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Sunset shot of man on a motorcycle in Monument Valley, USA

Border Crossing - Desaguadero, Peru to Bolivia

People waiting to be processed at the immigration desk

Crossing Date: 21 November 2023
Direction: Peru to Bolivia
Altitude: 3,800m
Vehicle: UK-registered motorcycle
People: 1
Total time: 1.5 hours
Rating: 2/5 (Muddled)

Desaguadero is the main border crossing between Peru and Bolivia. It's used by both tourists and commercial vehicles, although formalities for the latter take place at a different location. Border functions for both countries (for tourists) are now housed in a new dedicated building on the outskirts of the town of Desaguadero.

The Process

The border formalities building is easy to find on the main road (Highway 36A) leading out of town to the southwest. It's marked on Google Maps as Centro Binacional de Atención en Frontera. The compound is secure, so to enter you stop at the entrance, where your passport is checked and vehicle license plate noted. You then proceed to the main building to complete the following steps:

  1. Peruvian Immigration (Imigración) - exiting Peru
  2. Bolivian Immigration (Imigración) - entering Bolivia
  3. Aduana (Customs) - cancelling the Peru temporary import permit (TIP) for the vehicle and obtaining a Bolivian TIP

Once complete, you're asked to take a photo of the cancelled Peruvian TIP with your phone, then proceed to exit the compound. An official checks the photo of the cancelled TIP and, assuming all is in order, allows you to leave. You then proceed back up the road to the traffic bridge which crosses the Desaguadero River (the actual border between the two countries). On the Bolivian side, a final check of your paperwork and vehicle is done by Customs officials from both countries before you officially enter Bolivia.

How it Went for Me

Locating the border formalities compound was super easy. However, once you're inside, there's no signage to direct you where to go. I parked up and after looking confused for a bit, a man in a highviz jacket directed me to one of the doors in the main building. Inside there were two windows - one for Peruvian immigration and one for Bolivian. At the Peru window, I was quickly stamped out. The line for the Bolivian window was longer, but it moved reasonably quickly. I was asked how long I would be in Bolivia, then quickly stamped in.

At this point it wasn't clear where to go next. Most of the people ahead of me seemed to have arrived on a bus and were being asked by Bolivian Customs to put their luggage through an airport-style scanner. I asked an official-looking man where the Customs office was, but he directed me to speak with another official who was outside inspecting the bus' luggage compartments. After waiting for her to finish her work, I asked again and she pointed towards the end of the building where there were some empty 'toll booth' style windows.

I rode my motorcycle and parked up in the first lane. Initially it looked like there was no-one around, but I eventually noticed that there were some officials inside the building (the window tinting made it hard to see in). After a couple of minutes, the window was opened. Inside, two desks next to each other - one for Peruvian Customs, one for Bolivia. The Peruvian official quickly cancelled my TIP and I was asked to photograph it with my phone; "show the photo to exit", I was told.

Next, I handed the bike's registration document to the Bolivian Customs official. Initially, she was quite confused at the sight of a UK V5, but with some pointers, she was able to understand where the key information was located. At this point, she proceeded to take a very long time putting information into her computer. At several points, she had to ask for help from the Peruvian official. Eventually, the TIP was printed, signed, and duly stamped to make it official. I was then told to head to the bridge to cross the border.

To exit the joint compound, I was required to show the photo of the cancelled Peruvian TIP on my phone. The official checked the document details against the bike's license plate then sent me on my way. A short ride back up the road is the turnoff for the bridge and also where you start to encounter the line of trucks which proceed any land border.

Riding past the queue, dodging the occasional oncoming truck heading the other way, and I was at the Bolivian checkpoint. Total chaos here with the officials struggling to deal with the number of trucks crossing into Peru. I pulled over and waited, but the officials seemed busy and flustered with the trucks. After a few minutes, one of the officials jumped over and asked to see the photo of my cancelled Peruvian TIP. A quick check of the bike's license plate and I was good to go.

Beyond the checkpoint was more chaos. Waiting trucks lined both shoulders of a fairly narrow two-lane road. This left enough space for one truck to pass in the center, and there was also a large queue inching forward to the checkpoint. It took another 45 minutes or so to weave my way through the trucks before hitting a clear road. If I'd been in a car, there would have been no chance of passing. Yay, motorcycles!

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