With the proposed Ruta Altiplánica de Integración – a paved highway stretching 1500km across the altiplano, from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Cusco, Peru – still not having come to fruition, crossing the altiplano’s pothole-riddled dirt tracks by jeep remains the road adventure of a lifetime and should be enjoyed to the full before the arrival of tarmac and increased traffic. Probably the best starting point is Iquique (the ascent in altitude is more gradual in this direction), heading into the cordillera as far as Parque Nacional Volcán Isluga, continuing north across the altiplano to Parque Nacional Lauca, and finally descending in Arica. It’s a 700km journey, and takes about four days at an easy pace.
If you do the trip, remember that there’s no petrol station once you’re off the Panamericana, which means taking it all with you in jerry cans (bidones, available in most ironmongers). Always take far, far more than you think you need. Another essential precaution is to take two spare tyres, not just one.