Just a few miles outside of the bustling city of La Paz, Bolivia is the Valle de la Luna, a park full of rock-like formations so exotic and unique, they seem otherworldly.
This space has been visited by some of the world’s greatest minds and still holds enormous intrigue and mystery in its craggy formations and wild vegetation. The hiking trails lead to some spectacular views of this mysterious and wild place that’s full of secrets.
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No Two Formations Are the Same
The land is wild and varied and many of the formations have names like “El Buen Abuelo” (The Nice Grandfather), which looks like a statue of an old man made from stone. Other names include “The Viscacha’s Jump”, “The Turtle Shell” and “The Cholita’s Hat.” It’s always wise to hire a guide who can share all of the local lore and fun facts while also making sure every view is assigned a name.
Rumor has it that Valle de la Luna was visited by astronaut and OG moonwalker Neil Armstrong, who said it reminded him of his trip to the moon. They say the place was named for this visit, and though it’s probably just a nice story for tourists, guides will swear up and down that it’s true. The original name was changed in 1969, so it might be true.
In 2017, It Went Full Star Wars
The space was used for a huge Star Wars night two years ago that included a nighttime walk and 40+ actors all dressed up in Star Wars costumes. The jagged rocks, and narrow valleys, and dusty walkways all have a very strong Star Wars vibe. It’s easy to imagine lightsaber battles among the rocks and intergalactic creatures lurking in craggy corners.
It’s Going to Be Destroyed
Because of the altitude, the valley is subject to very high winds and 22 inches of rainfall a year. In other words, the same forces that helped to build this place—erosion from water and wind—are destroying it. The intense pollution in La Paz isn’t helping matters, likely hastening the time when visitors can no longer bask in the unique landscape.
It Was Once Under the Sea
Though La Paz sits at 11,975 feet above sea level and is the highest capital city in the world, this area was once, many thousands of years ago, under the sea. Though fossils aren’t always visible, it’s very easy to imagine the landscape underwater, with fish swimming between the cracks in the rock. As a visitor, just knowing this gives you a unique perspective on time—all things change, and Valle de La Luna is evidence of this.
It’s Home to 32 Species of Cacti
Sadly, many of the beautiful cacti have been picked and stolen by vandals over the years. The Choma or San Pedro hallucinogenic cactus is the most famous resident and the reason the park is locked at night–people were coming in, tripping out on hallucinogenic cactus, and falling into the crevasses.
It’s Rich in Minerals
If you look closely, there are colored striations in the rocks of purple, brown, orange, and red. These are all thanks to a rich variety of mineral content that is aesthetically exciting and half the reason people make the trek to see it.
Guides claim to hear people moaning in the night and that evil spirits convince tourists to jump into the abyss if they wander too far afield. Our guide even claimed that the lost city of Atlantis is rumored to be buried beneath its dramatic valleys. The truth is beside the point. It’s the stories that give you goosebumps.
It Can be Dangerous (Especially After Dark)
Locals warn of muggings and urge people to take guides if they go. Officially, it closes at 5 pm, but some try to sneak in after hours. All guides and Internet research would suggest that this is a very bad idea in every way. Just don’t.
What You Need to Know Before You Go
Entry to the park costs $2, not including a guide. Plan to spend about half a day there and be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes. There’s no food or drinks for sale inside the park, so bring your own water and plan for hikes that take about an hour.