This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border name: Paso Jama
Closest major cities: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, Susques or Salta, Argentina
Cost for visas: $0 (See reciprocity fee update below!)
Cost for vehicle: $0
Total time: 2 hours in Chile, 1 hour 15 minutes in Argentina (on the start of a holiday weekend)
Date crossed: Thursday November 1, 2012
We spent the night camped at Los Peralas in San Pedro de Atacama. Unfortunately, despite popular believe, Chileans do celebrate Halloween on October 31st, and there was a very noisy group of chicos who decided to stay up until 6am drinking and talking. I think they would have continued all morning, except thankfully our camp host decided to kick them out. I digress. We didn't get much sleep, so didn't get to the first border post until 10am.
And when we arrived at the same immigration/customs building, where we had entered from Bolivia just a few days ago, we found a very very long line. Jared and I stood in it for a half hour while Kobus went to go fill up the gas tank. He returned a half hour later and Jared and I had moved about 10 feet.
We waited about another hour, when the crowd got a little out of hand. Someone announced there was a 3rd line opening and everyone in the back stormed forward, us included. Then it turned out there wasn't a third line and things got ugly. Somehow Kobus managed to keep his place about an hour closer to the man with the exit stamp.
After 2 hours of waiting, we all went to the immigration window and handed over our passports and our tourist card that we received when we entered. The official entered info into the computer, stamped our passports and kept our tourist cards.
We headed immediately to the aduana line which was thankfully shorter. In about 15 minutes and an official came out and took our vehicle permit. He asked a few basic questions, wanted to know which car was our and then turned around and walked off with the permit and a friendly "buen viaje".
It was now 12:30 and we headed back up the mountain towards Bolivia, only of course continuing east to Argentina. We stopped only momentaily so Kobus could stuff his face with a giant empanda.
The Argentinian border is 100 miles from San Pedro de Atacama. You'll know when you arrive, there is nothing else around.
We parked on the right side in the gravel and walked into the building on the left side. There was a door marked "Entrada". There was also a long line here, but at least the officials seemed to be moving faster.
We waited in line for an hour before finally reaching the immigration window. The official took our three passports and asked some basic questions. He entered our info into the computer, including our vehicle license plate number, and then printed a tourist card out. He stamped our passports and the tourist card and returned both. Except when he got to my passport the printer malfunctioned and so I got the normal hand written tourist card.
The immigration official also gave us a slip of paper with three check boxes. He stamped in the first box labeled immigration, handed over the paper and sent us three windows down to the aduana window. What's that you say? Aduana and immigration not only in the same building, but also at the same counter? Unheard of.
The official at the aduana window took our vehicle title, Kobus' passport and the paper that was stamped by immigration. She entered info into the computer and printed a vehicle permit. She gave us the permit and stamped the checkbox paper. Then she explained that we needed to go outside and find and inspector to stamp the third box.
Back outside we noticed cars just driving up to the boom gate, so we did the same. The couple in front of us was searched, but not carefully. The officials did confiscate some of their fruit and bread. We had with us ham for lunch and chicken and carrots for dinner. The rest of our food was processed. The officials looked through our fridge, clearly saw the meat but didn't confiscate it. They asked us to remove about half of the bins from the back of our car and they looked through all of them, but again didn't confiscate anything. Whew.
The inspector kept our checkbox paper and opened the boom so we could drive through. Yay! Note that just past the immigration offices there is a gas station. We didn't stop, but there were trucks refueling.
Be careful of llama crossings on the road into Purmamarca. We stopped to pull out a little 2wd that spun around and got stuck in the sand on the side of the road. Just building up some travel karma points. How many Chileans does it take to tow a car out of the sand? I'll let you count.
We were not asked to produce proof of insurance at the Argentinian border, although we know it is mandatory and we heard many horror stories of people being sent back. There is no place to buy insurance at this border. We also heard that it is impossible for a foreigner to buy insurance in San Pedro de Atacama, although, it may be possible in Calama, 100km from San Pedro.
Thankfully, these amazing people at Fromatob.org, sent us this super-secret information I'm going to share with you. There is a German guy name Klaus who lives near Bariloche in Argentina. He is not an insurance broker, just a nice guy who is trying to help out overlanders. He can set you up with Argentinian insurance, all via email. He technically has a "fleet" of cars which are associated with his business. You get a better rate because of the business association, but you do have to pay his 50 Euro service fee. In our case the savings and the fee about equaled out.
Best part about this border: We finally made it to Argentina!!
Worst part about this border: Ridiculous lines on a holiday weekend.