Welcome to the 70th overland border crossing of the Trans-Americas Journey road trip (so far)! This time we traveled over the Paso Los Libertadores border from Argentina into Chile. See how it went in our border crossing guide.
Date: June 4, 2019
Lay of the land: From Mendoza, a paved, but rough road travels about 125 miles (200 km) gradually up to the dramatically-named Tunnel of Christ the Redeemer. The border is actually mid-way in the tunnel (you’ll see a sign). On the other side of the tunnel, you’re in Chile. However, border facilities are still ahead of you. Paso Los Libertadores is at around 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) and it houses Argentinean border officials and Chilean border officials. The process starts with Chilean officials who stamp you in. This entry stamp serves as your exit stamp from Argentina. You will not receive a separate exit stamp. There is a small money changing booth near the windows where your Chilean entry is processed. On the Chilean side about a mile past the border facilities, you pass the Portillo ski resort and from there, over the next 6 miles (10km), the paved road drops 1,900 feet, much of that drops via a very steep series of 17 back-to-back hairpin curves.
Elapsed time: 2.5 hours (12:50 to 2:20), but at least 20 minutes of that was so they could analyze our ibuprofen (see details in the Need to Know section, below).
Number of days given: We got 90 days and our truck permit was also issued for 90 days
Vehicle insurance needed: You must have third party insurance for your vehicle in order to drive legally in Chile. When we crossed into Argentina from Bolivia we bought a long-term policy that covers us in the MERCOSUR countries of Argentina, Chile Perú, Brasil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia.
Where to fill up: Generally speaking, fuel is cheaper in Chile but not by much. Gas is not available near the border, so we put diesel in the truck in Mendoza before heading to the border. The last reliable gas station on the Argentina side was in Upsallata 52 miles (85 km) before the border. On the Chile side, the closest fuel station was in Rio Blanco, about 20 miles (32 km) from the border.
Need to know: This border can close for up to several days if there’s heavy snow because the switchbacks on the Chile side (called The Steps) become impassable. You can check the status of the pass here. And you gain an hour in the winter and two hours in the summer when entering Chile because Argentina does not observe daylight savings time but Chile does, so check the time. Also, this border operates 24 hours a day for part of the year, but from June they start winter hours which are 8 am to 8 pm Chile time (or 7 am to 7 pm Argentina time).
If you’re driving, you do not have to wait in the same line as the many, many cargo trucks that travel over this border. Pass the long lines of parked trucks and carry on. Also, there are separate lines for bus passengers and those crossing in their own vehicles. When starting your border proceedings, look for the windows that say “PDI Autos”. That’s where you want to be if you’re driving your own vehicle. Note that in Chile they use the word “patente” to mean license plate, not “placa” which is common in other Spanish-speaking countries. Officials at the PDI Autos window will put an entry stamp in your passport, then send you to windows on the other side to get your Argentinean vehicle importation permit canceled and a temporary importation permit issued for your vehicle in Chile. From there, all that’s left is an agricultural check and a customs check.
At this border officials use sniffer dogs which is a welcome change and meant that the easily accessible contents of our truck were given a brief look by human officials, and the dogs did the rest so we didn’t have to remove everything. All fresh fruit, vegetables, and honey will be confiscated. And there’s a 2.5 liter per person limit on booze brought into Chile. They’re also serious about any medications that aren’t in their original packaging. Over-the-counter and prescription medicine in its original bottles are fine, but a ziplock bag with a handful of generic ibuprofen in it was taken from us for further analysis in a back room before being returned to us.
Overall border rating: Complicated, but friendly
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Chile