Border Crossing: Argentina to Bolivia and on to Tupiza

June, 2011

Another border crossing, but this time from Argentina to Bolivia, then on to Tupiza – let’s hope we get through…

For anyone that’s ever crossed overland borders in any continent, you know the feeling of apprehension that overcomes you, whilst wondering whether the crossing will be simple…

You never know what you’re gonna get – Forest Gump

After spending too many days in Salta waiting to cross the overland border into Chile’s Atacama Desert, and today’s 13-hour fruitless bus journey turned back before Chile’s border, it’s time to finally leave Salta.

Salta, Tupiza, border, Argentina, BoliviaGiving up the idea of seeing the incredible Atacama Desert, decided on making our way to Bolivia instead, to see the surreal Salar de Uyuni (salt flats).

Leaving Salta

Taking the midnight bus from Salta’s busy bus station, about 8 blocks from the main plaza, we settled in for another restless overnight journey.

This trip takes around 7 to 8 hours – I hope.

The bus is indeed uncomfortable and doubt I even closed my eyes, even momentarily. I can’t tell you much about the landscape as night time isn’t great for travelling, but it’s always lovely to see a sunrise.

Glad to finally arrive at La Quiaca, this is the end of the Argentinian adventure, but the start of the new Bolivian jaunt.

Check out the three fabulous months spent between Argentina and Chile in this map – only scratched the surface of what these two wonderful countries offer travellers.

Argentina, Chile, South America
3 months in Argentina and Chile (Map credit: Google)

Interesting how local faces and traditional clothing are changing markedly, the further north we travel.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Sidewalk lunch

Border crossing

Argentina’s small border city, La Quiaca sits along the river that shares the same name, in the Jujuy Province and opposite Villazón, which is Bolivia’s border town.

Leaving Argentina

From the bus station in La Quiaca, we walk for about 15 minutes to the ‘passo de frontera’ (border crossing). Either follow the flow of traders and people walking to immigration, or ask along the way as it’s not well-signposted. This is a trading and transit hub, which sees goods and travellers heading north.

Notorious for long queues, La Quiaca this morning is not too busy or intense – perhaps it’s the early time of morning.

Just like Checkpoint Charlie, miserable officers stamp us out of Argentina.

Entering Bolivia

We’re free to go next door to the Bolivian office but it is closed as we are still quite early. This is not a 24/7 immigration service.

We wait…

Finally, doors open, we smile at immigration, and people pile in. A smile goes a long way – mostly.

As Australians, we receive a 90-day stamp on arrival and it’s free.

Passport stamped and smiling gratefully, we walk across the Rio de La Quiaca’s old stone international bridge and to Bolivia’s Villazón to another bus, for the onward journey to Tupiza.

Villazón, Bolivia, South America
Villazón shopping

Unlike what I’ve read that this crossing can take 6 to 8 hours, today the border crossing is effortless and not stressful – how lucky are we?


  • Ensure you complete a green immigration form and keep this in your passport, as immigration will request this form when you exit Bolivia.
  • Check the day before you travel whether this border crossing is open, as it is notorious for closures.

Onward bus to Tupiza

Now for the 10 to 15-minute walk straight up a steepish hill with all our backpacks, to yet another bus station.

Who on earth would think of building a bus station at the top of a hill – makes sense?

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Bus station rest

Purchase your ticket inside the bus terminal and disregard the touts outside – you will get burnt with ticket prices or fakes.

Already, the difference in the cost of the ticket is noticeably cheaper in Bolivia. I hope this is a reflection of what is to come whilst travelling in this country.

The public bus to Tupiza is rammed with locals, chickens, and has seen better days. This leg takes up to 2 hours, depending on the number of stops along the way. Speaking of which, arriving at a bridge’s road block, we didn’t turn back, nor could we continue forward.

No problem…

The old bus went off-road travelling around a bridge, then along a rocky very dried up river bed for about half an hour – shaking our bones even more – before joining the road again.

Welcome to Bolivia – who needs roads!

By this stage and having been awake for 30 hours non-stop, just needed to stay awake until the evening, to then crash in bed.


Refreshed from finally laying horizontal, decided Tupiza now deserves exploring.

