Border Crossing: Chile via Tacna
Border-crossing formalities are relatively straightforward. There are three main transportation options: train, public bus or colectivo (shared taxi), with the last proving to be the most efficient. The five-passenger taxis are run by professional companies with desks inside Tacna’s international bus terminal. They charge approximately S25 to take you the 65km to Arica in Chile with stops at both border posts. Most of the paperwork is done before you get in the car. On a good day the trip should take little more than an hour. The public bus is cheaper (S12), but slower, as you have to wait for all the passengers to disembark and clear customs.
Note that the border posts are now integrated which means that visitors traveling from Peru into Chile only need to stop at the Chilean building where visiting Peruvian officials stamp travelers out. Coming from Chile to Peru it works in reverse with only a visit to the Peruvian complex required. Both border posts are open 24 hours.
Note that Chile is generally two hours ahead of Peru, or one hour during the period from May until August. From Arica, you can continue south into Chile by air or bus, or northeast into Bolivia by air or bus. For more information, consult Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring, Chile & Easter Island and/or Bolivia.
Most long-distance departures leave from the Terminal Terrestre, at the northeast edge of town, with the exception of some buses to Juliaca, Desaguadero and Puno, which leave from Terminal Collaysuyo, located in the district of Alta Alianza to the north of town.
Frequent buses (S12) to Arica, Chile, leave between 5am and 7pm from the international terminal across the street from the Terminal Terrestre where a S2 terminal tax must also be paid.
San Martín runs overnight económico and luxury bus services to Puno via Desaguadero on the Bolivian border, finally ending up in Cuzco. These mostly leave in the evening from Terminal Collaysuyo. When choosing this route, opt for the nicest bus, or you could be in for a cold, bumpy ride with few bathroom breaks – trust us! Alternatively, you can also return to Arequipa and transfer there. Julsa also services Cuzco and other destinations in the Sierra Sur.
Long-distance buses are frequently stopped and searched by immigration and/or customs officials not far north of Tacna. Have your passport handy.
A S2 terminal-use tax is levied at the Terminal Terrestre. The usual suspects head to all destinations north including Cruz del Sur, Civa Oltursa and more economical Flores.
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Numerous colectivos (S20 to S25, one to two hours) to Arica, Chile, leave from the international terminal across the street from the terminal terrestre in order to cross the Chilean border. The vehicles run 24 hours but you may have to wait a while for them to fill off-peak. There's a S2 departure tax from the international terminal.
Fast, though notoriously unsafe, colectivos to Moquegua (S15, 2½ hours), and sometimes Ilo, leave when full from Mercado Grau, a short walk uphill from the Terminal Terrestre. Be sure to keep your wits about you in the dangerous market area.
Trains between Tacna’s train station and Arica, Chile (S18/C$3800, 1½ hours) are the most charming but also the slowest way to cross the border. Your passport is stamped at the station before boarding the train in Tacna. There is no stop at the actual border and you receive your entry stamp when you arrive in Chile near Arica’s Plaza de Armas. Though this historic railway is a must for train buffs, service can be a little erratic.
At the time of writing two trains a day were departing Tacna at 6am and 4:30pm. Return trains leave Arica at 10am and 8:15pm. Always double check at the station for the latest schedules. It's advised to purchase tickets at least a day in advance.