. 

The spot indicated here is the entrance office for the park. If you don't have international cell coverage you can download an app like Maps.me. Ask for a map from the park ranger. This will show you all the main features of the park. 

Starting in San Pedro the entire route runs 10.5 miles from town and 10.5 back; a roundtrip of 21 miles to see the whole valley. There are multiple short hikes throughout. I recommend doing all or most of them. If you are in decent shape you can complete the whole trip in under 6 hours without rushing. There are a few hills, but nothing serious. The heat and aridity will make things a little more difficult though. 

In order to maximize time, beat the heat, and miss the tour crowds, try to leave San Pedro as early as possible. Many bike rental shops open around 8am, but if you have a multi-day rental, you could leave even earlier. 

Here are several major stops in order:

  • Caverna de Sal (salt cave), very difficult to see if crowded, amazing if not
  • Duna Mayor (large sand dune)
  • Mirador Achaches (panoramic view of the Cordillera de la Sal)
  • Amfiteatro 
  • The Salt Mines
  • Tres Marias (rock formations)

Most hikes are around a mile or less. There are clearly marked signs for every trailhead. Some are not on this list or the map, but don't be afraid to explore. 

Bring plenty of sunscreen, food, and at least 3 liters of water. I recommend getting (mind numbingly good) ham and cheese croissants from Panaderia Franchutería for a picnic lunch. 

Rent a solid set of wheels and not a janky rust bucket. Shop around until you find a new(ish) looking hardtail and run it through all the gears before committing. 

The entrance fee was 2,500 Chilean Pesos which was under $5 USD as of early 2018. Bring plenty of extra pesos just in case the fee has increased.  

Tags

Cycling
Photography
Mountain Biking
Hiking
Scenic

Details

21 Miles
500 ft elevation gain
Out-and-Back Trail

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

My favorite day in the Atacama desert, one of the best days of my Chilean adventure

Incredible views and a unique experience. It is certainly a difficult ride in the sand and desert heat, but it a great change of pace for the active adventurer. San Pedro is the pueblo nearby and has multiple bike rental shops that are very affordable. You can rent 1/2 ($6) or full day ($13... maybe even less, I can't remember exactly), and even rent sand boards to take to nearby Valle de la Muerte (about a half-hour ride from San Pedro. We rented bikes at about 9:30am, made it to Valle de la Muerte at 10am, sand boarded for about 2 hours (incredible experience... highly recommend!), biked back to San Pedro to rehydrate and eat lunch, and then headed out to Valle de la Luna by 2pm. This ride is a little longer and slightly uphill, but we got there around 4:30 to explore the caves and bike around before watching the sunset, which was the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. Heading back to San Pedro after sunset is quite dark, but bike rental companies give you headlamps and safety vests, and the natural shining stars illuminate part of the way. We made it back to the bike rental at 9:30. A long day that's not for the faint of heart, but our most memorable experience in San Pedro. It's a beautiful area, but most places are accessible only by vehicle or paying for a tour, which are less active and much more expensive.