This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border name: Hijo Canjon
Closest major cities: Reserva Nacional Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia and San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Cost for visas: $0
Cost for vehicle: $0
Total time: 10 minutes in Bolivia, 45 minutes in Chile
Date crossed: Monday, October 29th 2012
Note: This crossing goes through the VERY remote southwest corner of Bolivia. It is at least 300 miles from Uyuni to the border and there are likely no supplies (gas, food or water) for long stretches. Plan accordingly.
Read our trip update article for the full story on getting from Uyuni to the Reserva Nacional Eduardo Avaroa. We made it to Laguna Colorado from Uyuni in six hours and camped in a nearby canyon. The next day we stopped at aduana on the way to Laguna Chalviri. This was on Sunday, the day before we intended to actually cross the border.
Kobus handed in our temporary import permit at the uber-heated office. The official took it, and said that was all. We got back in the car and got the hell out of there. At 16,400 feet, breathing was a chore. Do NOT miss this step. We heard reports of others being sent back from immigration to turn in their paperwork. Not a fun thing when it's freezing cold and your out of food, water and gas.
The next night we camped in the Rocas de Dali. We headed out early when the wind picked up again. We made a few scenic stops at the lakes in the south and stopped at the park gate for lunch to eat up some of the food we know would be confiscated in Chile.
We moved on to Bolivian immigration, just a few kilometers past the park offices.
Inside the immigration office we handed over our passports. The official nonchalantly pushed a piece of paper across the desk that said we had to pay a Bs15 exit fee per person. We had been warned this fee was fake by our awesome friends at FromAtoB.org. We politely asked for a receipt and the official said they were out. I explained that we paid more than US$300 to enter this country and we weren't about to pay a cent to leave.
The official dropped the charge, returned our passports and said we should leave. Which we did.
We drove down the beautiful 30 miles of paved highway to San Pedro de Atacama, oogling at the pretty road signs. Remember those, they stand on the side of the road and warn you about things, like speed bumps, llama crossings, and borders. Entering town you have to turn right to the immigration and customs area. We parked on the right side behind several busses and other vehicles.
We joined the long line of people waiting for immigration stamps. Jared found a customs form at a nearby table and we all filled that out. We waited about 20 minutes. At the immigration window the official informed us that we needed to fill out a different form. He gave us a small tourist card which we completed and handed back to him with our passports.
He asked for our vehicle papers, so we presented our title. He entered our information as well as the vehicle plate and some other info into the computer. He stamped our passports and returned them with one copy of the tourist card.
Next we went to aduana at the end of the building. The official asked to see the vehicle title, the driver's passport and the customs forms. He entered some info in the computer and asked us to drive the vehicle closer to the building. He walked out of the building briefly to see our car, but didn't actually verify the VIN. The official printed out two copies of the vehicle permit and asked for Kobus' signature. He kept one copy and gave us the other. Then he stamped our customs declaration form and returned it to us. He told us to find an agriculture inspector before leaving.
Back out in front of aduana we quickly located a nice inspector wearing the green polo shirt with the letters SAG embroidered on. We had been dreading this moment for quite a few days, not knowing how much of our basic food would be confiscated. We reasoned that we would just let the inspector check everything and if it was confiscated at least we would know for the next time.
Despite being friendly, and nice, she did look everywhere. We pointed her to the fridge, where she actually read the labels of the chorizo and hot dog packages. Chorizo – confiscated. Hot dogs – good to go. She said milk, yogurt and cheese are fine and left those, whew. We asked about eggs, she said they were never allowed unless they are cooked. Then she took our salami and a bag or raisins from our snack food pile.
Raisins out. Snickers bars and chips, approved. We thought she would stop there, but ohhhh no. We opened the trunk and she sighed. Our car was packed and very dirty from the 3-day drive through the backwoods of Bolivia. Sorry lady, you asked for it.
We then systematically removed and opened every bin in the car. She went through our food box. Vinegar, oil, instant soup, cans of things, all ok. Even granola with the very same raisins she just confiscated, was ok. We sighed relief. Then, back to the bins. Clothes, booze, kitchen, sleeping bags even the dirty laundry. All searched.
And finally, our small food bin, the one with all the magic in it. 12 jars of spices, coffee, ghost peppers, hot sauce. If this lady confiscated our spices, I would have cried. Thankfully, she poked around a bit, and then closed it up. Whew. But she did proceed to search through the rest of the car. Doors, backpack, glove box. Blargh.
Finally, she gave us a pamphlet of information in Spanish and English about the customs rules. It's a bit confusing because the list of items you need to declare is huge. But, as we learned, just because you declare it, doesn't mean they are going to confiscate it.
We've heard very mixed reports across all border crossings in Chile, but one thing was clear, if you fail to declare that you have food (any kind of food) and are caught, it will cost you US$200. Always declare, and don't count on keeping your fresh fruit, veggies, eggs or chorizo. Except hot dogs, they don't count as meat anyway.
The inspector kept our customs declarations and said we could leave. Which we did, quickly, before she decided to search anything else.
Best part about this border: Cost = $0
Worst part about this border: They took our chorizo :(