The main border crossing between Chile and Peru is located between the cities of Arica, in Chile, and Tacna, in Peru, in the middle of the Atacama desert. It is a fairly unique land border crossing in that there are no long distance bus services crossing over, as there are in most border crossings in South America. Thus, the crossing can be a bit daunting to travelers used to the comfort of simply taking a long distance bus.
However, the crossing ends up a breeze, once pointed in the right direction. Here is a guide to crossing from the Arica side.
The international terminal in Arica is located a block from the national terminal on Aveda Diego Portales also known as the Panamerican Highway. While the national terminal looks more like your standard bus terminal in South America, complete with facilities, shops, eateries and a roof overhead, the international terminal is merely a fenced in, open air lot. This can confuse some travelers who might be expecting something that looks more like the former.
Upon entering the gate of the international terminal (there is a sign over the entrance which says Terminal International Arica Chile), immediately turn to the right and approach the window where you must pay your terminal fee. This is common in both Chile and Peru, it is basically a facility maintenance fee, and you cannot enter a bus or colectivo without it. The fee is nominal (it was $150 CLP in May 2016), and you are issued a ticket receipt which you must present to whoever is going to take you across the border.
The next step is to decide whether you will take a bus or a colectivo across the border. Obviously, the bus is cheaper ($1500 CLP), but takes longer and is less secure as far as bag storage goes. Colectivos, on the other hand, run $4000 CLP and are generally cars which can hold up to five people, normally with adequate trunk space for baggage.
I opted for the colectivo. There is somewhat of a queue located a few meters from the terminal fee window, where a porter will ask you how many in your party, and look at the size of your bags, before pointing you to a car. The driver of the car will assist you with your bags, collect your terminal ticket receipt as well as your passport, and then have you wait in or around the car while he goes into the office to validate your terminal ticket receipt and have your Peruvian immigration card typed up.
About ten minutes later, the driver returns and distributes the passports and immigration cards, and you’re off for the 30 minute drive through the desert to the border.
At the border, the driver parks, and has everyone exit the vehicle, passports in hand, to go through Chilean exit controls. Once stamped, the passengers simply walk to the waiting area on the other side of controls, the driver retrieves the car, and picks everyone up.
Less than five minutes later, you’re at the Peruvian checkpoint, where once again, everyone exits the vehicle, this time both with passports and all baggage. Peruvian border agents go through the normal entry questions, stamp the passports, and then have all bags run through an X-Ray machine. If all goes well, you simply walk outside, and wait again for the driver to retrieve the car and pick you up for the 45 minute drive to the Tacna international terminal.
Once at the international terminal in Tacna, you pay the driver and you’re done. The final step to this journey, if you’re traveling onward, is to simply cross the street and go to the national terminal. Like many national terminals in South America, there are plenty of porters and sellers outside yelling destinations (most are yelling LIMA) and holding up placards with prices and pictures of the busses and the seats. These porters seems to be paid on a commission basis, and you will pay the commission, not the bus company, however, they will sheperd you through the entire process, from ticketing, bag check, terminal tax to pointing you to your departure gate. If you chose to use a porter, count on adding about $5 soles to your ticket price.
If you want to skip the porters, just ignore them and go inside to a ticket window. I used Moquegua bus lines, because I knew that they had a bus leaving for Arequipa in an hour. They were secure and comfortable enough for the six hour, direct ride. Purchase your ticket from the counter (it was $20 Soles for mine), drop your bags in the secure bag room next to the office, and then find the terminal ticket office, located in the center of the terminal near the main entrance, and pay the $3 Soles terminal fee. Remember, you cannot enter the departure gate without this ticket.
I arrived at the international terminal in Arica at about 9:00am, and was in Arequipa by 6:30pm, with plenty of time to get checked into a hostel, get situated and go out for dinner and drinks. The wait time at the Tacna terminal for the bus to Arequipa was only about an hour, and there seem to be busses leaving for Arequipa every hour with Moquegua bus lines. Busses to Lima leave with more frequency.
And now you know how to get from Arica to Arequipa in one day, using the colectivo system. Best of luck and enjoy Peru!