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Sunset shot of man on a motorcycle in Monument Valley, USA
 
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Border Crossing - Ollague, Bolivia to Chile

A picture of the immigration building at the Ollague border crossing

Crossing Date: 30 November 2023
Direction: Bolivia to Chile
Altitude: 3,700m
Vehicle: UK-registered motorcycle
People: 1
Total time: 2.5 hours
Rating: 3/5 (Slow)

Ollague is a fairly quiet border crossing between Bolivia and Chile. It is mainly used by trucks and tourists who are going to/from Uyuni and/or the high altitude Bolivian lakes. Border functions for each country are in separate locations, around 4km apart.

The Process

The Bolivian border facility is unmissable. You just pull up under the covered area and both immigration and customs are in the same building right there. The process is then:

  1. Bolivian Immigration (Imigración) - exiting Bolivia
  2. Bolivian Customs (Aduana) - cancelling the Bolivian temporary import permit (TIP) for the motorcycle

It's then a quick journey over the roughly 4km of no man's land to the Chilean side for the remaining steps:

  1. Chile PDI (Immigration Police) - getting stamped into Chile
  2. Chile Aduana (Customs) - obtaining a Chilean TIP for the motorcycle
  3. Chile Servicio Agrícola (Agricultural Customs) - making a declaration and vehicle search

Once this is done, there are no barriers or additional exit procedures. You simply return to the main road and enter the town of Ollague.

How it Went for Me

On the Bolivian side, the road from Uyuni was being upgraded when I visited. This meant switching from pristine new highway to 70km of temporary dirt road approaching the border. The temporary road is bumpy, dusty, and has sections of deep sand, constantly being hacked up by the passing trucks. Beyond the temporary track, the last 20km or so to the border follows the original road - previously sealed, but now in such poor condition, it may as well not be.

The Bolivian border facility was empty when I visited - I was the only traveller. The whole process of exiting Bolivia took all of 5 minutes. The road between the border posts continues to be in fairly poor condition until you hit the actual border, where the Chilean tarmac starts.

The Chilean border buildings are on the left, but not well sign-posted. You need to look closely to find the correct door. When I arrived mid-afternoon, the border post was closed for lunch. So I joined a small group of other travellers in waiting around for it to open. Staff finally returned around 4pm and started processing the small queue. From this point it was all reasonably quick, slowed down only by the number of people. Immigration (PDI) was done in the first building. I was given the standard customs declaration form to fill in and was then directed to a building next door (further down the road on the left) for Customs. Another queue here as two staff members processed each person, one by one. Around 15 minutes wait. I handed the declaration form to a Agricultural customs officer and was then asked to bring my bike into their covered inspection area. As with other crossings, a cursory look through my panniers was all that was needed before I was sent on my way.

Aside from having to wait around for the border officials to finish 'lunch' (at 4pm!), the process was fairly smooth. You can save a little time by filling out the Chilean customs form online before you arrive, in which case you can just show the Agricultural customs people the associated reference number. Note that there are no petrol stations between San Cristobal (Bolivia) and Calama (Chile), a distance of around 340km.

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