As really the first taste of Bolivia, Tupiza exudes a lovely quiet and more rural feel than Salta. And because of its location close to the Chillcobija mines, which are rich in lead, copper, zinc, and silver, Tupiza is an important mining centre. Although looking around, I don’t see any wealthy locals.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Sleepy canyon

Founded between 1535 and 1536, stroll around this sleepy town and to its outskirts, to soak up the local atmosphere whilst observing Bolivian life.

For those of you that have read my other posts, you know that wherever I land, my favourite pass time is to drift around streets and capture local faces.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Trepidation – Tupiza’s outskirts


The gorgeous surrounds provide dramatic backdrops with cactus-filled valleys, craggy ravines, and beautiful red rock canyons named Cordillera de Chicas – all within easy reach of this small town.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Stunning vistas

Indulge in striking 10-kilometre walks or treks if the season is right, or a spot of horse riding. The terrain makes you feel as if you’re in a scene of an old Western movie.

Chaco War monument

The Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay lasted from 1932 to 1935, although prior to this in 1928, hostility broke out for a wilderness region of over 259,000 square kilometres.

Today, only the monument stands proud as a reminder of the fallen.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Standing proud on Avenue Saturnino Murillo (near army base)

And then there’s also an army base here…

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America

Horseback half-day tour

Fancy following some of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’s trail whilst in Tupiza? After all, did you know that these two infamous outlaws lived their last days in Tupiza?

You can book a much longer tour that follows Cassidy and the Kid’s final footsteps, and to where their bodies are still buried in San Vicente cemetery. But for today, Tupiza Tours offered a good half-day deal.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Gathering storm

A little hesitant about riding a horse for half a day after ruining my back horse riding in 1985 in Egypt, decided that I’m not going to miss out, regardless…

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Trusty very young guide

If you haven’t heard of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, check out this official film trailer in Free Trailer Archive of these two bandits from the late 1800s. Their story is brought to life, although not historically accurate in every aspect.

Back then, Tupiza was a party town. Miners came from surrounding tin and silver mines to spend their hard-earned cash – a feast for these two outlaws that enjoyed fast money and fast women.

Travelling at a comfortable pace on horseback surrounded by soaring canyons and sprawling valleys, you can’t but help feel as though you are passing through the past, as time is moving forward.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Following the trail

Everything stands still here with nature the only importance.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
‘Ole Corral’

Absorb yourself whilst picturing scenes of bank robbers on horseback, traversing these stunning vistas, or being chased after a robbery.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America

With this terrain, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Cassidy and Sundance, eluded officials for some time.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Butch or Sundance?

If you find yourself in Tupiza, then this little fun tour is well-worth the time, especially to soak up the striking vistas that swallow and enclose you, in towering outcrops.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America

Tupiza’s streets

Love wandering the streets and learning about Tupiza, and street art is a great indication of a town’s political climate.

Street art, Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Poignant street art

Andean women of indigenous decent traditionally wear their hair in two long plaits under a wonderfully stylish 19th century European bowler hat. A colourful silky shawl (Manta), pleated-skirt (Pollera), and very thick tights are also worn.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Snack time

Tupiza’s dogs are also quite relaxed.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
At home

Introduction to Bolivia’s Bowler Hat

As this is my first post on Bolivia, I’m introducing you to the Bowler Hat, which is worn throughout Bolivia.

First introduced in the early 20th century to South America by British railway workers, indigenous Aymara and Quechua women, known as ‘Cholitas’ wear this piece of clothing attire with pride. Although this hat has since become an unsaid national dress and even men wear Bowlers.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Andean attire

It seems that everyone wears this hat with their own specific flair and style. Some are precariously and impossibly tilted high on the head, whilst others are scrunched right down. Colours and shapes vary as does the Bowler’s height, which can be tall or short – just love it and want one!


The Hostal Pedro Arraya offers basic rooms with private bathroom and is close to the river, and a good location. Although I have read some updated reviews, which suggest this hostel has lost its charm.

Tours to Salar de Uyuni

At 2,950 metres, Tupiza is a great stop to acclimatise before the trip to the Salar de Uyuni, as the world’s largest salt flats is almost another 1,000 metres higher.

