Leaving Bolivia on a train to Chile

Last modified 16.03.2022 | Published 09.01.19881980's, Bolivia, South America, Travelogue

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We left Bolivia on a train to Chile on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It was no easy matter. For us it involved a long train ride across the world’s driest desert, with views of fascinating salt lakes, and with time consuming border crossing formalities.

This article is part of a travelogue from of a five month journey in 1987-1988 to several countries in South AmericaBrazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile.


Friday 08.01.1988, Saturday 09.01.1988, Train from La Paz to Calama

About the journey

We said goodbye to Bolivia and walked up to the station after having bought some food and drink.

There were only a couple of passenger carriages. Our group was placed in the one of inferior quality. We complained about that, because we believed we had bought first class tickets. We should have gotten the far better seats in the other carriage. The reply was that one of the carriages was not going to Chile. Consequently we got back and sat down on the seats facing Jane and Blake, the Australian couple we had met in La Paz.

Together we tried to make time pass with playing cards and talking. It was going to take long, 29 hours according to our guide book. When we arrived in Calama in Chile it was close to three in the morning on Sunday: 36 hours after La Paz.


Bolivia - Train to southwest

View from the train to Chile. The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world.


Stops and views

The train actually took one hour before departing from La Paz. In Uyuni, a tiny place in the middle of nowhere, we for some reason had to wait three hours in the early Saturday morning. The border crossing took us five hours – beat that!

Before this we were obliged to hand in our passports and pick them up an hour later in another carriage – after they had been given Bolivian exit stamps. On the very border we first had to change trains. The new train was even worse and arrived in the station only after we had been waiting on the platform for a long time.

Our seat reservations were not valid on this train and we had to fight to secure a single seat for the four of us. Further on down the railway tracks there was a Chilean customs post and beyond that the police immigration office.

There were long queues. Thorough control of the locals made the procedure extremely slow. Back on the train someone had taken our seat, but I just threw their stuff away and that’s it.

From the train window we were able to watch the desolate Altiplano, with a salt lake and many strange colours, in particular during sunset.


Read more

The next chapter: Impressions from Bolivia: 13 days in Bolivia was unexpectedly little. Even less expected was the fact that we did not get anywhere but La Paz. Like I have said before, this has a number of reasons. One was our wish to get to Chile, a second Bo’s doctor’s appointment. A third was stiff prices and a fourth reason was a feeling of not finding tempting places to go.

Read the introduction to this journey

View a full screen map of the journey