Before I crossed this border, I was confused and there were stories online revealing how chaotic Tacna is, but it turned out, crossing the border from Peru to Chile was a breeze and the easiest one I had in South America. Here I will take you through the entire process of crossing this border.
There are two options for crossing the border from Peru to Chile and they are Lima to Santiago and through Tacna.
Option 1: Direct bus from Lima to Santiago
Cruz Del Sur runs a direct bus from Lima to Santiago and the travel time is two days and a half. The bus does not leave everyday so make sure to check the schedule online or talk to the Cruz Del Sur representative in advance.
Although this is the easiest and most straightforward way to get you to Chile, I do not recommend that you take this route. It is unpleasant to spend such a long time just sitting on the bus. The fare is expensive and you will miss many beautiful stops along the way.
Option 2: Border Cross from Tacna
Most travelers choose to cross the Peru and Chile border through Tacna, a border town that is located 22 miles north of Chile.
En route to Tacna
There are buses having regular departures from Lima and Arequipa. Depending on where you travel from, the bus ride can be either short or very long (6 hours from Arequipa and 23 hours from Lima).
If you travel from Arequipa, please note that the two most favorable bus companies, Peru Hop and Cruz Del Sur, are not available on this route, so you will need to choose another bus company. I left Arequipa with Oltrusa and paid $29 sol for it. It is a direct bus and the fare is less than Cruz Del Sur, but I still enjoyed movies and free breakfast onboard.
The bus travels through the Atacama Desert for the entire journey. The scenery on the route is flat and dry, and can create boredom if you look at it for long.
Tacna to the border
There are two bus terminals in Tacna: domestic and international. The bus will drop you off at the domestic terminal in Tacna, and you need to cross the street to the international bus terminal to find a public transport that will take you to the border. For your own safety, ignore people who approach you and try to get you to Arica along the way.
Bus and collectivo: as you walk into the international bus terminal, you have two choices – either take the bus or a collectivo (shared taxi). The buses are cheaper but the collectivo is the fastest way to get to Arica. If you choose to take the collectivo as I did, pay $2 Sol departure tax and collect your ticket. Then enter the collectivo area where you find a lot of collectivos to take you to Arica for $20 Sol.
The collectivo is available all day until a few hours after midnight. They do not have scheduled departure times and leave whenever they are filled up with five passengers. The driver will take care of the immigration papers, give you an immigration form and take your passport to create a passenger list. Your passport will be returned to you on the way to the border.
Train: in addition to the bus and the collectivo, there is a single carriage motor train taking passengers from Tacna to Arica for $3200 CLP. The train leaves Tacna Rail Station at 7 am and 6 pm daily, and it does not stop at the border. You will get your Peruvian exit stamp at the Tacna Railway station and go through the Chilean immigration upon arrival in Arica. I have not met anyone taking this train, but I have walked past the train station in Arica. From there, it takes a bit to walk to the bus terminal and the hostel.
Exit Peru and Enter Chile
Twenty minutes later, we were at the border. We hopped out of the collectivo and lined up in front of the consolidated building where both Peruvian and Chilean immigration are located. The border is opened 24 hours a day and it is safe. There were no stalls, scammers, or money changers there.
The Peruvian and Chilean immigration officer sit next to each other. The Peruvian immigration will take your passport, stamp you out, and pass it to the Chilean immigration. When you get your passports back, you will have a Peruvian exit stamp, a Chilean entry stamp, and a PDI card.
After passing through the immigration, you will enter an office next door where your luggage will be inspected. This process is almost the same as when you go through airport security. The difference is that they mainly check for prohibited products and fresh fruits that are not permitted to enter Chile. You need to submit the immigration form at this office as well.
Once the process was completed, we walked to the parking lot down the road and the collective was waiting for us. We put our luggage in the trunk and settled for a short ride along the coast to the international terminal in Arica.
Arriving in Arica
Although Arica is a border town and many travelers just arrive there to take the bus to other parts, I recommend that you spend a day in this town to explore the place and experience its beach scene. There are food stalls, a seafood market, and a mall where you can get fresh vegetables and seafood meals for a reasonable price. The beach has perfect waves for surfing, sunset watching, and having ice cream. In the afternoon, you can walk through the main street 21 De Mayo where bars, shops, banks, and a currency exchange place are located.
Please note that Chile is one to two hours behind Peru time depending on the season. If you decide to take a bus to other parts of Chile the same day you cross the border, please take this into account so you do not miss the bus. The hostel I stayed in Arica is almost the same price as in other parts of South America.
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