Due to a blockade between Copacabana, Bolivia and La Paz, I changed my planned route from going through Puno to Bolivia to going through northern Chile from Arequipa. It turned out to be a very straightforward and actually enjoyable border crossing (at least with a US passport). Northern Chile was not initially on my itinerary, but I’m glad I got to see at least a small slice of the beautiful desert beaches before heading back to the Andes.
The first step was to take a bus from Arequipa down to Tacna. I chose to go with Flores based on some recommendations from other travelers and the modest price of 25 soles, but there are many other companies that run the same route. The full schedule is posted on the left. I had no trouble getting a ticket for the 6:15 bus on a Friday morning about 15 minutes in advance.
The bus ride to Tacna took about 7 hours and was filled with some nice views of the changing landscape, although Flores insisted on playing incredibly bad and extremely loud movies the entire way. There is also an agricultural control stop where you will be searched for any fruits and vegetables, so it’s best not to bring these on the trip.
Upon arriving in Tacna, you simply walk to the front of the main bus terminal and there will be many cars lined up outside taking passengers to Chile. It costs 15 soles per person for the ride. The driver will take your passport and print out an immigration card for you, and you must fill in a customs form. Less than 30 minutes later you will arrive at the Peruvian border control. You must make sure you get an exit stamp in your passport, otherwise you may have problems crossing into Chile or other countries! I had no problems with this, but I’ve heard that distracted agents may not stamp both your immigration form and your passport.
After everyone in the car is stamped, you load back up and drive about 1 km to the Chilean border control. Again, this is fairly quick and very straightforward. Your bags will be x-rayed and any remaining plants, fruits, or vegetables will be confiscated. Oh, Arica is inexplicably two hours ahead of Peru, so remember to change your watch!
Finally you load back into the car for another 20 minute drive to the main Arica bus station. At this point you should make your way to Hostal Sunny Days, a delightful little hostel located just 3 blocks from the bus station. It’s the best place I’ve stayed in so far on my trip!