The Spectacular Border Crossing Between Argentina and Chile – Stuck on Top of the Andes Before 28 Hairpin Turns

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

Everywhere in the world, border crossing can be a long process.

“Well, that’s gonna take forever,” I mutter to myself, counting the number of buses ahead of us, waiting to enter the Complejo Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile.

The bus stops. It’s not going to be quick and easy.

It’s okay. I don’t mind being stuck on top of the Andes, between Argentina and Chile. The scenery is spectacular.

I get up from my seat. “Can we… go out?” I ask, hopefully.

“Oh yeah, sure,” the driver replies, opening the door. “Just don’t go too far. Enjoy!”

I’m the first one out and most passengers follow. For once, it’s not just a cigarette I crave, but the opportunity to stand here, 3,200 metres above sea level, in the Andes.

Plus, we’ve been sitting in the bus for 4.5 hours already, time to get some fresh air.

I take a few quick pictures—the Chilean flag, the border signs, the small shops and the mountains. Then, when it becomes clear that we’re really stuck there for a while, I grab a cup of coffee and go to the casa de cambio to exchange my last Argentinian pesos for Chilean pesos—I feel rich leaving the small stall with 37,000 Chilean pesos ($55), even though I’m pretty sure I was given the worst possible exchange rate (this is what happens when you don’t have a Chinese guy with you, challenging the exchange rate offered…)

I took the 8:00 bus in Mendoza. Yet another early start, but I didn’t have much choice. When I went to the terminal to buy my ticket, the only seat remaining in the 10 a.m. bus was by the toilet at the back of the bus—thanks but no thanks for a 7-hour trip. As for the 9 a.m. bus, it was full. But on the 8 a.m. one, I could secure a front seat. Fuck yeah!

“It’s alright, the earlier I leave, the quicker the crossing will be. It won’t be too backed up.”

The Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the mountain pass in the Andes between Argentina and Chile, is the main transport route between Mendoza and Santiago. There’s a lot of traffic and the roads are challenging. Case in point, the pass was closed overnight because of a rock slide. So now, the pass is open again but the overnight buses—who must have had a hell of a night…—have priority.

We left Mendoza in an early-morning fog. I took a few pictures and slept for a while. It’s one of these super comfortable South American buses with fully reclining seat and a touch screen offering plenty of pirated movies dubbed in Spanish. The driver is drinking mate, I hope he doesn’t spike it with booze.

I open my eyes once in a while to take a picture and next thing I know, it’s around noon, the sky is blue and we’re about to arrive at the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores.

That’s where we got stuck for a while.

I relax, even though I’m always a bit nervous when I’m crossing borders. I dream of a world without them because entering a country is never a right, even though the Declaration of Human Rights does mention the right to freedom of movement (I know, I know, “within the territory of a State”….).

Eventually, we’re all invited to step inside the giant warehouse doubling as the migración and customs. I’m the first one in line for some reason.

“What bus is she with?”

The driver puts his hand on my shoulder in a very paternal way. “She’s mine.”

Sounds sleazy but it was kind of cute, actually, almost protective.

The Policía de Investigaciones de Chile officer looks at my passport. “Canada? Way too cold. Have fun in Chile.”

One thing done.

Then we move on to customs, a serious affair. We’re all brought to another room where we have to stand in line, our daypack in front of us, on a table, while the luggage inside the bus goes through a X-ray machine. They’re looking for fruits and veggies, mostly. A few suitcases have to be searched and then we walk back to the bus.

Now is the time for the great finale. I take a deep breath.

This is the most exciting part of the bus trip, but also the scarier one. On the way up, it was a gentle slope, but to go down, it’s a long series of 28 hairpin turns.

Everything is terrifying—how close we are to the edge, the skid marks on the dirt, incoming traffic with massive trucks, the complete silence as we’re all counting the switchbacks.

Hell of a driving test.

I can’t believe there are night buses taking this road.

Half an hour later, the zigzags and the Andes are behind us. It’s gonna be a straight line to Santiago.

