Rejected From Chile – Our First Border Failure

That’s right. We were rejected at the border trying to get into Chile. It’s the second time we’ve ever been turned away from a country. The other time was our rejection into Canada, (remember here).

Going to Chile was critically important for us. Or rather, I should say that leaving Peru was critically important. Our vehicle permit was set to expire and we needed to exit the country or risk losing our van.

We really hadn’t anticipated any problems at the border. We’ve crossed our fair share and have the routine dialed. We followed our standard operating procedure and left nice and early. The 7 hour drive south along the southern Peruvian coast was beautiful.

We had planned to spend the night in the border town of Tacna on the Peru side, and then cross into Chile the next morning. I hate border towns. They are shifty, usually dirty, and have lots of crime, but often it is necessary to post up before crossing into a new country. After arriving in Tacna I spent an hour running around in the 90 degree heat looking for a room. Everything was sold out. I made the judgment call to go for the border with the intention to make it over to Arica on the other side before dark.

Below, resting in the plaza after failing to secure a room for the night in Tacna…

We drove on to the border and managed to check out of Peru with no hassles. It was hot, and we were all feeling tired from the drive, but we could see the end in sight. We crossed into Chile and drove up to the immigration/Aduana check points.

Things started going wrong. After waiting in a long line we finally made it up to imigration and my passport was missing. After a huge freak out I determined it must be back in Peru. We packed up and drove back across the border. It was there.

We returned to Chile and repeated the long line. After getting stamped into the country, the officials proceeded to search our entire van. We were not anticipating this level of search. In all the countries we’ve crossed into, (Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru), we had never been so abused by search. It’s not that we would generally care, other than the fact that we were smuggling Kiki, our dog, under the bed. And they found her.

We’ve smuggled Kiki across countless borders and it’s not the first time we’ve been caught. But in every other country, there was nothing that a $20 spot wouldn’t or couldn’t fix. Not this time. When I alluded to a bribe, the Chilean Aduana official looked at me and said in perfect english…

“This is NOT Peru. There is NO corruption in Chile”

Ok then, adios developing countries, hello first world. I’d like to say I missed you, but I haven’t.

Below, Soleil has a melt down in the afternoon heat while I hassle with the border agents…

The border agent was telling us to return to Peru. After the bribe was rejected I tried to reason with him. I even pleaded with him. It was late and it wasn’t safe to drive back to Tacna. Tacna was dangerous. There were no rooms available and I had a family to look out for. He wasn’t bending. Finally we packed up and headed back to Peru.

Peru of course welcomed us back with open arms. They gave us a new 90 day visa and permit. While we were driving back to Tacna, Stevie used the cell phone to try and find us a room. She scored, and got us a great place.

We even found safe parking for the van, which is often the biggest crux in any town. Because we are so tall, we usually don’t fit in 95% of the secure parking lots. We have to search and search until we find one with an open end like this…

Our original plan to spend a month in Chile was blown. We needed a bunch of paper work for Kiki that would take a while to obtain. We were road worn and tired. We decided to take a couple days and post up in… yes, Tacna.

To our pleasant surprise, Tacna turned out to be a cool town. We stayed at a great hostel, Copacabana. We found good restaurants and nice people.


Below, Soleil enjoying hostel life while watching Plaza Sesamo (Sesami Street in Spanish), covered in her own milk vomit…

Because of our lifestyle we never know where we’ll end up at night, so we often end up co-sleping with Sol. I originally didn’t think this would be any problem. That was before I became aware of her patented sleeping style which absorbs 40-60% of a Latin American matrimonial bed.

As she grows bigger, I’m pretty much screwed.

After a couple days in Tacna we decided to take advantage of the new 90 day permit and head back up to Arequipa. Our friend Marco is due to arrive there in a week and there is plenty of kayaking in the area. From there we’ll figure out our next step.




  1. I love a good border town story. AHH I remember the milk vurps. Good times. Soleil is looking beautiful and big.

  2. The adventure goes on and on.
    Co-sleeping? uh-huh. Wait til she’s all knees and elbows and moves around the bed like clock-hands . . .

  3. Hi, as I already told you on FB – this kind of search is absolutely normal for all Chilean and Argentinian borders. We could not even smuggle garlic- thy take lots of time to search the whole car. Forntunately we heard that from other travellers and got rid of all the vegetables. They even search the car on the “borders” between the provinces inside Chile or Argeninia and sometimes you can’t even take a watermelon from one town to another.
    I hope you are getting all the papers for Kiki and have better luck next time! You definitely can’t hide Kiki from them in these two countries – even Uruguay is like that. I hope everything works out for you because they are my favorite countries (especially Patagonia).
    Good luck!

