The Atacama Desert presents one of the most extreme environments on Earth and we report here the first extensive isolations of actinomycetes from soils at various locations within the Desert. The use of selective isolation procedures enabled actinomycetes to be recovered from arid, hyper-arid and even extreme hyper-arid environments in significant numbers and diversity. In some cases actinomycetes were the only culturable bacteria to be isolated under the conditions of this study. Phylogenetic analysis and some phenotypic characterisation revealed that the majority of isolates belonged to members of the genera Amycolatopsis, Lechevalieria and Streptomyces, a high proportion of which represent novel centres of taxonomic variation. The results of this study support the view that arid desert soils constitute a largely unexplored repository of novel bacteria, while the high incidence of non-ribosomal peptide synthase genes in our isolates recommend them as promising material in screening for new bioactive natural products.