September 21, 2015
We took the 6AM bus from La Paz to Arica, hoping to get to the border as early as possible to avoid long delays.
Arriving at the Ayca counter at the bus station at 5:30AM, we thought it was strange when we were told to follow the others heading out the back door of the station. We dragged our bags about two blocks before we saw our bus waiting for us around the corner.
Bags loaded on the bus way ahead of schedule, we sat waiting for the departure. Then the police showed up. I was first happy to see this increased interest in security, but then the officer boarded the bus and explained in Spanish that this departure was illegal as it was outside the station and that this bus was not going anywhere. None of the other passengers seemed phased and just sat there saying nothing. So we waited and the bus departed about 15 minutes late with no further explanation given.
The rest of the journey went relatively smoothly. The newer looking bus was in good condition. Seats recline maybe more than you would like if you want to stay up and the person in front of you wants to sleep.
To pass the time on the long nine hour trip they played two movies – Mad Max Road of Fury and Iron Man.
Breakfast consisted of a roll and sweet tea.
Lunch, served in a small container, consisted of rice with cucumber and thin slice of salty beef.
Everyone on the bus besides us seemed to be Bolivian or Chilean.
Crossing the Border – As we approached the border there was a long line of trucks that we bypassed. Several kilometers later we passed a construction site where a new border control facility is being built. We then stopped at the bus control site with just two buses ahead of us.
No fruit or animal products are allowed across border. You can toss out any banned items at the border.
On the bus they give you three forms to fill out – two of which are collected on the bus.
The border crossing process begins on the Bolivian side where you get off the bus to get your passport stamped and turn in the green arrival/departure slip you’ve been carrying around in your passport. A bathroom is available.
When everyone is back on the bus, they drive about 50 feet to the Chilean side. First you wait while they take all the luggage off the bus. You then descend and go through Chilean passport control where you are given a new piece of paper to keep in your passport.
As you exit passport control you claim your luggage, put all your baggage including carry on through the scanner, and then put your bags back on the bus.
While you wait for everyone to get back on the bus there is a lunch truck available that many passengers took advantage of. Looked much tastier than the thin slice of salty beef served on the bus.
All in all the process went relatively smoothly, taking just over an hour.
The road leaving the border, however, was under construction in parts and slow. It’s a long windy descent to the coastal city of Arica.
Scenery – The dramatic scenic drive starts on the high Bolivian Altiplano dotted with adobe farmsteads and grazing alpacas and llamas. After the recent rains the landscape was just starting to turn green.
The journey passes Sajama National Park where snowcapped volcanos rise above the Altiplano. Just past the border the Parinacota Volcano reflects in the waters of Lake Chungara. A few flamingos can be seen along the banks.
As the road heads down toward the coast the landscape becomes dryer and dryer with little vegetation. The exception, a bright green streak through the gray desert that marks the cultivated Lluta Valley.
Arriving in Arica – Make sure to look for the regular taxi stand at the front side of the station. Taxis in Arica are small, black and newish looking. The cars in the parking lot at the back are about ten times the price.