A Google search for Valle de la Luna brings up two different entries on Lonely Planet, one of which describes the valley as a beautiful, mysterious place well worth a visit, the other as an overrated disappointment. Unsure which to believe, and keen to get out of the hectic city and take a proper walk, we took a taxi to the outskirts of town for just 40Bs (about £4) to see for ourselves.
It was a baking hot day, and after paying the 15Bs entry fee we found ourselves in the hot, arid landscape of the strangely lunar valley, surrounded by yellowish rock formations like abstract sculptures. Aside from a local teenage couple skulking around trying to find some privacy amongst the rocks, Sam and I were the only two people in the deserted landscape, which probably would have given it a surreal, adventurous feel if it weren’t for the noise of cars from the road just behind us, and for the small neighbourhood of houses visible just a few hundred feet from the valley. It seems like once, the Valle de la Luna in La Paz might have been a mysterious, special place, but it’s been spoilt by recent development and the expansion of the city, which is a shame.
Still, it was a really cool place to walk around, and to try and identify which rocks were those labelled by the signs as ‘the lady’s hat’ or the ‘viscacha’s jump’, which requires a lot of imagination. The route, signposted as a 45 minute walk, would have taken us about 20-30 minutes had we not dawdled, mucked about and stopped for long rests in the shade to look around us at the weird landscape. The valley is formed by clay eroded into strange shapes by rain and water, and it does look really cool, glowing yellow-brown in the bright sunlight, but I think that sunset or even night-time might be the best time to visit.
After about an hour, we left, which was a shame because we had been hoping for a full day of walking. Undeterred, we headed to a nearby zoo in search of further entertainment, and after paying just 5Bs (about £45p) each to enter, we found ourselves in a large outdoor space which was surprisingly lacking in animals. There were a few fairly uninteresting pens, from tortoises which may well have been animatronic, to llamas, horses and even rabbits, but towards the back the zoo got much better. From the construction work going on around the place, and a few signs, it seems they’re currently upgrading and building new enclosures for the bigger animals. The jaguars, of which there are dozens, mostly young and very playful, already had enormous enclosures with lots of trees and climbing frames, and huge green spaces to run around. My favourite part was, of course, the serpent enclosure, a concrete tunnel in which dozens of snakes, most of them local, sat behind glass walls eyeing up spiders which had stumbled unwillingly into their midst. Two enormous pythons dragged themselves lazily through their enclosure, while in another tank a long, bright green parrot snake was showing off his acrobatics, stretching himself up the window to eye up tourists, and curling around first a small tree, then a lamp.
For 45p, it was a pretty impressive zoo, although it maybe didn’t have as much on offer as others we’ve visited. Still, we had a great time in the sunshine looking at animals, especially watching the joyously active jaguars play-fighting, prowling or leaping through their enclosure.