    • What? I live in Chile, I’ve never been searched within the borders! And was never searched going into Argentina, and only once REALLY searched going into Chile. And wow, they really tore everything apart but somehow missed the 25 kilo bag of dog food! Coming in with a dog is easy, just got to know the protocol, which is go to the agricultural office with your rabies papers plus cert from a vet. I know, it really IS first world here, you can go to jail for trying to bribe the cops!

    • Yeah, I am looking forward to Chile, especially southern chile. We’ll get there.

  4. On the main border, between Mendoza and …. (can’t remember) they had dogs to sniff for vegetables. It was funny because we got a dog in training. Sweet labrador. Official asked if we wanted to cooperate in its training. Sure. So I was instructed to hide my vegetables (that I had handed over) in the car. I did. Dog went inside. Had a great time sniffing around. Jumped outside. “Okay, put the vegetables right on the table,” I was instructed. Dog went back in. Loved sniffing around and jumped outside. Couldn’t care less about potatoes and garlic. Dog went back to school or was fired, no doubt. But it made the experience fun for us.

  5. Paula Stepp says:

    liked reading about your border & border town adventure. Tree, you are traveling with some very awesome ladies!

  6. Darin McQuoid says:

    If you can just try a different border crossing. Chile’s border controls are totally inconsistent. We had everything from our full car being searched and bags x-rayed at one border, but at another crossing the full inspection was just a glance out the window at the car. Paperwork said 5 kayaks and we had 3, but they were not worried about it…at that crossing.

  7. Donna Clary says:

    You are braver and more patient than I. Thanks for sharing your adventures. Even with milk vomit, Sol is beautiful!

  8. “Ok then, adios developing countries, hello first world. I’d like to say I missed you, but I haven’t.”

    I hear you Tree but it is hopeful that Chile is emerging from their hard times and seemingly getting it together. Hopefully they will learn from our (first world) mistakes and improve.
    I’m looking foreword to your further assessment as you travel on though.

    Also: An Oscar-nominated Chilean film just released about the the ousting of Pinochet staring Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal. I’m curious about the buzz down there. Keep-on!

    • Hey Rick, I’m not baggin on Chile. I know it’s a rad country and I can’t wait to spend some time there. We’ll be back. Not sure when, but soon. -TREE

  9. BTW the name of the Chilean film is “No” – It is about the campaign to vote no against Pinochet staying in office.

  10. Hang in there brother. You always come up with something. This soap opera is better then any tv show. Love following you guys. Is there another border to try. Good luck with your next step. Noah says hello.

  11. Make sure you have proper car insurance for Chile/Argentina as you might get turn back at your next border crossing into Argentina as well. Unfortunately there is no option as in most other countries to buy the insurance on the border. Welcome back to the “modern” world.

  12. Ă‘ica. . , says:

    :). Sleepy Soleil

  13. Hey,
    Seems as if things are going well for you guys (for the most part, If tree would stay away from hospitals by exercising a bit of moderation).
    I’m the same way when I get obsessed with a project or task. It can be an admirable quality but gotta know your limitations. (Eastwood)
    At least your ailments and health issues starting with your one and only fan whom ended up attacking you, there is some humor looped in there.
    Glad you are back on the road where you seem your wildest and happiest. I really liked the schooling on tequila you guys offered on your blog. Great stuff!!
    Sol is growing so fast … what a little angel …
    One last thing I was checking out a map of South America and it looks as though Chile is giant or is that Argentina? The map I was looking at was not very detailed. Can you clear that up for me? …Carry-on

  14. Leo and Elo says:

    We tried to do a trip by car to Bolivia from NYC, where we just got married in
    Dec of 1978. We had a Dodge Station Wagon and made it as far as Houston, TX.
    There was a big war going on in El Salvador, the Samoza war, and the State Dept.
    said it was quite dangerous, and it was!

    Anyway, we made a beeline to Miami, got on a flight to La Paz, Bolivia. Some years later, about 1983 we settled in Baja Ca, where we lived for another Decade. We still love the Baja and go there often, but for now are in the Palm Springs area. If you get up this way let us know. We will drink something, and maybe jump in the hot tub.

    Anyway you can imagine how much we truly enjoy your blog. Keeps us and others longing for something better, and helps me get to Baja quite often.

    Leo and Eloise
    we enjoy your blog.

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