When leaving Peru, the only entrance into the country of Chile is via Tacna, Peru into Arica, Chile. Arica is a welcoming change from many of the rundown slums found in the sound of Peru as it is a beach town, full of resorts with oceanfront views, shopping and restaurants. Obviously Arica brings in the money not only from visiting tourists, but from residents of Chile, looking for the warmest beach town in the country (it is the closest to the equator). However, when traveling through Chile you are more than likely going to head south towards the capital of Santiago. It is possible to travel by plane, as Arica does have its only airport, but after traveling hours by jet to arrive in South America, you probably want to see some of the country side.
Terminal de Buses (basically translated to just “Bus Terminal”) is in central Arica, away from most of the shops and beach area you visited Arica for, but it is almost always a 1500 peso drive away from wherever you are currently located (roughly $3 American). There is a half dozen bus companies that run out of this terminal, almost all of which travel south. When searching for a suitable bus company, look for companies with well maintained stations (completely with electronic booking via computer). The more professional the booking location the better off your bus is going to be. When purchasing a ticket don’t be scarred to purchase one of the VIP seats. These do run more expensive, but the extra leg room and reclining arm chairs is well worth the extra price, especially over long rides. Tur and Pullman are two of the best providers of bus services when traveling south.
Typically, when purchasing bus tickets you want to stop in Antofagasta. This is the second largest city in Chile (behind Santiago) and is a 12 hour ride. It is possible to purchase direct route tickets to Santiago from Arica, but it is a 31 hour jaunt, enough to make even the most rugged travelor run away with their tail between their legs. This helps split up the ride nicely, as once in Antofagasta you have the option of either traveling directly to Santiago (now a 19 hour ride), or split the remainder further down but stopping in La Serena (12 hours from Antofagasta and 7 from Santiago).
Take note, as there are a few annoyances while traveling via bus throughout Chile. In some stations, you are charged a “Boarding Pass” tax, which is excluded from your bus fair. This is usually around 200 pesos (less than 50 cents American) and must be purchased before you board the bus. Typically the ticket agents who sell you the tickets do not inform you of this, leaving you left to find out this information when boarding the bus. Currently (as of November 2010), only the Arica station requires you to purchase this pass when traveling to Chile, which is most likely done in attempts to siphon more money out of visiting Peruvians. Additionally, while traveling via bus you are constantly stopped and asked to show your passport. Occasionally your passport is taken until a future stop. This may be a little unnerving for some, but don’t fret, as you are given the documentation back.