Crossing Borders – Renewing my Peru Visa
I left Arequipa at 7am, missing my 6:30am time because my alarm didn’t go off, probably because I neglected to set it.
I planned on heading to Tacna, the southernmost town in Peru about 135 miles away, get there at Noon, then transfer to a bus to Arica, Peru, about 15 minutes across the border.
At the station, I was just in time to get an Olsura bus just about to leave. Cost at the time: $29 soles. You also need to pay for an additional ticket or tarifa for 2 soles. An additional fee/tax/what-have-you.
The bus was nearly empty, with only about 6 of the seats taken on the upper deck.
I was able to review some of my Spanish audio lessons along the way. I actually enjoyed having some extra time to catch up, ignoring the “Expendables 3” movie playing in Spanish overhead. They actually got similar sounding Spanish language dubbers for the voice-overs.
Arriving in Tacna, I had to transfer to a bus going from Tacna to Arica, which means crossing the street from the “National” bus station to the “International” one across the street. Seems to be an odd way of doing things – I mean, why not use the same building for both?
On this bus you just surrender your passport and take a seat. I had a brief instance of wanting to play tug-of-war with my passport. I mean, the guy didn’t wear any official badge or anything, could have just been anyone standing near the bus with a handful of passports. Felt very naked without it.
You also have to fill out a Visa form, making sure to mark “No” for things like transporting livestock, fruits, or over $10,000 in cash, etc.
Not sure if the bus was simply full, or if be was just doing a random act of kindness to an “extranjero” (foreigner), but the bus assistant let me sit up front next to the driver, while other folks got on the full bus afterwards, sitting on the floor, a few standing.
At this border, the Peruvian and Chilean border officials sit next to each other. The Peruvian guy looks over your “pasaporte,” then pushes over to the Chilean guy. If all goes well, the Chilean guy gives you a new PDI document:
Here’s the thing: no one tells you that this Chile PDI document is important. You need this in order to leave the country, even though your passport is stamped.Peru has an equivalent form.
Another annoying inefficiency.
Not sure what delay happened where, but our bus finally made it through Customs at 4:40.
Even though my friend Yun-Fen was able to get off at the border and get a return bus back,I couldnt detect how one would get a return bus back. I decided to just go the 10 kilometers from the border to Arica, and get a return bus back.
I got a tad turned around at the station, walking out, then back in, realizing that I was, in fact, already at the international station, and just needed to look around.
I finally asked this guy soliciting tickets if he was headed back to Tacna. He said he was, and that it was “Dos mil”, or 2,000 Chilean pesos. Luckily, I had already changed some of my soles to pesos, so I was ready.
He asked for my “documentos” and I handed my most precious travel document again to a complete stranger.
Funny, just the way things work. I got a seat on the bus back to Tacna.
As I sat, the bus driver asked for my “boleto”. I thought the previous guy said I paid onboard. He neglected to tell me that Chile needed an additional “boleto” as well, for another 350 Chilean pesos.
I paid the “Dos mil” Chilean pesos for the ride to Tacna, hoping the border crossing was uneventful.
My friend Yun-Fen was able to just cross the border, then get a return bus, so I didn’t anticipate any difficulties, but just prior to leaving that morning I read a blog where the author said there is a 24 hour delay requirement, before they let you back over the border. I’m hoping this is not enforced, as I made my way back.
One of the things that struck me as I crossed the border is that nearly all the buildings on the Chile side were complete, with roofs.
That may seem odd to someone from the US, but in Peru many of the buildings were unfinished, with steel reinforcement rods sticking up where roofs should be. Someone told me that he was told that you only paid tax on finished buildings, so that was the reason most buildings in Peru stopped before putting on a roof, leaving the rods sticking up, even though they had no intention of finishing the building. Not sure if that’s true, or not.
The Chilean guy passed my pasaporte to the Peruvian guy. When asked my profession, I made the mistake of saying “Soy voluntario” – I am a volunteer.
He angrily said I needed a special visa. Confronted by his anger, I lost my Spanish.
I tried to explain that I am, in fact, a turistico, I just happen to trade volunteering for a free room sometimes. It came out broken: I am a tourist. Workaway? Only volunteer trade free room.
He didn’t buy it. You could see him figuring what to do with me, with a line of people behind me out the door, and since the passport was passed from the Chile agent to him, I was now his problem.
I stood there helplessly, wondering what I’d do if refused entry. He finally stamped me with 30 days, which I guess is better than being stuck at the border.
Well, the bright side is that this would force me to decide whether to go onwards to Ecuador, or just return and renew in 30 days. I’ve sort of overstayed in Peru anyways, time to move northwards.
With only 30 days (a luxurious amount of time, for some), I knew I needed to become more efficient if I wanted to do the things I wanted to do.
– Climb Volcan Chachani, a 6,000 meter (over 20,000′) volcano. See Nazca. Eat at some fine dining in Lima. Climb in Huaraz.
Not much else.
I’ve been made drowsy with time, volunteering to save money on rooms.
Now: time to act.
The time shift from Chile to Peru whacked me, 6:30 Chilean suddenly switched to 4:30 Peru. It’s earlier than I thought. With any luck I’d be back in Tacna at 5, then back to Arequipa by 10pm. Find some late night eatery.
It finally dawns on me through my foggy brain that I need to go to the National terminal across the street. I buy a ticket on the Flores busline to Arequipa, leaving in 10 minutes at 5:30pm. When I ask when it arrives, the counter person says: in 7 hours. 12:30.
Well, it’s better than waiting until the night bus leaves, like at 10pm.
I pay the $20 soles, another $2 for the tarifa, and way we go.
It’s 11:30 pm, and I’ve been sitting in this bus for 6 hours. Total, probably 15, with an hour more to go. If I knew it would have taken this long I would have done one leg as an overnight, then stayed in Arica for a day or two prior to returning. Yun-Fen advised me to take an overnight bus. Like she says, “Girl is always right!”
So, I only have 30 days. But I have already spent 90 days here, split between Arequipa, Puno and Cusco, now back to Arequipa.
How to cross at the Tacna/Arica border:
- Get a bus from the Arequipa Terraport to Tacna. Also pay the 2 sole tarif prior to boarding.
- At Tacna, cross the street to the International Bus Station and get on a bus from Tacna to Arica. Surrender your passport. Pay the fare on the bus. Fill out one of the custom forms.
- Do the customs thing. The driver or his helper will hand out your passport to give the border agent, along with your paperwork.
- At Arica, get on a bus back to Tacna. Remember to buy the Chilean version of the tarifa (350 pesos).
- Do the customs thing. Don’t say you are a volunteer unless you actually have that special visa. Don’t act sketchy. Don’t volunteer additional information. Don’t make a wise-crack. Stick to “touristica”.
- At Tacna, buy a return bus back. I prefer one of the more expensive lines (like Olsura or Cruz del Sur), as it is a long 6 hour bus ride. The semi-cama or cama (reclining) helps alot.
- (Optional) Stay overnight in Arica. The way I did it I started at 7am, and didn’t get back till after midnight. An overnight in Arica would have gave me some needed rest, and would break up the journey. Arica is a cool little town, with surfing, seafood and sand – might as well!
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