Backpacking across the Andes Chile San Pedro de Atacama

Backpacking across the Andes – #7: the Atacama Salt Flat Lagoons (Chile)

Our adventure in Chile ended with the visit of three beautiful lagoons, only half an hour away from San Pedro de Atacama. We left San Pedro at around 3pm and headed towards the Atacama Salt Flat, where we spent the afternoon, going from one lagoon to the other. The highlight of this excursion was the extraordinary sunset on the Tebenquiche lagoon.


Our schedule for this afternoon

 “Floating” in the Cejar Lagoon like in the Dead Sea.

 Artistic photo session at the “Eyes of the Salt Flat”.

 Admiring a wonderful sunset at the Tebenquiche Lagoon.


 Our first stop was at the Cejar Lagoon, famous for its high salt concentration which allows you to float. We quickly arrived at the first lagoon and we were fascinated once again by the Atacama Desert landscapes. It looked as if the grounds had been sprinkled with salt. The volcanoes were rising out in the distance. We were in the middle of the desert!

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As our guide told us the entrance fee, our joy turned into disappointment and anger… From the beginning of our stay in San Pedro, we knew that the entrance fees were not included in the price of the excursions but the prices had been very low up tp then. This time, the entrance fee was more expensive than what we had paid for the whole excursion, which appeared a bit ridiculous.

 To avoid bad surprsises, make sure to ask about the entrance fees when booking your tours because they are usually not included in the price.


What’s more, we learnt that the water was very cold and the whole point was to get in the water and float. So we decided not to enter the site.

We became friends with a German girl who also refused to pay this price. It was very hot and we were looking for the slightest bits of shades, patiently waiting for the other members of the excursion to come back.

If you plan on swimming in the Cejar Lagoon, keep in mind that the water is very cold in winter time (June – July – August). It can be surprizing because it is very hot during the day but it is not enough to warm the water as temperatures drastically drop at night. It might not be the best choice of tour if you are always cold like I am !


Though the entrance fee was the same for Chilean people, they could get in for free if they only stayed 30 minutes and did not swim in the lagoon. Unfortunately this option was not possible for foreigners. One of our Chilean friends took my camera and took pictures for us.

Our friend said that people were actually floating which was fun, but there were not many people in the water as it was freezing. We had to admit that with the transparent water, the white salt, the blue sky, the vegetation, it did look beautiful. Maybe next time !



We then reached our next destination: two little lagoons, or actually two “cenotes”. I was very surprised because I had seen cenotes before in the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and I did not know that this geological formation could be found in other parts of the world. Our guide told us that cenotes were very rare in Chile and that it was extraordinary to find some there.

What is a cenote?

A “cenote” is the result of the dissolution and collapse of rocks, exposing underground water. They are usually found in Mexico.

What was even more extraordinary was that there were two cenotes a few meters away the one from the other. It is said that they look like two eyes, thus their name (“the eyes of the Atacama Salt Flat”).

The pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of the site: the two cenotes didn’t fit in the picture frame. We saw two “circulat natural pools” a few meters the one from the other.

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Our guide had funny ideas to take pictures and showed us how to strike a pose to play with the perspective. At first we were like “this is so stupid, we will not do this” but when we saw how the pictures had turned out for the other people on the tour, we decided to do it too and we had to admit it was fun… Here is the result of our photo shooting in the Atacama desert…

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We then reached the final Lagoon, la Laguna Tebenquiche, and started walking around the shore. We enjoyed the beauty of the place, tainted in pastel colors. Everything looked peaceful.

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And then the sun gradually went down, giving a totally different color tone to this landscape. What was amazing that day was that, as the sun was going down, the moon was rising and at one point they seemed to be at the same level. We did not know which way to look. It was very beautiful.

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So our adventure in Chile ended with this beautiful sun set. I did not really know what to expect about Chile but it turned out to be a beautiful surprise. I saw landscapes I had never seen before and was fascinated by such beauty. I particularly liked San Pedro de Atacama and I hope to go back some day.

The next day we would start a much rougher adventure: Bolivia.

Continue reading

  • Next stop: our first day in Bolivia. Click here to read the article.
  • All articles about this country: click here to see all articles about Chile.
  • All articles about this trip: click here to read see all articles about this backpacking trip across the Andes (Chile – Bolivia – Peru).

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