Stretching 1000km from southern Peru to northern Chile, the Atacama is the driest desert on earth. Yet the Andean Altiplano will surprise you with a landscape of 6000m high volcanoes, salt flats and lagoons, thermal pools, geysers and marshes. Llamas, guanacos and vicunas graze the plains, while flamingos and a surprising variety of birds inhabit the lakes and salt flat areas. From the oasis of San Pedro, watch the colours change over bizarre formations in the Valleys of Mars and the Moon. To the south, the world’s second largest salt flat, Salar de Atacama contrasts with a backdrop of snow-capped Andean volcanoes. Your first week in Chile concludes with sunrise at El Tatio geysers, soaks in thermal hot springs and visits to small Altiplano villages, clifftop fortresses and petroglyphs. Across the Andes in north-west Argentina, the Diaguitas and Calchaquis people have long inhabited the desert regions. Trace ancient trade routes to the Humahuaca Valley, visit the Purmamarca handicrafts market and Pucara de Tilcara, a pre-Hispanic fortress. After a number of nights in the quiet mountain village of Iruya we continue to Salta, rich in Spanish folklore, music and handcrafts. South of Salta, we take several days to explore historical places such as Quilmes ruins and Cachi Anthropological museum. We walk in Las Conchas Gorge, the Red River Valley and search for cactus hummingbirds, guanacos and condors in Los Cardones National Park.