Border Crossing 101: Pisiga, Bolivia to Colchane, Chile

Border crossings are a tricky but essential part of road trip travel. These border crossing 101 travel tips will help you negotiate the border between Pisiga, Bolivia and Colchane, Chile smoothly with or without a vehicle.

Pisiga, Bolivia - Colchane, Chile border crossing

From: Pisiga, Bolivia

To: Colchane, Chile

Date: October 7, 2017

Lay of the land: This border crossing is at 12,120 feet (3,695 meters) near the Salar de Coipasa. That’s low compared to other Bolivia to Chile border crossings like the Hito Cajón crossing near San Pedro de Atacama which is at 14,698 feet (4,480 meters). Both countries do immigration and customs formalities in the same building at this crossing. 

Elapsed time: 2 hours (12:15 to 2:15). We arrived just after a bus full of student so we had to wait behind them in line for more than an hour to get our Bolivian entry and Temporary Importation Permit (TIP) canceled. Once we reached the window, that process was quick and free. After that it took just a few minutes to get our Chile entry stamp (also free). It took another 15 minutes to get our Chile TIP sorted out. Aduana (customs) agents had a golden retriever named Luke who sniffed our truck inside and out. Agents initially wanted us to remove everything from the truck and pass it through their x-ray machine, but they ultimately settled for x-raying a few bags and peaking inside some plastic bins.

Chile flag

Number of days given: 90 days for us and for the truck

Fees: none

Vehicle insurance needed: You need to buy SOAT insurance to drive in Chile, however, there is no place to buy SOAT at this border. Luckily no one asked us for proof of SOAT at the border because The closest place we found to get SOAT was in Arica.

Where to fill up: There are gas stations on the Bolivian side where, presumably foreign plated cars can only fill with fuel at the official foreigner price of nearly US$5 per gallon (US$1.30 per liter). There are no gas stations in Colchane. We believe fuel is unavailable on the Chile side until you reach the Pan-American Highway.

Need to know: Posted signs said this border’s hours of operation are 8am to 8pm. There were money changers on the Bolivian side but not in Colchane. In fact, there’s not much at all in Colchane — no restaurants or stores and we only saw two hotels. Hotel Isluga is clean and has matrimonial rooms with private bathrooms for 36,000 CLP (about US$56) or for 25,000 CLP (about US$39) with shared bathrooms. Breakfast, hot water, TV with cable, parking, and Wi-Fi (when the electricity is working) are included. Our dinner of chicken, rice, and French fries (4,500 CLP, about US$7) at the hotel was fresh and tasty. Inca Hostal in Colchane has rooms with private bathrooms for 30,000 CLP (about US$47). Be aware that the time changes between Bolivia and Chile from mid August to mid May (we lost an hour when we crossed into Chile) because Chile is one of the few South American countries which observes Daylight Savings Time, so factor that in. 

Duty free: nope

Overall border rating: Good. If we hadn’t gotten stuck behind the bus full of student we would have been in and our in around an hour with very little hassle regarding our truck.

Isluga church, Chile

The church in the town of Isluga which is not far off the main road and worth a quick stop as a side trip or as you’re driving across Isluga Volcano National Park toward Arica.


Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Chile



Support us on Patreon

3 Comments - Join the conversation »

Photo Essay: On the Che Guevara Trail 50 Years After his Death in Bolivia

On October 9, 1967 Ernesto Che Guevara, an Argentinean doctor and a driving force of the Cuban Revolution, along with Fidel Castro, was killed in a tiny town in Bolivia. Fifty years after his death, the Che Guevara legend remains vivid around the world. But there’s a lot about his death that we didn’t know (including a helicopter ride, amputated hands, and a secret burial site) until we traveled to Central Bolivia and took a guided tour of the town of Vallegrande where his body was brought after he was killed in nearby La Higuera.

