The road to Northern Chile starts in La Paz, Bolivia’s business capital and an extraordinary city. Intense, chaotic, dirty, with crazy traffic cramming the streets, La Paz is not a place to linger.
Highlights of La Paz
La Paz’s redeeming features are found in the amazing food market where a delicious plate of spicy, crispy fried pork costs £1. Or in the macabre Witches Market where ghoulish lucky charms ( look away if you don’t want to see a dried llama foetus) are sold.
Or on every street, in every square where the stunning Cholas Pacenas, the Aymara and mestiza women, walk with a swagger in their wide, flamboyant flouncy skirts and jaunty bowlers.
La Paz is a place to get things done, meet fellow travellers and soak up some authentic Bolivian life. You could only be in South America here, surrounded by indigenous Bolivians richly dressed in glorious colours, their faces so strong, so distinctive. Take it all in and savour the magic as you breathe in the fumes. When you reach Chile, the scene changes and you could be in North America.
The Bus to Chile
First though there is a 12 hour journey to enjoy, leaving by bus from the striking main station (Terminal de Buses) at 6am. Go the day before you travel and book your ticket, survey the deals and make sure you get a seat. The buses are fairly comfortable and a one way ticket is £12.
It’s a splendid journey through magnificent mountain and stark desert scenery . The roads feel tiny but the driver seems skilled, taking it slow and steady.
The border crossing is easy and your luggage is screened by machine. There’s snow on the mountains as you cross but by the time you reach Arica, it’s hot. Lycra clad Chileans are out shopping, eating ice cream and swigging fizzy drinks.
Arriving in Arica
The Hostal Jardin del Sol at Sotomayer 848 is bright, shiny and spotless. Double rooms are £35 a night with a basic breakfast. After 12 hours on a bus you will be glad to arrive in this spick and span haven where you can shower, change and walk down to the Pacific Ocean.
The beaches are long, sandy, hot and in peak holiday time, very busy.
After the dust of Bolivia though it’s a relief to have a splash in the surprisingly cold water and enjoy some sunshine.
Arica is a pleasant, friendly seaside resort with a great market. Chile has a wonderful coast and you’re never far from a fantastic fish dish.
Try the flavoursome fish stew and the fresh, delicious ceviche at La Perla de Pescado café in the market. Relax, you’re at the seaside now and mood is upbeat and lively.