Rainbow Valley – Valle del Arcoiris

Important note about my frequent travel: these are my experiences and observations I share eagerly and enthusiastically. I receive no compensation in cash/kind/discounts, etc. of any kind from any business/locations I’ve visited. None of the businesses paid for my travel expenses or offered any free services.

Definitely needed a hat

San Pedro de Atacama is a small and remote town. There’s only one gas station in the entire town and occasionally they run out of petrol. We didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere without data coverage so whenever the tank was half empty, we’d get it filled first thing in the morning. Atacama desert is sparsely populated so data in general is not that great as soon as you leave the town. After getting a full tank of gas, we went back to La Pica del Perron for their two course meal for 3,800 CLP (about $5.50 USD).  Our hostel didn’t have a kitchen so we had to eat out for the rest of the vacation.

So colorful

After lunch we signed up for next days El Tatio geyser tour. After speaking with a lot of tour companies on our first day, we decided to go with with Luna Dorada. We figured after spending 4 full days at almost 8,000 feet elevation, it was safe to go on the tour. The geyser is at 14,000 feet elevation so we waited a few days. The tour cost 18,000 CLP (about $26 USD) per person which we paid up front. They also said there’s an additional 10,000 CLP (about $14.50 USD) per person entry fee to be paid at the gate next morning.

That’s not grass on the mountains. It’s the minerals

Once that was done, we drove to Rainbow Valley (Valle del Arcoiris), about 90 km from SPdA and takes about an hour to drive there. Finding this place was a bit challenging because there aren’t too many signs. It was useful to have maps.me along with Google maps. The road we turned left on from route 207 didn’t have a name. It wasn’t listed on any map we saw and there’s no sign on the street either. We just had to pay attention to the GPS on our phone and turn on a gravel road.

Rainbow Valley

Rainbow valley is about 16 km away once we turned on to the unmarked road. The dirt road is narrow but it wasn’t a problem since we didn’t come across any car until the very end. We did, however, run into some “traffic” when a llama was standing in the middle of the road and refused to move for a few minutes. We just had to wait until the llama was ready to get off the road. There were also a few vicuñas on the side.

Traffic jam in Atacama Desert

After about 12-14 km on the dirt road, there’s a sign that points left to Rainbow Valley and it looks like another dead end, dirt road. We drove in that direction for a few more kilometers before we realized we’ve arrived at Rainbow Valley. Seeing a tour van full of people helped. There weren’t too many tour groups here so it was mostly empty and unbelievably beautiful.

The name Rainbow valley is very accurate. Minerals like iron, sulfur, copper oxide, and gypsum crystals in the ground gives the valley a very colorful look. The mountains are red, different shades of green, white and brown. Add to it a bright blue sky and the salt on the ground and this becomes one of the best places in San Pedro de Atacama. Being surrounded by such colorful mountains and landscape made me feel like I was suddenly transported to another planet. Geologically, its unlike anything we’ve seen even in Atacama Desert.

There was only one section of Rainbow Valley where we didn’t drive to because we didn’t have a 4 wheel drive. Instead, we just parked our car, got out and started walking. As I said, there were barely 2-3 cars around so we didn’t feel guilty getting out of the car and walking around. We probably spent almost 2 hours driving around, enjoying the view and just being awestruck. I this this place would be even more magical around sunset or sunrise. More pictures of Rainbow Valley.

There are absolutely no facilities here so be prepared to go behind a rock to do your business. Since the climate is so inhospitable, you don’t have to worry about critters while you take care of business. Because there are no facilities, tour companies don’t plan a lot of trips here so there are very few people around. Short video of driving around Rainbow Valley.

Drive from Rainbow Valley to Yerbas Buenas

After Rainbow Valley we initially planned on going to Yerbas Buenas to see petroglyphs. It’s not far from Rainbow Valley, just off 207 going east. In the end we decided to not stop there since most of the information was probably in Spanish. It’s another one of those tours that might be worth doing with a tour guide so you can actually learn about the history of the civilization and the people who lived there thousands of years ago.

Soon after this I stopped taking pictures because I didn’t want to distract Gaurav while driving

We continued East on 207 to Rio Grande instead. Soon after Rainbow Valley, route 207 gets VERY curvy and you have to drive carefully. There are lots of sharp turns and switchbacks on narrow roads. I was very scared every time we saw a big truck coming from the opposite side because the roads are so narrow. The smallest mistake and our car will be tumbling down a steep valley. I’d be even more terrified to drive on this road during sunrise or sunset.

Rainbow Valley

The drive is absolutely beautiful and everyone in the car will enjoy it except the driver. There’s a valley directly below with no shoulder. You can see a few huge cacti plants every now and then. The river Rio Grande is seen at the bottom of the valley. It’s an amazing view and I wish there were a few places to pull over and walk around. Rio Grande is a very small village of about 100 people. There is a beautiful church and a few houses. The roads in this town are so narrow that we didn’t feel comfortable driving the rental car anymore.

This is why it’s called Rainbow Valley

We couldn’t find enough space to park the car either. We didn’t want to scratch the car so we turned around and drove back to San Pedro de Atacama. The drive back on the same road was slightly less scary because we were on the side of the mountain and not the steep valley. Once we were back in SPdA, we had empanadas for dinner. There’s a food truck near the open air veggies market on Guatin-Linzor and Las Parinas. Most of the empanadas were around 3,000 CLP (about $4.50). Empanadas are about the only food we ate in Chile that wasn’t bad.

We called it an early night since the El Tatio geyser tour bus was going to pick us up the next morning at 5 am. The tour company also suggest we do not drink any alcohol the night before to help avoid complications of altitude sickness. But, in general, finding alcohol is not easy in SPdA as mentioned in my earlier post.

Personally, I thought Rainbow Valley, aka Valle del Arcoiris, was a lot more impressive than Valley of the Moon, aka Valle de la Luna. For more photos and videos, follow me on Instagram.