Crossing From Peru into Chile

Arica Travel Blog

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Mars like surface south of Arequipa

Not long after leaving Arequipa the road descends quickly and you are soon in the middle of a landscape similar to what Mars must look like. There are large mountains covered in sand with red rocks protruding and just vast stretches of nothingness. The road proceeds south without many signs of civilization until the town of Moquegua, a bit east off the main road south towards Chile. Even there, the town is little more than a small patch of life. Continuing onward, the vast expanses of sandy desert are broken by a few oases here and there, which actually look quite dramatic, like veins of life in an otherwise dead landscape. There was a military base on the edge of a small oasis, probably a pretty miserable place to be stationed. After another hour of driving south the bus finally reached Tacna, the last outpost of Peruvian life on the way to Chile.

An oasis in the desert

 

The present day border between Peru and Chile lies about 30 some kilometers south of Tacna and is literally an arbitrary line drawn in the sand with the blood of those who fought in the War of the Pacific and through later joint negotiations.  From the deal, Peru definitely came out on the wrong side as Chile gained several areas rich in natural resources while Peru was stuck with the sandy wasteland around Tacna. There is still an active minefield near the border. Leaving from Tacna are numerous shared taxis for 20 soles, although they tried to scam me out of 10 soles by saying that I needed to pay for the tourist card to enter Chile but after I persistently told them that US citizens didn´t need to pay for it they finally conceded and said that I could pay later, which I never had to do.

Peruvian military base out in the middle of nowhere, hard to see because it is camouflaged
The driver hussled the five of us through the customs formalities quickly and our bags were scanned for fruits and vegetables before we were permitted to enter Chile and after that it was a quick ride towards the coast to Arica.


As we neared the ocean, I thought that it had actually been almost two and a half months since I had seen the ocean. When we entered the city limits the ocean finally came into view and as our car got further into the city the tall sandy hill dropping steeply to the water on the south edge of the city came into view and made for a very nice backdrop the city. The hill forms the nothern terminus of string of hills and cliffs that reach down from the Andes and extend almost all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

The city of Tacna, what a pleasant setting
The city itself was packed with people as it was the last weekend of Chilean summer vacation. There were several pedestrian sections of the downtown area and the whole city was just so much more modern than just about anything I had experienced in Peru. The other interesting thing was the time difference. Simply by moving south across the border the time moved forward two hours, all of a sudden it was light until almost 9pm. As a consequence the whole way of life seemed to change, no one ate dinner before 8pm, at the earliest, and nothing seemed to open up until about 10am. I was told that the time will change back in May so that it will only be one hour ahead of Peru, this would be at least a little more reasonable. The main reason for stopping in Arica was to go see the sights in Parque Nacional Lauca, a high alititude national park in the region of Chile  near the Bolivian border. Despite the time change I had luckily arrived in time to arrange a spot on a tour for the next day. I was looking forward to seeing the park, but not the 7:30am start, really 5:30am for me, and the long amount of driving and altitude change, but hopefully the scenery in the park would be worth it.

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Mars like surface south of Arequipa
Mars like surface south of Arequipa
An oasis in the desert
An oasis in the desert
Peruvian military base out in the …
Peruvian military base out in the…
The city of Tacna, what a pleasant…
The city of Tacna, what a pleasan…
Cars waiting to go through customs…
Cars waiting to go through custom…
Vast wasteland on the way to Tacna
Vast wasteland on the way to Tacna
Tacna
Tacna
The hill overlooking Arica
The hill overlooking Arica
Always Arica
Always Arica
Arica
photo by: jendara