There are lots of things on the expat sites regarding the run, but I found that there are some details, although probably pretty minor, that I would be interested in knowing before doing it.  So here I am, sharing those little details.

First off, I went with two friends from school, and all of our tourist visas were over due. I was overdue by 84 days, the other two were over due by 10 days and 243 days.   I first attempted to book tickets on Cruz del Sur, the bus we took on our Cusco adventure, but, I don’t know if it was because it was Easter weekend or it’s just overly popular, but there were no seats available.  So I looked around to see what other buses people recommended, and I decided on Oltursa.  I booked three VIP tickets from Lima to Tacna for S./150 there and S/.175 back (I think the price difference was because our trip home was on Saturday). Overall, I was very pleased with Oltursa; the seats reclined, they were big and cushy and they had outlets for our electronics. The bus to Tacna did not have Internet though, something we thought it would have.

We watched Nottinghill and some other crappy movies, dubbed in Spanish with English subtitles, and were served two meals: dinner and breakfast. The food was like a much better quality airline food—it tasted like it was actually made somewhere not like it was preserved and then rehydrated (like most airline food).

The trip was fairly smooth, although I do remember waking up in the middle of night on a windy, mountainous road going in excess of 90 kpm, but nonetheless, we made it safe and sound.  We did get stopped once, where they confiscated all produce that was in our bags, but quickly learned that if we had left our produce on the bus, then we could’ve brought it with us.

Once we arrived, the real adventure began.  We were left off at the Terminal Nacional, and had to cross the street to the Terminal Internacional.  Once we were there, we had to pay a 1 sole tax (for what reason we don’t know), and then had a collectivo driver approach us for our ride.  He arranged all of our paperwork for us, and normally, they wait until the car is full, about 5 people.  But one of our party members forgot the little white Andean card they give you on the airplane, so he said that we had to go immediately and pay for the additional two people—something about compensation for the additional time.  It was S/.20 per person or S/.100 per car.   I learned a trick in Peru that you should always take a picture of the car, including the license, for safety’s sake, so I did that, and the driver didn’t care at all (overall a good sign).

The trip from Tacna to Arica is through the heart of the desert, like Star Wars desert.  Nothing to see but massive sand dunes and tumbleweeds—not even a cactus insight. Once we got to the Peruvian/Chilean border, we had to stop and the driver helped us process our paperwork.  Since we had over charges, the border patrol agent had to call her boss, who took us to a small room and processed our visas there.  We paid our fees, and they waved us through.

We got back into the collectivo and headed to the Chilean side of the border.  We put our bags through a scanner, got a nice stamp in our passports and then off we went, easy as pie.

The collectivo driver took us to the Terminal International in Arica, dumped us off and collected people going back over to Tacna.  Here in the terminal, we exchanged some soles for pesos, about 100 soles gives you ~15000 pesos.  Such a weird conversion, and really, I think I should’ve exchanged a little more, maybe 120 or 150 soles instead.

We weren’t as prepared for the hostel as we should’ve been (meaning we didn’t write down the address or phone number or anything), so we walked for about an hour until we came across a small bed and breakfast close to the water in the more blue collar area of Arica (there was a tourist area we passed going to the terminal, but that was too far of a walk).  The hotel was nice; three beds, wireless Internet and a nice warm shower, and it cost $30000 pesos.

After we were cleaned up a bit, we headed out to find something to eat. Arica was a ghost town, we think it was because it was Good Friday, but there were a few mom & pop restaurants that were open.  I would consider myself adventurous, but probably adventurous enough. I kept thinking that if I ate somewhere and it upset my stomach, I would be on a bus for 20 hours the next day having to deal with the Montezuma’s, so I opted for McDonald’s (my first McDonald’s experience in South America). Yes, yes, I know, I know, I should’ve just tried the food, but I was just too chicken.  My companions, however, did eat a local spot (chicken sandwiches which were loaded with green beans?), and they were just fine.

Of course, after I ate, I did find the street with more commercial, touristy looking restaurants that I would’ve felt more comfortable eating at…too bad I gave up so easily when looking for a restaurant.   Despite being on a modified paleo diet, I did indulge in two beers, two types that I hadn’t seen before.


We watched some TV then headed to bed. We got up bright and early (there is a 2 hour difference between Peru and Chile), so it was 7 am our time, but 9 am in Arica.  We opted not to get a taxi to the terminal (because with a 20 hour bus ride, a walk could do us good) and asked the hotel clerk for directions (although my travel anxiety kicked in, because I was apprehensive to go without a map or specific directions).  Apparently our Spanish was not good enough to understand, because we ended up having to stop a handful of times to get us in the right direction.  Overall, we did get there with plenty of time to spare (my travel companions were probably like, “see we told you not to worry! You’re too paranoid!).

Once at the Terminal Internacional in Arica, the process started all over again, with the 1 sole tax (although it was in pesos, but I cannot remember the exact amount), but the taxi back to Tacna was 25 soles instead of 20 soles.  When we got to the Peruvian side of the border, the gentleman asked me how long I planned on staying in Peru, I told him 6 months, so he gave me 182 days, no questions asked.  I had heard some stories about having to beg the border patrol agent to give the max amount, but we did not experience it—easy as pie.

Ship yards in Arica

We ended up being really early for the bus (I prefer to be early…I get crazy travel anxiety if we aren’t early), so we found a local Plaza Vea, got a bite to eat and did a little shopping for the bus (I bought slippers—great purchase).  Once back on the Oltursa bus, we were pleasantly surprised to find that this bus did have Internet, so I was able to check my mail and surf on the web for a bit.  I also knew that the first half of the trip was going to be windy, through the mountains of the desert, so I popped two Dramamine and was out until I had to pee in the wee hours of the night.

I was also woken up early in the morning by a sickening smell; I thought for sure that they failed to clean the toilets or something equally as gross, until my travel companions told me that one of the passengers vomited several times.  That explained the nasty smell—once it’s in the air, it never leaves your nostrils.

So there you go, my trip in a long nutshell.  I hope that this clears up any of the minor details that people out there may have about the trip and gives those of you in the States some major details about what it is like to do a run for the border.  Hopefully, this is my last border trip; my job has told me that they would like to get me my carnet since I will be here until at least next August—fingers crossed I do not have to do the Lima-Tacna-Arica trip again.