50th anniversary Che's death banner La Paz Bolivia

This mural, on a college building in La Paz, Bolivia, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara with a message that seems like a dig at Bolivian President Evo Morales, reflecting the still-political nature of Che’s legend in Latin America.

On the Che Guevara Trail in Bolivia

First of all, the so-called Che Trail isn’t a trail at all. It’s a grab bag of sites that mark the end of Che’s life and form part of his lasting legacy. In the town of La Higuera, where he was killed, you’ll find an imposing bust of the revolutionary. But the main sites, including the Señor de Malta hospital where his body was taken and the Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum which memorializes the spot where his body was unceremoniously buried, are in the town of Vallegrande. Here’s our photo tour.

Ernesto Che Guevara Mural Vallegrande Bolivia 50th anniversary Che's death

A Che mural in Vallegrande, Bolivia where his body was taken on October 9, 1967.

Che Morgue Hospital Senor de Malta-Vallegrande, Bolivia

The morgue where Che Guevara’s body was taken after he was killed in nearby La Higuera, Bolivia following his captured by local forces who were being aided by the CIA.

Laundry Hospital Senor de Malta Vallegrande, Bolivia

Che Guevara’s body was washed in this laundry room behind the Señor de Malta hospital in Vallegrande, Bolivia.

Vallegrade Hospital Laundry Che Guevara body displayed

The old hospital laundry room where Che Guevara’s body was washed has become a makeshift shrine.

Photo of Che Guevara body being displayed in Vallegrande Bolivia hospital laundry (credit - Freddy Albert)

Some people who saw Che Guevara’s body shortly after his death remarked on his lifelike and even Christ-like appearance. Some even said they felt his eyes following them. (credit: Freddy Albert)

Che Ernesto Guevara Mausoleo VillaGrande Bolivia

The Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum marks the spot where his remains, along with six other revolutionaries, were secretly buried in 1967. In 1997 the bones were found and Che’s body was sent to Cuba for burial.

Che Guevara Mausoleum Villagrande Bolivia

The Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum in Vallegrande, Bolivia.

Che Gvevara grave buried Vallegrande Bolivia

Stone plaques now mark the spot where the bones of Che Guevara and six comrades were found in Vallegrande, Bolivia. Che’s plaque reads “Argentino Cubano”.

Che Gvevara handwritten diaries - Che museum Vallegrande Bolivia

Some of Che’s diaries are on display in the recently-renovated Che museum next to the Ernesto Guevara Mausoleum in Vallegrande, Bolivia.

What you won’t see in Vallegrande is any sign of Che merchandise, like the t-shirts which have become as common around the world as Bob Marley t-shirts.

Get all the travel details you need to do the Che Trail in Bolivia and read even more about what we learned about the life and legend of Che Guevara during our tour (including that bit about the helicopter and the amputated hands) in our complete story about the Che tour for Bio.com (the website for the Biography TV channel).

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia


Support us on Patreon

Leave a comment

Where We’ve Been: September 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Bolivia

After weeks in the cold high-altitude Altiplano, often over 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), our Bolivian road trip focused on exploring central Bolivia in September of 2017, where we enjoyed a comparatively mild climate at moderate elevations between 5,000 and 9,000 feet (1,500  and 2,800 meters). In total, we drove 2,022 miles (3,254 km) in Bolivia in September of 2017. Along the way we traveled to a former Bolivian capital city (Sucre) and ended in the current capital city (La Paz) with time spent exploring Samipata, Amboro National Park, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Torotoro National Park and Sajama National Park plus the Tiwanaku archaeological site. You can see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck in the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

Nevado Sajama Volcano Bolivia's highest point

Where we’ve been: September 2017 road trip in Bolivia

We began the month in the beautiful colonial city of Sucre which was Bolivia’s first capital and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Sucre we explored the nearby Cordillera de Los Frailes with its pre-Columbian cave paintings and dinosaur footprints.

