Caterina Rancho

Exploring Valle de la Luna, A Beautiful Wasteland in Peru

As its name suggests, the Valle de la Luna (literally “the moon valley”) looks more like the landscape of an alien planet than anything to be found on earth. Formed over millions of years, its geometric edges have been carved out by water and wind, and the various deposits of minerals have left behind a spectrum of colors. Beneath and between the outcrops are stony caverns, which flood with heavy Peruvian rains; elsewhere salt lakes are baked in the sun, and the valley is said to contain one of the driest places on earth. For its breathtakingly strange beauty, Valle de la Luna was incorporated into Los Flamencos National Preserve and is now protected as a nature sanctuary– a beautiful hidden destination in rural Peru that is worth the trip for nature lovers and backpackers seeking alternative destinations in South America.

At first glance, the landscape seems utterly lifeless, a barren landscape extending in each direction and any view from afar provides only a monotonous, uniform scene. But as you progress further into the space, life begins to appear. The altitude of the valley is surprisingly well-adjusted, such that it is the ideal growing conditions for thirty-two kinds of cacti (including the hallucinogenic cacti choma). In the furrows and runlets, moisture is retained and their shadows become a breeding ground for ferns and horsetails to grow unbothered. There are birds and beetles picking their way along the ground, with hidden discoveries for those with the patience to seek it out. Discussions of traveling in Peru are often dominated by recommendations for when to hike Maccu Picca and what restaurants to eat at in Lima, but Valle de la Luna offers some of the most subtle marvels of the world– proving that nature carries on even in the strangest of spaces.

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