At home, we read from other travel blogs that border crossing at Villazon/ La Quiaca could be a frustrating, chaotic and time consuming experience (waiting in line for up to 8 hours and so on). Therefore, we decided to start early hoping to beat the crowd. From Tupiza, we took a shared taxi at the bus terminal heading to Villazon, the border town on the Bolivian side. The ride was pleasant on a paved road, and it gave us one last opportunity to admire the landscape outside Tupiza. The ride to Villazon took only a little over an hour. After we arrived in town, we then switched to a local taxi to the international bridge separating Bolivia to the north and Argentina to the south. When we got to the bridge just before 9am, we saw a huge crowd gathered in front of the bridge, and the bridge seemed to be closed. We used our limited Spanish trying to find our way to the Bolivian immigration and the crowd kept on saying “No Paso”. They waved us to turn around to the next street. On the next street, a local man asked us to follow him. He led us down the street to the riverbank under the international bridge, where many locals were crossing the shallow river from both directions. Since the bridge was blocked, we thought we could first cross the river to reach the immigration offices, which apparently were located at the Argentine side of the bridge.
After some sweat and hassle we finally crossed the river with our backpacks and made it to the immigration office at the Argentine side. There we were told that we had to get an exit stamp from the Bolivian immigration at the window adjacent to the Argentine immigration office. We were relieved before finding out that the Bolivian window was shut with no one inside. We were told to carry our backpacks and return to Bolivia. Didn’t have a clue what to do next, we walked across the empty international bridge with our backpacks (wouldn’t want to cross the river again) to the Bolivia side, where there was a Bolivian police office. The protesting crowd was still yelling with banners in hands and occasionally igniting fireworks to gather attention. The bridge was closed and no Bolivian immigration officers could be seen anywhere. We asked the Bolivian police when the border would be reopened. We were told by 6pm perhaps, and it was only 9am! We were already tired and a little anxious about getting the Bolivian exit stamp. Looking at the crowd blocking the Bolivian side of the bridge, and the Argentine immigration office at the other end, we were the only two people stuck in the transitional zone between the two countries. We could see other tourists at either the Argentine or Bolivian side of the bridge, anxiously waiting for the reopening of the border.
We kept on bugging the police and anyone we came across on the bridge. Just after noontime, a man without uniform emerged from nowhere who seemed to know everyone at the border. We stood up and asked him when the border would be reopened. He asked us to wait for a moment. About half an hour later, he told us to follow him into an immigration office at the Bolivian police control, where he checked our passports and asked us a few questions. He then led us to cross the bridge again to the Argentine side. He took our passports and went over to the Argentine officers. They shock hands, chatted a bit, and looked at our passports. At last, he returned to us, summoned us to the Bolivian immigration window, and told the two officers inside to stamp our passports. After 3 hours of frustration, we finally got our Bolivian exit stamp! We thought the man who helped us must be a high rank Bolivian immigration officer.
We quickly went over to the Argentine immigrations with our stamped passports. At first, the officers in the office refused to accept our passports, saying the border was still technically closed. We were dumbfounded for about 30 seconds before a female officer came out and agreed to help us with the Argentine entry stamp. She took our passports to a tall and thin Argentine officer whom the Bolivian officer chatted and shock hands with 10 minutes earlier. From a distance, we could see the tall and thin Argentine officer nodded to the female officer. What a sign of relief! Two minutes after the nod, we got our Argentine entry stamps, got our backpacks through the “x-ray machine/ truck”, and were on our way by taxi to the bus terminal of La Quiaca (the border town on the Argentine side). Looking at the queue of people at either end of the bridge, it seemed that we were the first tourists of the day to cross the international bridge at Villazon/ La Quiaca!
At La Quiaca’s bus terminal, we hopped onto the first bus leaving for Jujuy. After a 3.5 hour bus ride and a backpack search at an intermediate checkpoint along the highway, we finally arrived at Tilcara, our destination of the day where we would stay for the coming three nights. By the time we stepped into the nicely decorated bedroom at Antigua Guesthouse, we immediately dropped to the bed and felt extremely grateful and relieved about the remarkable experience at the border.
streetscape of Villazon, Bolivia
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Read more on Southwest Circuit, Bolivia in 2013 South America:
Day 36.2 – Cerro Corazon de Jesus, Tupiza
Day 37 – Quebrada Hike, Tupiza
Day 38.1 – Departure Southwest Circuit Day 1
Day 38.2 – Highland, Southwest Circuit Day 1
Day 38.3 – Ruinas, Southwest Circuit Day 1
Day 38.4 – Quieten Chico, Southwest Circuit Day 1
Day 39.1 – Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Southwest Circuit Day 2
Day 39. 2 – Laguna Verde & Blanca, Southwest Circuit Day 2
Day 39.3 – Desierto de Dali, Southwest Circuit Day 2
Day 39.4 – Geysers Sol de Manana, Southwest Circuit Day 2
Day 39.5 – Laguna Colorada, Southwest Circuit Day 2
Day 40.1 – Huaylliara, Southwest Circuit Day 3
Day 40.2 – Arbol de Piedra, Southwest Circuit Day 3
Day 40.3 – Flamingos, Southwest Circuit Day 3
Day 40.4 – Ollague Volcano, Southwest Circuit Day 3
Day 41.1 – Salt Hotel, Southwest Circuit Day 4
Day 41.2 – Sunrise at Uyuni Salt Flat, Southwest Circuit Day 4
Day 41.3 – Isla Incahuasi at Uyuni Salt Flat, Southwest Circuit Day 4
Day 41.4 – Salar de Uyuni, Southwest Circuit Day 4
Day 41.5 – Train Cemetery, Uyuni, Southwest Circuit Day 4
Day 42 – Border Crossing, Villain, Bolivia / La Quiaca, Argentina
Next Destination – Northwest Argentina
Continuing on our journey from post Day 43.1
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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought