Chile has a few border crossings with Peru and Bolivia, but many with Argentina. Only a handful of these have scheduled transportation: the Peruvian crossing from Tacna; the Bolivian roads from La Paz to Arica via Parque Nacional Lauca, and from Oruro to Iquique via Colchane; the rail and road crossing from Uyuni to Calama via Ollagüe, and the overland four-wheel-drive excursion from Uyuni to San Pedro de Atacama via Laguna Verde.
From Argentina, there are buses from Salta and Jujuy to San Pedro de Atacama and Calama via the Paso de Jama, now paved on both sides of the border. The busiest crossing, though, is the Los Libertadores tunnel between Mendoza and Santiago.
In the Sur Chico there are buses from Neuquén to Temuco over the Paso de Pino Hachado via Curacautín and Lonquimay; the alternative Paso de Icalma is slightly to the south. Other routes include a regular bus service from San Martín de los Andes to Temuco via the Paso de Mamuil Malal (Paso Tromen to Argentines); a bus-boat combination from San Martín de los Andes to Panguipulli via Paso Huahum and Lago Pirehueico; a paved highway from Bariloche to Osorno via the Paso de Cardenal Samoré that’s the second-busiest crossing between the two countries; and the bus-boat shuttle from Bariloche to Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt.
Patagonia has many crossings, but mostly bad roads and little public transportation. Those served by scheduled transport include the mostly gravel road from Esquel (local buses only) to Futaleufú, for connections to Chaitén; Comodoro Rivadavia to Coyhaique on a mostly paved road via Río Mayo on comfortable coaches; Los Antiguos to Chile Chico (shuttles with onward connections); El Calafate to Puerto Natales via Río Turbio on a mostly paved route; Río Gallegos to Punta Arenas via paved highway; and Ushuaia and Río Grande to Punta Arenas.
In addition, many border crossings are suitable for private motor vehicles and mountain bikes, and a few by foot.
Bus and Taxi Colectivo
International bus service is available from the neighboring republics Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, and from more distant destinations such as Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Colombia.
Both international and domestic bus services normally have comfortable reclining seats (with every passenger guaranteed a seat), toilets, air-conditioning, and on-board meals and refreshments, at least on the longest trips. If not, they make regular meal stops. Between Santiago and Mendoza, shared taxi colectivos are slightly more expensive but faster than buses.
Repaired after floods in 2001, a short line connects the northern city of Arica with the Peruvian city of Tacna, but there are many faster, cheaper buses and shared taxis on this route. The former passenger line from Arica to the Bolivian border at Charaña, connecting to La Paz, is unlikely to reopen soon.
The only other passenger line links the Chilean city of Calama with the Bolivian border at Ollagüe, where passengers have to change trains coming from or going to the Bolivian city of Uyuni. The freight line from the Argentine city of Salta to the Chilean border at Socompa, connecting to the Chilean rail graveyard of Baquedano, may carry truly determined passengers with plenty of time, patience, and grit.
Car, Motorcycle, and Bicycle
Overland travel from North America or elsewhere is problematical because Panama’s Darien Gap to Colombia is impassable for motor vehicles, difficult and dangerous even for walkers, and passes through areas controlled by smugglers, guerrillas, and/or brutal Colombian paramilitaries. Fortunately, with its minimal bureaucracy, Chile is probably the continent’s best option for shipping a vehicle; the author has twice retrieved vehicles from Chilean customs in less than two hours. Even with shipping expenses, anyone traveling at least three to four months will probably find it competitive with, or cheaper than, renting a vehicle for the same amount of time.
To locate a shipper, check the local Yellow Pages under Automobile Transporters, who are normally freight consolidators rather than the company that owns the ship (which will charge higher container rates). Since more people ship vehicles to Europe than to South America, finding the right shipper may take patience; one reliable U.S. consolidator is McClary, Swift & Co. (360 Swift Ave., South San Francisco, CA 94080, tel. 650/872-2121, www.mcclaryswift.com), which has affiliates at many U.S. ports.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition