When packing to visit the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, known to be the driest place on the planet, do not forget to include a swimsuit. Hidden in the high desert, among the salt flats and vast otherworldly landscapes is Laguna Cejar, a must visit for anyone exploring the Atacama.
Located a short drive south from the desert town of San Pedro, the turquoise water of the lagoon appears as a mirage from a distance, rising up from the flat desert plain. However, the water is not a trick of the eye — the jewel-like lagoon is real, and you can even take a dip.
Of course, you do not swim in the Laguna Cejar, rather you float. The water has a higher salt concentration than the Dead Sea, allowing you to naturally float at the surface of the water. Visitors lay lazily in the water, the perfect way to relax during a hot desert day. Just be sure to rinse off after, as the salty water will stay with you after you get out.
The impressive turquoise water is offset by the white, salt encrusted banks of the lagoon. You should wear shoes while exploring around the area, as the salt can be surprisingly sharp. A short walk around the lagoon allows you to explore other small water features, complete with desert wildlife. Just to the right of Laguna Cejar is a nature sanctuary, and if you visit at the right time there may even be some gorgeous flamingos looking for a snack in the clear, bright blue water.
The Atacama is home to other interesting lagoons, including Laguna Tebenquiche and the “Ojos del Salar” or “Eyes of the Salt Flat,” both of which are freshwater and, similar to Laguna Cejar, appear almost out of nowhere in the flat apparently barren desert plain.
For those willing to venture a little further, the desert also features some stunning altiplanic lagoons. Located 4,200 m (13,500 ft) above sea level, two neighboring lagoons sit underneath the towering Miñiques volcano and Cerro Miscanti. These majestic, deep blue lagoons are stunning, and the views are not too bad either!