crossing borders: argentina to bolivia

If you're making your way from Salta, Argentina to Tupiza, Bolivia, then this is the border crossing post for you! If you're setting off a little further north in Argentina - from Juyjuy, Tilcara or Humahuaca - then you'll be following the exact same route.

Here's our overview on the costs, the transport options and the typical journey times to cross the Argentina - Bolivia border at La Quiaca - Villazon.

#1 bus from salta to la quiaca

If you're setting off from the city of Salta, then you'll need an early start. The direct journey takes 7-8 hours, so the only sensible option to ensure you reach Bolivia in the same day is to take a bus leaving at 7 a.m. ($290 AR), particularly because the border crossing at La Quiaca is notorious for long queues. 

From San Salvador de JuyJuy, the journey takes 5-6 hours, costing $185 AR. If you are leaving from Tilcara's small bus station, you will find two companies running the route north to La Quiaca (Bulut and Panamerica), with departures every two hours (3.5 hours, $120 AR). The same bus will pass through Humahuaca (3 hours, $100 AR). 

Check bus departure times and availability here. Also, the 'freelance baggage handlers' that operate in Argentina will, forcefully, expect a tip if they put your bag on the bus, so it's an idea to have a couple of small coins handy.

The long-straight road brings you through some barren, but incredible, desert landscapes. Packs of wild llamas roam, men on horseback dot the horizon and the red rock backdrops are captivating.

cost: $290 AR | time: 7-8 hours

#2 walk from bus terminal

From the terminal in La Quiaca, it's a 10 minute walk to the border crossing. It's not really sign-posted, so ask locals for 'la frontera' and they'll point you in the right direction.

When you see a large YPF Garage / Petrol Station, take a left and the border will be in front of you.

cost: 0 | time: 10 minutes

#3 exit argentina...eventually

Followers of our two year trip in Latin America will know that we're old hands when it comes to land border crossings.  So, when we say that this one was an absolute cl*sterf**k, then you'll hopefully believe us. For no apparent reason except disorganisation, understaffing and a terrible layout - from both countries -  we had to wait three hours to complete the crossing. Subsequent online research and discussions with Bolivians and other travellers tells us that a long wait to cross is not at all uncommon. 

To exit Argentina, join the (inevitable) long line - which has no cover and no seating. You may get confused why lots of women and men with a wheelbarrow full of goods aren't joining the line and are allowed to cross back and forth, but that's just how this border works.

After lots of standing around, you will eventually reach the border agent's window, receive your stamp (there is no exit fee) and leave Argentina.

cost: 0 | time: if you're lucky 30 minutes, if you're unlucky then at least one hour

#4 enter bolivia....eventually

The Argentine and Bolivian border windows are next door to each other, so after you've taken your passport, you have to walk straight ahead and join another queue heading in the opposite direction (i.e. facing towards Argentina!). If you've spent an hour waiting to cross into Argentina, then this queue will take just as long as there are similar understaffing and poor organisation issues. 

One important point is to make sure you receive and fill out a green immigration form. For some strange reason, the guard handing them out refused to give us one, but we can confirm that you are supposed to receive one and it will be requested when you leave Bolivia.

Standard entry for foreigners in Bolivia is 30 days and, for most, there is no entry fee. Some countries are charged a entry/visa fee (i.e. the US and Israel), so if you are from there please do more research to ensure all your affairs and paperwork are in order before attempting the crossing.

cost: 0 | time: if you're lucky 30 minutes, if you're unlucky then at least one hour

#5 walk to bus terminal

You're now in Villazon. Its bus terminal is a 10-15 minute walk straight up the hill. Along the way, you'll pass lots of casas de cambio where you can change USD or Argentinian pesos for Bolivianos. The rate offered at all of these varies little, so it's worth asking at a few (there are really quite a lot along this street) before you settle at one. As ever, try not to change too much cash here but rather just enough to get you to Tupiza, which has a number of ATMs. 

Opposite the hectic bus terminal, there are a few restaurants offering decent, but not terribly cheap, plates. They're also your best option to visit the bathroom (around 2B if you aren't eating there).

cost: 0 | time: 15 minutes

#6 onward travel to tupiza

There are regular departures from the terminal and you'll have no shortage of touts shouting at you to try and get you on their service. The best option is to make your way inside the cramped and chaotic terminal building to buy directly from the bus line ticket offices. Bus travel in Bolivia is ridiculously cheap, especially when compared to the racket that operates in Argentina, and a ticket to Tupiza (1.5 - 2 hours) is only 15B (£1.50 / $2.1 USD) per person. 

Our strong recommendation would be to make it to Tupiza and spend a couple of nights there - the town is a lovely introduction to Bolivia, not very touristy and has some good D.I.Y day-trips. You'll find decent accommodation options only a few minutes walk from the bus terminal. From Tupiza, you can opt to do a slightly more expensive multi-day Salt Flats jeep tour or take one of the cheap daily buses to Uyuni (it's a long ride on an unpaved road), where you'll find cheaper options as well as day tours.

For those of you who want to travel further and give yourself the 'fun' experience of a long-distance Bolivian bus ride, you will find connections from Villazon to La Paz (24 hours, 80B+) and Potosi (6 hours, 30B).

cost: 15B  | time: 2 hours

overview of border crossing route

1 - Take the early bus from Salta to La Quiaca | $290 AR - £14 GBP - $20 USD | 7-8 hours

2 - Walk from La Quiaca bus terminal to border | Free | 15 minutes

3 - Exit Argentina | Free | At least 30 minutes

4 - Enter Bolivia | Free (for most nationalities) | At least 30 minutes

5 - Walk to Villazon bus terminal | Free | 15 minutes

6 - Bus to Tupiza | 15B - £3 - $2.1 | 2 hours

total travel time: 11.5 hours (however longer waits at border crossing are likely) | total cost: £17 - $22