From Sucre we drove the old (read: unpaved) Cochabamba to Santa Cruz “highway” where road construction in preparation for paving is making the route even more of a mess. We finally arrived at the pleasant town of Samaipata where we hiked to the Nido del Condor (condor’s nest) to watch at least a dozen condors glide in the strong winds they love.

We also visited Vallegrande and explored the Che Trail where we learned a lot about  revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara who was killed by the Bolivian military (with CIA assistance) in the nearby town of La Higuera before his body was displayed and then secretly buried in Vallegrande.

night sky and milky way from Refugio los Volcanes Bolivia

Next up was Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia’s largest city, where we stayed at a hotel called Inboccalupo which is probably our most unexpected boutique hotel experience of the year. From Santa Cruz we visited the remote Refugio Los Volcanes (pictured above) on the edge of Amboro National Park.

Then it was a long drive to Cochabamba, which sits in a giant valley of the same name, before heading to the little-visited Incan ruins of Incallajta and the nearby colonial town of Totora. Then we visited the spectacular Torotoro National Park with its breathtaking yet easily accessible canyon, dinosaur footprints, rock walls covered in marine fossils, and beautiful rock formations.

The only problem is that the road between Cochabamba and the Torotoro National Park is mostly made of cobblestones. This meant driving about 60 miles (100 km) on cobblestones each way. This will soon be a thing of the past, however, since a new highway between Cochabamba and Sucre is being constructed and it will pass nearby the park, dramatically reducing the drive time on cobblestones.

Torotoro Canyon bolivia

After leaving Torotoro National Park (that’s us in the park, above), we passed through Cochabamba again on our way back up to the high-altitude Altiplano. Our first stop was Curahuara de Carangas with its richly painted Colonial church, generously known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Andes”. Our next stop was Sajama National Park, home to Nevado Sajama which is the highest peak in Bolivia at 21,463 feet (6,542 meters).

Sajama National Park also contains hot springs and geysers, lakes with flamingos, and more Colonial churches. Nearby, along the Rio Lauca, we visited some unique chullpas (pre-Columbian burial towers) on which you can still see some painting (and human bones inside).

The end of the month found us at the pre-Incan archaeological site of Tiwanaku, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, before returning to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital.

Our complete road trip driving route map for September 2017 is below:

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Bolivia in September of 2017 in our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Support us on Patreon

Leave a comment

Where We’ve Been: August 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Bolivia

We started the month of August 2017 in the town of Uyuni on the edge of the world’s largest salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni. After driving around this giant white expanse we drove a spectacular, high altitude route in the southwest corner of Bolivia. We then drove around Bolivia’s wine region and the to two of its most historic cities, Potosí and Sucre where we ended the month. In total, our road trip traveled 1,513 miles (2,435 km) in August and you can see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck in the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

Salar de Uyuni Bolivia Red Baron

Where we’ve been: August 2017 road trip in Bolivia

We began the month with a short drive from the town of Uyuni to explore the former mining town of Pulacayo which is now a ghost town.Then it was time for a unique on the road less expanse of the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat (see 1:07 to 3:55 in the video below). At 4,086 square miles (10,582 sq km), it’s an endless sea of white. To put this into perspective, the Salar de Uyuni is a little smaller than the state of Connecticut, a bit bigger than Lebanon, and a bit smaller than Jamaica. The empty vastness messes with your sense of perspective and lets you play with reality.

Uyuni Salt Flats trans-Americas Journey Karen Catchpole

Next up was a spectacular loop known as Bolivia’s Southwest circuit, named, no surprise, because it loops around the remote Southwest corner of the country up to the Chile border. This epic high altitude drive starts at over 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) and goes to over 16,000 feet (5,000 meters), taking in numerous lakes in a variety of colors from green to red to white, some filled with thousands of flamingos.

