Crossing the Andes: Mendoza to Santiago

Because we were told that buses are cheaper in Chile than Argentina, we decided to head south through Chile. Our first step was to get out of Argentina, which we did via Mendoza. The bus tickets, one-way, cost 400 Argentine pesos apiece, or 45 USD. I thought that was fairly expensive. Other blogs or reviews online had said they got tickets for about 28 USD apiece, one-way. I don’t know if mine were more expensive because it was Saturday morning or summer. Either way, we still had to pay it.

The bus trip from Mendoza to Santiago is advertised as around 6 hours long, which is true, I suppose, when you don’t account for the border crossing. Many bus companies offer this trip, but we purchased through AndesMar. While you can travel overnight, we chose to go during the day, and I’m glad we did.

Upon presenting our ticket and get on the bus, we were giving two forms for migration, which we filled out on our own in the bus. Once the journey began, we were given hot tea and a biscuit, which was nice. This was the first time we had been given anything on our bus trips.

I think the best views were on the left side of the bus, headed East, but the views on the right (where we sat) weren’t shabby either! We took photos throughout the journey.

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The bus trip was fine and most uneventful. They did play two movies. After about three and a half hours of slowly travelling uphill, we reached the border crossing into Chile. Multiple buses had arrived before us, so we had to wait around and hour and a half in the bus.

Finally, when it was our turn, all passengers got off the bus. We brought all or IDs and migration papers, along with wallets and purses. Our luggage could stay on the bus for now. Our on-board luggage included some food that we brought to snack on.

Inside the terminal are several windows. We formed a long line, beginning with window 1. This was where we left Argentina, and showed the border worker our passport and one of our forms. When everything was stamped, we slid down the line to window 2, which entered Chile. They approved our paperwork, and we went back to the bus. There were free bathrooms and food stalls at the crossing that some people used. Below is Jordan waiting at the crossing.

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Once everyone was back in the bus, it pulled into the terminal and we all got off again, this time with our on-board luggage. We entered the customs room and stood in three lines, waiting for the customs workers to collect the last of our paperwork. Once they had a pile of our migration information, they began running all the luggage through a conveyor belt and machine. The bus drivers and customs workers pushed all of the luggage under the bus in the luggage compartment through, and if there was a problem (like bringing in food or something), one of the patrollers would pull it aside and ask the owner of the bag to come forward while they searched.

After all under-the-bus luggage was put back on the bus, we had to put our hand baggage through. It was fairly simple and went a lot faster than the other luggage. Once our bags were deemed fit to enter the country, we picked it back up and got back on the bus.

This time we left the crossing for real. All in all the whole process took about two and a half hours. Almost immediately after leaving border control we had to work our way down the mountain through around 27 or 28 switchbacks. Our bus driver was anxious to get going, so he was passing semis and tractor trailers on the curvy road, which made most people on the bus nervous. Still, we made it down all in one piece, and it was smooth sailing to Santiago.

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Upon reaching Santiago we immediately began looking for buses to get us south, to Puerto Montt, the Chilean gateway into Patagonia and the last good land mass before islands and fjords begin.

Our Mendoza-Santiago trip was overall great, even though the border crossing wasn’t as organized or quick as we had hoped. Still, it was safe and probably a good way to begin border crossing, because we will have to do it several more time before we leave Patagonia and Chile for good.

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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