So easy that I don’t even know if a post is necessary, but it seems to be a very popular route so I suppose it’s a good idea to map it out in case anyone needs it.
From San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, you can get a night bus to Arica, up near the border. Again, to further demonstrate my Chile love, this may be far pricier than any bus you could catch in Bolivia, but my goodness it’s worth it. It’s so clean. They go around giving you blankets and pillows. Warm blankets, too, that cover you entirely, so you can for once dispense with the sleeping bag. You get given a little food in the morning (just before the bus arrives at 6am) and all the chairs work properly. It’s fantastic.
From Arica, you go over to the International bus terminal which is located out of the main bus terminal and turn right, just a couple of hundred metres away. At this ungodly hour, it is packed with collectivos, the drivers of which have a very efficient and not really very expensive system of packing people in and zooming you across the border. The freaky part is where they take your passport and wander off with it. It’s not a good moment, and I have to admit I had a few “Can I have my passport back? Where’s my passport?” moments; I got thoroughly ignored, so they’re clearly used to the ignorant tourists. They’ve got your passport, it transpires, because they’re going to take care of all the paperwork for you – perhaps they think it’s going to be far quicker if they do it. They fill out your damn immigration form for you. They usher you through the border as though you’ve never crossed one before, so if you’ve never crossed one before then this is the border for you. The whole process took about an hour and a half of extreme straightforwardness, and we arrived in Tacna, the nearest city to the Chilean border with Peru, just as sun was rising.
Getting on the six hour bus ride to Arequipa from Tacna was probably the most depressing part of the journey. Back to grimy buses; sigh. For another six hours, after we’d already done an overnighter. But you do have to push on through, and getting into the stunning Arequipa was thoroughly worth it. And let’s face it: there’s nothing quite like that post-overnight bus shower. Ahhh.