In addition to the multi-colored lakes, this route includes the highest geyser basin in the world, 19,000 foot (5,800 meter) snow-covered volcanoes, hot springs, and a desert area of rock formations known as the Dali Desert.

The downside of all this awesomeness was the road, or lack thereof. At times the severely washboarded track made it feel like we were navigating our truck over one foot seas. Over two days we drove 316 miles on this route. At one point, at the very southern end of the loop at Laguna Verde, we came to within eight miles of where we were in March on the other side of the border in northern Chile.

You can see most of the drive (sorry we had some tech problems so a few bits are missing) from 6:00 – 17:00 in the video below. Highlights include flamingos at Laguna Hedionda (7:58), Sol de Manana geysers (10:33), and Laguna Verde and Licancabur Volcano (12:24).

Flamingo Laguna Hedionda Bolivia

After this adventure, we continued on more horrible roads, down to the town of Tupiza which is near to where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are said to have met their end. Then we were off to Tarija, the heart of Bolivia’s wine-producing region. The only thing south of here is Argentina so we headed north to the historic heartland of Bolivia.

First was Potosí, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, founded in 1545 as a mining town. A reasonable percentage of Spain’s wealth in the 17th and 18th centuries came from the silver-rich mountain that looms over the city. From Potosí we continued to Sucre, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the country of Bolivia was founded.

Our complete road trip driving route map for August 2017 is below.

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Bolivia in August of 2017 in our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Support us on Patreon

6 Comments - Join the conversation »

Where We’ve Been: July 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Peru & Bolivia

We started the month of July 2017 in the small town of Huancavelica high (and cold) in the Peruvian Andes. From there our road trip crossed Southern Peru to Lake Titicaca and then traveled into Bolivia where we spent time in La Paz, drove Bolivia’s infamous “Death Road,” then headed down to the Uyuni Salt Flats where we ended the month. In total, our road trip traveled 1,794 miles (2,887 km) in July and you can see the same spectacular scenery that we saw through the windshield of our truck via the drive-lapse video at the end of this post.

Driving the Bolivian death road

Where we’ve been: July 2017 in Peru & Bolivia

From damp and cold Huancavelica, one of the highest cities in the world at 12,060 feet (3,676 meters), we continued across the Peruvian Andes to historic Ayacucho (watch  our snowy July 4th morning drive leaving Huancavelica at 0:50 in our video at the end of this post).

From Ayacucho we made a beeline to the city of Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca near the border with Bolivia. We then crossed into Bolivia, our 59th border crossing of the Journey so far, from Yunguyo, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia (see this very tranquil border crossing on the shores of Lake Titicaca at 15:06 in our video at the end of this post). 

Once in Bolivia, we drove to the world’s highest capital city: La Paz. From there we took a side trip to the Yungas region, a forested area between the high Andes and the lowland, Amazonian forest. In a mere 40 miles (65 km) the highway drops more than 11,000 feet (3,000 meters) from a 15,500 foot (4,724 meter) pass to the lowlands below. Although there is a now modern highway heading down to the Yungas, we couldn’t pass up the chance to drive Bolivia’s infamous Death Road.

Once considered “the world’s most dangerous road,” this dirt “highway” no longer lives up to that moniker. Yes, it’s still a narrow, one-lane road clinging to a sheer cliff that at times drops many thousands of feet into the ravine below. However, since the new highway was opened there is very little traffic along the dirt route save for a daily onslaught of tourist bicyclers making the descent and a few adventurous foreigners who want to drive this famed road. This means there is no longer the need to cling to the cliff’s edge while passing oncoming trucks.

Judge for yourself in the Death Road footage starting at 17:07 in our video at the end of this post). 

After conquering Bolivia’s Death Road we headed south across the country’s high Altiplano to the city of Oruro. From there we made a side trip to the village of Orinoca, the hometown of Bolivian President Evo Morales, to visit the newly opened Museo de la Revolución Democrática y Cultura. Sometimes called the Evo Museum, many consider it to be a very expensive ($7.5 million US dollars), very large, and very remote homage to Evo himself.

