From reading blogs about the Chile Border we were rather nervous about this journey. Our initial worries were about their strict policies which in all honesty make sense. Chile is very isolated from the rest of South America due to the Andes therefore, they are less prone to diseases from elsewhere. They want to keep Chile safe, hence the strict regulations.
On our coach, we received the guidance on what you cannot bring into Chile. The main rules are no fresh products, no dairy, no meat. Basically if it was in an unopened package this was okay. We debated beforehand whether we could take our opened packets of herbs and spices but we saw on the list that this was not allowed. A good idea is to donate your herbs and spices to the ‘free food’ at the hostel. Sharing is Caring after all.
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The second difficulty is actually getting across the border. In low season and winter months the road can often be closed due to snow. You can check whether the border is open on this website. However, if you are the first bus across in the morning, you may be the first coach to find out its closed! This is what happened to us. 3 hours in we had to turn back around. Luckily the CATA buses are like taking a business class flight with TV’s with many films and music to listen to.
If this does happen to you and you have to return to Mendoza, you are entitled to a full refund. Make sure you keep your initial receipt and ticket as proof and then they will refund you without issues, from the stand you initially bought the ticket from. At the time when the border was closed, the next day there was a strike going on, the next day England were playing, so three days later we set off for the second time.
The views are incredible along the route, so be sure to take a day time coach and stay awake to appreciate the views. We decided to sit on the other side of the coach to take in different views seen as we had seen the first 3 hours of the journey already. On the CATA buses the seats on the right hand side (when sat down) are singles so I sat behind the mister. The right hand side honestly did have the better views, if you don’t mind being separated from your buddy for a while.
The border was an experience! Firstly, you all exit the bus and quickly dispose of any left overs from your pack up. You line up for your passports to be checked by border control. At this point you will be sniffed by sniffer dogs who do a very thorough job! This unnerved me a little at the time but it was fine. Then you cross the road to another building. This is where your main luggage is being checked through the conveyer belt off the coach and put back on at the other end.
It was at this point, a couple had tried to ‘smuggle’ (can’t think of a better word haha!) approximately 10 gigantic blocks of cheese into Chile. Now even before getting on the coach we were aware the big no no was taking cheese across the border. We heard about locals trying to bring across produce and that it would usually hold up the whole process. That definitely was the case for us too. While they were debating about cheese, we were stood in 3 lines while guards and dogs walked up and down. You can imagine what I thought this scene reminded me of!
Next up, our hand luggage went through the scanner before we quickly jumped back on the bus. The irony is, the bus driver then gives you lunch of cheese and ham sandwich for lunch!
Go in the Distance in Chile,