Chile: Atacama desertmin 6 days: round trip from Salta
We head north along the old mountain road to San Salvador de Jujuy, and up into the stunning multi-coloured Quebrada de Humahuaca. Highlights here include a pre-Inca fort at Tilcara, numerous old colonial churches, and a Spanish fort now converted into a museum dedicated to the War of Independence. And of course there’s the famous Seven Coloured Hill in Purmamarca which we’ll see in its best (morning) light, climbing up to a superb viewpoint which takes us away from the crowds.
From Purmamarca, we climb a winding road up to a peak of 4,200m: a spectacular ascent of the outer Eastern range of the Andes, before descending to the Salinas Grandes. After a stop for the obligatory perspective-defying photos, we press on to the high altitude town of Susques (3,615m), home to the second oldest church in Argentina, a simple adobe structure dating from 1598.
The following day, we head west through the panoramic landscape of the Salares of Olaroz and Cauchari to the Paso de Jama on the Chilean frontier. After crossing the border, we reach the Salar of Tala with its blue-black lagoon, and the giant standing volcanic ignimbrite stones in the Reserva Natural de los Flamencos. Finally, there is a breath-taking descent into San Pedro de Atacama, jealously guarded by the majestic volcano of Licancabur.
After your stay in San Pedro de Atacama, where we can recommend local tours, we take the slow road south south past Lascar volcano and the lagoons of Miscanti and Miniques for some fantastic high altitude views of the Salar de Atacama.
This lesser trod route via the Paso de Sico also takes in the stunning Salar of Talar and Laguna Tuyajto. On the Argentine side, we have a night in the Puna town of San Antonio de los Cobres (3,770m) and visit the famous viaduct of La Polvorilla, where the Train to the Clouds finishes its journey.
Then we return to Salta through the colourful wide open landscape of the Quebrada del Toro, taking in the pre-Inca ruins of Tastil along the way. If you’ve still got the energy, we can also hike a little-explored section of Argentina's Inca trail.
This six day itinerary allows for a full day and second night in San Pedro de Atacama, but you can add on as many days there as you like: we simply add a small charge to cover our guide’s food and accommodation costs.
min 6 days: start Salta, finish Uyuni
Salares of Uyuni, Bolivia
min 8 days: round trip from Salta
Heading north through the multi-coloured rockscape of the Quebrada de Humahuaca, and the swirling rock formations of Tres Cruces, we cross the border at La Quiaca into Villazon, Bolivia: a country which is much more indigenous and where you’ll feel a world away from the westernised sophistication of Buenos Aires (or even Salta, for that matter).
From here we enter cowboy country: this is where the real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spent their final years. If you have an extra day or two to spare, we can arrange visits to the scene of their final hold-up, and to the shoot-out where they met their end, along with screenings of the classic Hollywood movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Our departure point for a four day trip to the Salares of Uyuni is Tupiza. It's a small jewel of a town in the Bolivian lowlands, and at 2,950m altitude it's perfect for acclimatisation. On your 4x4 trip you will see flamingo-flocked lagoons of myriad colours, onto the spitting geysers, the strange rock formations of Arbol de Piedra and the oasis-like Isla del Pescado before arriving in the largest and highest salt flats in the world: the Salares of Uyuni. White salt flats meet blue sky as far as the eye can see: a truly unforgettable experience.
Our partners in Tupiza can arrange private tours finishing in San Pedro de Atacama if you want to travel on through Chile, or return to Salta that way. They also do group tours finishing in Uyuni if you are heading further north towards La Paz and Peru.
Bear in mind that this is a gruelling journey in which you will be reaching altitudes of 4,000 metres above sea level: and accommodation in the Salares can be quite basic. Sunglasses, sunscreen and loads of warm clothes essential.
Click here to see Animated map