Tupiza, Bolivia, South America
Around Tupiza

Organising the 4-day tour is the prime reason for staying in Tupiza, so we shop around for prices and details. Many tour companies offer a similar experience and stop at the same destinations such as beautiful lakes, before arriving at the Salar.

Leaving Tupiza

On booking the Salar de Uyuni with Tupiza Tours we will share the 4WD with our travel friends from Salta. Now we wait in anticipation for the weather to clear, so we can leave Tupiza and start this amazing, exciting chapter…

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Argentina and Bolivia at Image Earth Travel.

34 responses to “Border Crossing: Argentina to Bolivia and on to Tupiza”

  1. Laleh Chini Avatar

    Fantastic photos.<3

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Laleh. 🙂

      1. Laleh Chini Avatar

        My pleasure ❤️

  2. fakeflamenco Avatar

    beautiful photos of the local women in their tradtional hats

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you…loads of beautiful faces in Bolivia – a photographer’s dream. 😉

  3. gillmorris Avatar

    Another great journey. I really love your photos of the people Nilla. And I LOVE those hats! 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Gill…I also love those hats but mostly love taking candid portraits.
      You’ll see many more throughout my Bolivia posts as they’re everywhere. 🙂

      1. gillmorris Avatar

        Your love of candid shots really shows, they are awesome photos 🙂 x

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Thank you Gill for your lovely feedback. 🙂 x

  4. emmanathantravels Avatar

    Absolutely loving your stories and your photos are
    So encapsulating!! South America is my favourite continent, still have so much of it to see as only scratched the surface but you’re giving so many ideas!! 😊

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the great feedback!
      South America is incredible and I have still so much to write as well as to see. How long were you there and was it recent?
      I haven’t finished writing about my 2008 trip to Venezuela yet…too little time.

      1. emmanathantravels Avatar

        Spent two months In South America last year in Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina so just scratched the surface. I have written about them in my blogs and they were my favourite places to write about. Still so much more to see! We didn’t go to Venezuela in the end as it was when all the riots were happening last year and the places we wanted to go we were told
        To avoid. Still…next time!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Sounds excellent! We spent 10+ months there in 2011 and still didn’t scratch the surface. Sailed to Venezuela in 2008 and it was also dangerous then – sadly, it hasn’t got any better.
        I’ll pop over and read more of your blogs. 🙂

  5. Ray Amitava Avatar

    You are great storyteller with details of southern hemisphere, really like it. 👍

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you – your feedback means a lot. 🙂

  6. Aixa Avatar

    This was written in such a fun way. It’s amazing how much we learn by traveling, about different people and their history, different landscapes…. I enjoyed the photos like always, especially this time the people portraits!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Aixa for your great feedback – makes me want to write more! 🙂

      1. Aixa Avatar

        I can’t wait until you do!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Awww…that’s very sweet of you. Stay tuned for the Salar de Uyuni post at the end of this week. 🙂

  7. Patty Avatar

    As always, loved your report, but this time the photograph of the dog is my favorite 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Patty!

      He was so cute and relaxed…just watched me walk past and take several pictures like he was on a photo shoot. 🙂 x

  8. gypsyonwheelz5 Avatar

    Beautiful and very informative.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your feedback. 🙂

  9. da-AL Avatar

    what a thoroughly thorough & wonderful post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you!
      This border crossing requires explaining and Tupiza isn’t such a tourist hotspot, so hope to show other travellers what it has to offer.

  10. the eternal traveller Avatar

    I’m enjoying going on this adventure with you.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Cool, I’m glad I can take you on an adventure. The next one to Salar de Uyuni is incredibly cool! 😉

  11. josypheen Avatar

    This looks fantastic! I especially love the photo with the epic storm clouds! What a beautiful view!!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you.
      Bolivia is a stunning country, I would love to return. I have many more posts to write yet…

  12. Ritu Avatar

    Loving all the images!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Ritu…many more to come. 😉

      1. Ritu Avatar


  13. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    Another excellent article and great pictures!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Valerie, hope I can bring a little of the Tupiza beauty and feel to you. 😉

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