From there, we drove south to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, where we ended the month.

Our complete road trip driving route map for July 2017 is below.

And don’t miss the chance to see what we saw out there on the road in Peru and Bolivia in July of 2017 via our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

Here’s more about travel in Peru

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Support us on Patreon

2 Comments - Join the conversation »

Travel Scam: Do Foreign Tourists Pay Hotel Tax in Bolivia?

Let’s get this straight once and for all. The law in Bolivia is clear: foreign tourists do not pay the 13% IVA hotel tax in Bolivia (we’d call this a VAT or Value Added Tax in English). However, every hostel we’ve stayed at in La Paz has slyly added this tax onto our bill. Because we’re allergic to any type of travel scam (and on a tight travel budget) we’ve argued the tax and managed to have it removed from our bills. But it’s no fun feeling ripped off and it’s no fun arguing, so we did a lot of leg work so you can easily avoid being overcharged at hotels and hostels when you travel to Bolivia.

Travel scam

Avoid this rip-off hotel tax in Bolivia

Foreign tourists are exempt from the IVA hotel tax in Bolivia because the hotels themselves are not required to pay the tax for foreign guests (only for Bolivian guests). So, every time a hotel incorrectly charges a foreign guest 13% on top of their hotel bill they can pocket that money which can add up to thousands of dollars a year at a busy hostel or hotel. Yeah, that makes us mad too.

We got sick of arguing about the tax law with hotel staff so we set out to get our hands on official Bolivian government documents that spell out the law which says foreign tourists are exempt from the IVA hotel tax. It wasn’t easy, but after asking reputable hoteliers, contacting the Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Tourism, and talking to the tourism police in La Paz we finally collected the necessary documents.

We’ve put together a PDF for you to download, printout, and show to any Bolivian hotelier that tries to charge you the tax.  The first two pages of this document are from the Bolivian Tax Authority and they were sent to us by the Bolivian Vice-Ministry of Tourism. These docs explain how hotels handle the foreign tourist tax exemption. The third page is a printout from the Bolivian Tax Authority’s website and it more clearly addresses the foreign tourist exemption. The fourth and final page is the relevant portion of the specific law that exempts foreign tourists from the tax.

So far we’ve only encountered problems with this tax in La Paz. Perhaps it’s less of an issue in other areas of Bolivia. But we still recommend that you use our link, print out these official documents, carry them with you, and show them to any hoteliers who insist on charging you this tax.

If you get any guff or are ultimately somehow forced to pay the tax, you can also denounce hotels by giving the hotel name and details of the interaction to the local tourist police office (though when we visited the tourist police office in La Paz to denounce Rendezvous Hostal and La Posada de la Abuela Obdulia for trying to charge us for the tax, we were referred to the nearby Camara de Hoteleras office). Just the threat of denouncing a hotel to the tourist police is usually enough to get the tax dropped from your bill.

Foreign tourists exempt from Bolivian Hotel tax

We’ve been using Booking.com a lot lately and the site has a statement on every Bolivian hotel listing that explains that foreign travelers are exempt from the IVA tax (see above), though we believe the in-country stay limit is under 183 days, not under 59 days as the Booking.com blurb states. Regardless of the Booking.com statement, both of the La Paz hostels we booked via the site tried to charge us the tax. If you use Booking.com, leave reviews of properties that try to charge you so that other travelers can be aware and so that Booking.com can be aware.

We just got off the phone with a Booking.com customer service rep who explained that every property on the site has an internal rep who is interested in tracking and resolving any habitual problems, like charging foreign guests for taxes they don’t have to pay. To be super diligent, send a message to the Booking.com customer service email address as well if a hotel or hostel tries to charge you this tax.

Read more about travel in Bolivia

Support us on Patreon

3 Comments - Join the conversation »

Page 1 of 212