Crossing the Border to Arica
When you enter Peru, you’ll be given a stamp in your passport that will note how many days you’re allowed to stay in the country as a tourist – the maximum time allowed is 183 days. So what happens when you’ve been living in Peru for a while and find that the time on your authorization is about to run out? If you’re hoping to stay in Peru longer, you’ll have two options – overstaying your authorization and paying a fine when you leave the country - or renewing your authorization now. The only way to renew your authorization is to leave the country and re-enter for a new stamp. For many people, this means heading down to Tacna and making a border hop over into Arica, Chile.
The Tacna/Arica border hop is generally considered the simplest method of renewing your authorization. There are several bus lines that make the trip daily to Tacna – from Lima, they typically leave in the afternoon and arrive the next morning. Cruz del Sur gets consistent high ratings from expats, and has a ‘VIP’ section in the bus that makes the overnight trip much more comfortable – it’s definitely worth the upgrade price. If an overnight trip in a bus seems too dismal or too dangerous for your liking, it’s also easy enough to fly down.
Once you arrive in Tacna, there are a couple of ways to actually cross the border – you can take an international bus or a colectivo (a shared taxi). Colectivos are easy to find at the terminal for international buses – actually, chances are they’ll come looking for you, as there is quite a bit of competition amongst the colectivo drivers to find passengers. Each colectivo carries 5 passengers on its run, and you’ll typically have to wait until they get a full car. Don’t pay until you’ve seen the car, if you want to make sure it’s safe first. The price for a seat in a colectivo is around S/.15 to S/.20. Some people have said they paid as low as S/.12, but with the price of gas now, I doubt there are many for that price anymore. The best part about the colectivos is that the drivers know what you’ll need to do as you pass through the Peruvian border stop and then the Chilean, and will help walk you right through everything. The border opens at 5am, closes at midnight, and it takes about an hour to get from Tacna to Arica. Make sure to change some money to pesos in Tacna so you’re prepared when you get to Arica – it’s not as easy to use dollars in Chile as it is in Peru.
You can turn around and go right back through to Peru, but some people have had problems with this, so it’s generally recommended that you stay over night in Arica. It’s a pretty enough town, and the Museum on top of the Morro is quite interesting, if only for the chance to hear the events of the Battle of Arica from the Chilean perspective. When you arrive in Arica, you can get a taxi driver to take you to a hotel or hostel. Food isn’t expensive, but it’s not as cheap as Peru – and the exchange rate can be confusing, so be careful when paying.
Returning to Tacna is the same routine – you can even arrange with your colectivo driver from the previous day to meet you at a determined time. Just make sure you remember the 1 hour time difference between Chile and Peru, and get back to Tacna in time for your transportation back home.
Of course Tacna isn’t the only place where people cross the border – some prefer to head over to Bolivia, or up to Ecuador. But the Tacna border crossing seems to be one of the safer and more streamlined crossings.