Just when we thought we had seen it all in regards to border crossings, we found ourselves surprised once more. The border between Bolivia and Chile at the end of the Laguna Route is one of the more peculiar we have experienced. Between the Bolivian Migration and the Chilean post, the elevation is the highest border crossing we visited at 15,228 feet! The rudimentary buildings on the Bolivian side were of no surprise to us, but the process on the Chilean side was a bit unusual. Here’s how it went:
To the south of Laguna Verde is a building marking the edge of the natural preserve. We pulled up to the gate where they checked our entry tickets before letting us pass to the Bolivian Aduana.
Once at the Bolivian Aduana, we went inside the curved building that contained three shipping container offices inside. The official took our vehicle import permit and sent us on our way.
From the Bolivian Aduana, we drove 5km to the Bolivian Migration office. When we arrived, the office was closed for lunch giving us time to begin airing up our tires. As soon as the office opened, we went in and were stamped out of Bolivia. Surprisingly, about ten tourist groups in Land Cruisers pulled up just moments later to cross as well. A bus was waiting at the border to take them to Chile. More tourists had just arrived to begin their Land Cruiser adventure into Bolivia. As soon as we arrived at the Chilean border sign, a nice paved road waited for us. It was welcomed after nearly 160 miles of corrugated two track roads over the previous four days.
On the Chilean side, we drove towards the nearly brand new outpost to find that it had been closed. As if we needed another reminder that we were still in Latin America. The process would begin at the Aduana/Migration building in San Pedro de Atacama, 30 miles down the road.
We arrived at the Chilean Migration building after a sharp descent in elevation. We topped out at 15,228 feet and, over the course of 30 miles, declined to just over 7,900 feet. Needless to say, it was difficult keeping our brakes cool.
We walked up to the migration office to begin entering Chile and were turned away by a rather grumpy official behind the counter. He indicated that we had to wait for the tour bus and truck parked in front of us. Great. We hopped back in the truck and queued up.
A few minutes later after returning to the truck, our friends Sam and Marjorie from Switzerland and Peru pulled up behind us in their awesome Land Rover Defender 110. Vehicles like this are the most coveted overlanding vehicles. Anyhow, we visited with them for about 15 minutes as we waited for our turn to visit Migration.
When it was our turn to visit Migration, our grumpy border guy stamped our passports, as well as Sam and Marjorie, then closed the window and left as fast as possible. He must have had a hot date or something. Next, we filled out the customs declaration form before going to the customs window.
At customs, the official was in a much better mood and had our vehicle import permit knocked out in less than five minutes. Completing the process was a little more involved as a search for unapproved food items was completed by another very pleasant and efficient border official. We were bummed when he took our unopened package of bacon along with a few other things but were thrilled that he didn’t empty out our spices which are specifically listed as unapproved. Oh well!
From start to finish, this border crossing took nearly three hours but that includes driving off the mountain to the office in San Pedro. All in all, we probably spent less than an hour crossing the border. Now, onto Chile!