San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Laguna Cejar and Laguna Tebinquinche

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama
My Favorite Photo from the Day: Sunset at Laguna Tebenquinche, Atacama, Chile

After experiencing my first Atacama sunset in the Valle de la Luna, exploring the many lagoons and salt flats on the Lagunas Altiplánicas tour, and biking to and hiking around the Pukará de Quitor, I had seen the most visited destinations in San Pedro de Atacama, with one notable exception.  I opted out of visiting the Geysers del Tatio, as getting up at 4AM in the icy cold of this high altitude did not appeal to me; I had already visited geysers in Bolivia and decided that one very cold time was enough for me!

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Cejar, Atacama, Chile

Instead, I decided to explore other options to take in even more the gorgeous scenery of the region.  English-language guidebooks do not usually mention one of the most popular Atacama excursions: the Laguna Cejar tour.  This tour runs in the late afternoon and includes three stops: Lagunas Cejar and Piedra, the Ojos del Salar, and Laguna Tebinquinche.

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Cejar, Atacama, Chile

Most agencies offer this tour, and will coordinate with others so that you can still go even if they don’t have enough people signed up on that day.  As it turned out, the one I booked through sent me to another, and this was incredibly lucky: our tour guide was patient and helpful and did not rush us through the stops like other guides!

Laguna Piedra, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The first stop on this tour is the protected reserve at Laguna Cejar.  Laguna Cejar is famous for its incredibly salty water, said to be saltier than the Dead Sea; you can float in its water without any effort.  Laguna Cejar itself is a flamingo habitat, as you can see in the photo above; people are not actually allowed to get into its waters.  Instead, tour agencies take you to the adjacent Laguna Piedra, where you can brave the high altitude cold and get into the lukewarm water.  If you find a current of warm water (heated by the thermal springs), it’s actually not uncomfortable.  My tour companions convinced me to change into my bathing suit and try it out.

Laguna Piedra, San Pedro de Atacama, ChileWhen we arrived, I learned that the tour doesn’t usually stop at the actual Laguna Cejar, which I really wanted to see.  Our guide offered to drive me and three others to nearby Laguna Cejar while the rest of the group leisurely bathed in the salty waters.  He would then pick us up en route to our next destination.  This was an awesome experience; instead of loud, crowded Laguna Piedra, I got to hang out at peaceful Laguna Cejar practically alone.

Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile Laguna Cejar, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Views from Laguna Cejar, Atacama, Chile

Next, we headed to the Ojos del Salar, two round freshwater ponds located adjacent to each other, which look like eyes.  Here, you can jump into the icy waters to rinse off the salt from Laguna Cejar.  One of the “eyes” is a little warmer, although that is not saying much; it’s better to just jump into the frigid waters rather than easing yourself in as I did!

Ojos de Salar, San Pedro de Atacama
Ojos del Salar, Atacama, Chile

The other “eye” is like a mirror, and people take fun pictures of themselves in unique poses, capturing their reflections below.  This was about the only time I wished I wasn’t alone on my trip, because it would have been fun to hand off my camera to someone trustworthy for a pretty memorable photo!

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama
Laguna Tebinquinche, Atacama, Chile

The final stop on the tour is Laguna Tebinquinche, a giant lake whose flat, mirrorlike surface reflects the mountains and color changes in the sky above.  This was the real reason I took this tour; all my research showed that the sunsets were beyond impressive.  I was not disappointed.

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Posing at Laguna Tebinquinche; Watching the Colors Change

As in the Valle de la Luna, the light in this location is truly incredible, coloring the mountains all kinds of shades of brown, grey, pink, and purple.

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, Atacama, Chile

Along the edge of the lake, the tour vans line up for a sunset happy hour event, with Chilean pisco sour and snacks.  While others started enjoying the drinks, I kept my eyes trained on the colors of the changing sky. I was one of the few people left admiring the horizon after the sun disappeared from sight; I know that the best colors happen afterwards.

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, Atacama, Chile

I was rewarded for my patience. Finally, I decided to join my group and celebrate this lovely sunset with a pisco sour. When offered a second pour, I accepted, making up for lost time. 🙂

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, Atacama, Chile

As night set in, we packed ourselves back into the tour van for the trip back to San Pedro de Atacama. We were lucky; many groups had already rushed back to San Pedro, leaving as soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. Our guide let us linger and savor the moment, and I am very grateful for these memories.

Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Sunset at Laguna Tebinquinche, Atacama, Chile

Recommendations for San Pedro de Atacama:

  • You absolutely MUST go on the Laguna Cejar tour.  It costs 13.000 CLP and includes a pisco sour cocktail and light snacks at sunset.  The entrance fee for Laguna Cejar is 2.000 CLP.  Just when I thought my trip couldn’t get any better, I went on this tour!
  • I booked my tour with Turismo Caur, but they actually sent me on a tour with a different agency since I was the only one who had signed up for that afternoon.  That said, I thought they were very professional when I did the Valle Arcoiris tour the next day.
  • It is worth putting on a bathing suit, even in the middle of winter, to float in Laguna Piedra.  Because of the warm sun at this high altitude, the cold doesn’t last long, even at Ojos del Salar.
  • Ask your guide to take you to the actual Laguna Cejar if the tour doesn’t already stop there.  It is more beautiful than Laguna Piedra and you can see flamingos, albeit at a distance!
  • Similarly, make sure you ask your agency but especially your guide how long they plan to stay at Laguna Tebinquinche.  Be very clear that you expect to stay to enjoy all the colors of the sunset after the sun disappears and do not want to be rushed.  After talking to other travelers, I realize how lucky I was to get to stay until it got dark; most tours don’t!
[July 9, 2013: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile]

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4 comments

  1. Erin says:

    Hello! Thank you for so thoughtfully sharing your Atacama experience! Do you happen to recall what tour company you scheduled the tour of Laguna Cejar with? Was it associated with a hotel or an independent company? Also, is it relatively possible to schedule a tour same day or do you need to book a day in advance?

    Looking forward to your response!
    Erin

    • Kim says:

      Hi Erin! Thanks for checking out my post. You inspired me to figure out who I booked the tour with, and it was Turismo Caur: http://www.turismocaur.com/

      However, I was the only one who signed up for Laguna Cejar that day, so they sent me out with another agency, who I also really liked, but I can’t remember their name. I also enjoyed Turismo Caur’s Valle Arcoiris tour the next day, so I think they’re a good place to start. For the rest of the tours, definitely look into CosmoAndino – they’re awesome.

      Tours leave every afternoon for Laguna Cejar (and Valle de la Luna) around 3PM. You can absolutely book your tour in the morning or even around lunch time – I did for Laguna Cejar!

      Hope this helps and that you enjoy your trip – San Pedro is still one of the most amazing places I have been to!

  2. Wendy says:

    Hi Kim
    I am currently planning a tour to San Pedro in September.
    Which sunset was more spectacular- Valle luna or Laguna Tebinquinche.
    Your photos are beautiful

    • Kim says:

      Hi Wendy! Thank you so much for your kind comment. I thought the sunset at Laguna Tebinquiche was more beautiful because of the mirrored reflections in the lake. Hope you have a great trip!

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