At the one-horse town of Huara, 33km up the Panamericana from the turn-off to Iquique, a good road branches east into the desert, then climbs high into the mountains, continuing all the way to Oruro in Bolivia. It’s paved as far as Colchane, on the Chilean side of the border, but the main appeal lies in getting off the tarmac once you’re up into the cordillera and heading for the deserted wilderness in and around Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga. Here you’ll find a remote, isolated landscape of wide plains, dramatic, snowcapped volcanoes (one of which is the park’s namesake) and semi-abandoned villages, home to indigenous Aymara herding communities that have been a part of this windswept land for thousands of years.
Unlike Parque Nacional Lauca, further north, this region hasn’t yet been “discovered”, and it’s unlikely you’ll come across many other tourists. There are a number of attractions on the way up, as well, in particular the weird desert geoglyph known as the Gigante de Atacama, in the pampa, and the frozen geysers of Puchuldiza, on the lower slopes of the Andes.