I feel excited, as if I had accomplished something, even though I was just sitting in the bus, not driving it. Must be that fresh air from the Andes.

Terminal de ómnibus de Mendoza, 7:30 a.m.

Terminal de ómnibus de Mendoza, 7:30 a.m.

Terminal de ómnibus de Mendoza, 7:30 a.m.

Terminal de ómnibus de Mendoza, 7:30 a.m.

Leaving Mendoza in the morning fog

Leaving Mendoza in the morning fog

Leaving Mendoza in the morning fog

Fog and clouds over the Andes on the way up

Fog and clouds over the Andes on the way up

Fog and clouds over the Andes on the way up

Fog and clouds over the Andes on the way up

Fog and clouds over the Andes on the way up

At noon, clear blue sky, almost at 3,200 metres above sea level

Just before the long tunnel on Ruta 60, Argentinian side

Long tunnel on Ruta 60, Argentinian side

Long tunnel on Ruta 60, Argentinian side

Long tunnel on Ruta 60, Argentinian side

The tunnel in the background

Arriving at the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores

Arriving at the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile

In the bus, taking a deep breath before the long series of switchbacks to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes to make the descent to Santiago

… and done

Arriving in Santiago

LIstening to Pink Floyd in the bus

Share.

About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

10 Comments

  1. Effectivement, ces virages sont impressionnants, les chauffeurs sont de vrais experts …
    Sinon je suis surprise de te voir en tshirt à la frontière : il ne fait pas si froid à 3200m d’altitude dans les Andes ? En tout cas, ton périple fait envie, tous ces kilomètres avalaés par la route ou par les airs, tous ces pays si exotiques pour moi qui ne suis jamais allée en Amétique du Sud … Le Chili la Bolivie et le Perou en particulier me font rêver …

    • Curieusement, il ne faisait pas très froid. Je dirais au pif entre 15C et 20C, doux donc avec le soleil. J’avais emporté une couverture légère pour le bus au cas où, mais je ne l’ai même pas sortie. Il fait très chaud en ce moment au Chili, plus que d’habitude, donc c’est peut-être ça. Par contre, il ne doit pas faire chaud la nuit…

  2. Woahh, those mountains *heart eyes emoji* And this curvy road… gasp.
    The road looks weird, it must be very slippery when it rains ! (does it ever rain up there ? It looks kind of dry)

    • That’s a good question, now I have no idea about the rain! I know it does snow a lot in the winter and the pass is often closed at that time of the year.

  3. Martin Penwald on

    Really nice scenery.
    This road with big turns doesn’t look very difficult to drive, it’s pretty wide, two trucks can pass each other even in a turn. The only thing is to prevent your vehicule to gain speed, but modern trucks and buses are equipped with adequate engine retarders to handle this, especially because the slope doesn’t seem very big (I’ll guess no more than 8%, with an average under 4%, maybe?).
    I read a few years ago in a Volvo magazine the story of a truck driver doing the road regularly with his 40 tonnes tractor-trailer.

    • I trust the expert on the assessment, but yeah, it looks kind of scary from a passenger’s perspective. I’m not sure what the slope is, it is pretty steep. Would you drive it by night, thought?

      • Yes, I don’t see why not.
        It really doesn’t look as bad as the 10km of « la côte de Mayres » between « le col de la Chavade », 1266m, and Mayres, 575m, where a truck cannot pass another car in the turns.
        From what I’ve found, between the border and going back to ruta 60, there is 9 km with a 11% steep grade, which is pretty hard but doable without too much trouble (on dry ground. With ice, it’s probably too dangerous to get there).

        • I think the road is closed a lot in winter, according to what the bus driver told me. I looked up the Côte de Mayres, holy shit…

          What the hardest/most challenging road you drove?

          • Martin Penwald on

            This one, the « côte de Mayres », on N102, between Le Puy-en-Velay and Aubenas. When I started driving, it was the shortest and often the fastest way between Clermont-Ferrand and Marseille area. Now, the fastest way is to go through the Viaduc de Millau by A71.

Reply To Zhu Cancel Reply