Peru to Chile border crossing – A guide to chaos

Arrival in Chile from Peru was an adventure, to put it mildly.  I am not a fan of walking across borders, but sometimes you just have to do it!  Allow me to walk you through what that was like.

IMG_4746I took the bus from Arequipa, Peru early in the morning to Tacna, Peru. IMG_4741Tacna is the last city in Peru where the main buses stop; from there you have to take a ‘colectivo’ or shared shuttle to Arica which is the first city in Chile.

On the way to Tacna

This clearly isn’t my first idiotic mistake on this trip, but I almost got my brilliant self stranded in the desert.  From Arequipa to Tacna we abruptly stopped to do a customs control for fruit flies – per usual everyone had to get off – no instructions – nada.  Luckily, I was fruit fly free but I wasn’t sure what we had to do after that.  I asked the guy and he said just wait.IMG_4744

Naturally, I sat down and watched all of these people get their bags and belongings scanned for these little criminals.  Fruit flies are annoying for sure, but I didn’t know they got their very own customs stop on the road in Peru.  They are far more famous than I realized.  At any rate, I continued to just sit there, and sit there, and sit there.  I was getting kind of bored so I opened the box of chocolates Noelia, my Peruvian friend, had given me and I started eating them.IMG_4734

Suddenly I realized my bus was gone!  OMG what is going on!  Forget Señor just sit and wait I grabbed my bag and started running down the desert highway, I saw my bus pulled over and a VERY angry driver was looking for me saying in Spanish what I could only understand as something like ARE YOU STUPID YOU GRINGA! WHY ARE YOU EATING CHOCOLATES, WE NEED TO MOVE!  

IMG_4879Dude, lo siento, I am a clueless.  When I got back on the bus this lady was like my husband told the driver we left the gringa at customs.  I was like THANK you for coming back to get me! Please, eat all of my chocolates!  Everyone kind of laughed, it was funny, but seriously God Bless them for alerting the driver.  If it weren’t for them, I would probably still be sitting there today.

Tacna to Arica

Arica is the first city in Chile and somewhere along the road between Tacna and Arica you have to stop and do immigration.  Well Tacna was an absolute zoo.  I read a little online about what to expect but literally, it was absolute chaos and I was losing my mind.  I don’t get flustered easily traveling, but I was borderline freaking out at this point.

My cell phone was not working in the majority of Peru for reasons unbeknownst to me so I felt at the mercy of my surroundings.  As soon as you get out at Tacna people are saying Arica, Arica, Arica – they want to sell you their services.

I managed to wade through these annoying hecklers and walk outside.  The Peruvian grandpa that saved me from abandonment told me that I had to exit and walk over the overpass of the road to the Arica departures.  I managed to handle this part just fine.

I get to the Arica departures and again a zoo, I had no idea what was going on.  I had to go in and pay for something, I have no idea if it was a departure tax, or a station tax or what.  But I was continually directed to this small window to pay a sum of I don’t remember.

Then, I went and stood by two other backpackers, they looked like they knew what they were doing.  A man took my bag and loaded it underneath a random shuttle and then asked for my passport.  I showed it to him but he wanted to take it, um no.  No, no, no.  I tried to give him my Colorado drivers license instead and he was like chic no this is not a passport.  I vaguely remember reading that you have to hand your passport to the driver so I reluctantly let it go.IMG_4209I saw other people doing it, but my heart was racing and I was sure that was the last I would see of my passport.  About 20 minutes into the hot, sweaty, non air-conditioned ride he started passing everyones passport/border cards back.  When he got to me he legit didn’t have mine, he checked his pockets, everywhere, there was no blue passport in sight.IMG_4747I knew it, my passport was gone.  I was already concerned about missing my bus connection in Arica but suddenly my entire attention turned to finding a phone that worked to look up the closest embassy and calling them to help me.  I was getting really feisty in my mind, I was going to tell him to turn the damn bus around and get back to the station to find my passport or I would call the police with my phone that doesn’t work! 

He went back to the front of the bus and started pilfering around, amazing, he found it.  Sudden relief.  I no longer cared if I missed my bus, got stranded in the desert, or never made it across the border in this makeshift shuttle, I had my passport back and that was all that mattered.

We crossed the border and surprise!  Two hour time change right at the border!  The clock changed from 5pm to 7pm, and therefore I missed by 6:45pm bus from Arica to Iquique.  About thirty minutes later we arrived at the Arica bus station, I got another ticket, and my phone was working! I was elated! I just nailed it, got myself across the border, didn’t get left in the desert, and I could communicate with the world again.

I think it is important to add here that I am fluent in Spanish, so even speaking Spanish this was a circus.IMG_4749A few hours later and I was in Iquique at a nice hotel with a hot shower, a toilet that flushed, and I was back in the developed world.  Miracles do happen.

Click here to read the rest of my blog on Chile!


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