Over 1000km long and trapped between the Pacific and the Andes this harsh and arid land is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. The days can be burning hot and the nights freezing; precipitation levels are so low that no rain fall has ever been recorded in some areas. It might not sound like a tempting place to visit, but a land of such extremes can’t fail to impress.The absence of life and the wind-sculpted rocks give many of the landscapes an eerie Martian or lunar appearance. NASA have even used the area to test their autonomous vehicles designed for the exploration of other planets.It is also the unlikely setting for a wealth of human history and culture. The museum in San Pedro has a fine collection of artefacts and extraordinarily well preserved mummies from indigenous cultures. Recent studies have discovered that the ancient peoples of this region were using sophisticated techniques to mummify their dead long before the Egyptians.The Incas also left their mark on the Atacama Desert, and even climbed some of the 6000m peaks, where sacrificial burial sites have been found. In the nineteenth century the British, in their quest for sodium nitrate, built mining towns throughout the region. When the need for these nitrates disappeared overnight the towns were abandoned and became ghost towns that still stand very much as they did then.The list of amazing places in the Atacama goes on – there are emerald green lakes, geysers, live volcanoes, geoglyphs on hillsides, a salt desert populated by flamingos, oases, hot springs and more.