The two border towns Villazón in Bolivia and La Quiaca in Argentina are a pair spreading across the two countries. Most visitors just hurry across the border and on to their next destination, but it's worth stopping for at least a few hours or even a night, for an experience of the real culture of the region and a change from the touristy towns in the Quebrada de Humahuaca and near the Salar de Uyuni.
Villazón and La Quiaca are located at an altitude of more than 3,400 m. If coming directly from a low-altitude location such as Buenos Aires, there is a genuine risk of altitude sickness. If you have time, you may want to stop for a night or two at an intermediate altitude in a place like Humahuaca on the way.
The 1 train station in Villazón is about a 30-minute walk from the border uphill (only slight gradient but in heat and rare atmosphere, it can be a struggle) or by taxi from the border. You can take a train to Tupiza, Uyuni and further on. Trains leave 4 times per week and pass beautiful mountain scenery on the way. The train to Oruro takes 16 hours and in Ejectivo class (best) costs Bs. 233 (bolivars) per person. There is a 1-hour time difference between La Quiaca and Villazón (Villazón is an hour behind).
In Feb 2018, the route between Uyuni and Villazon was closed due to flooding. It was expected to reopen in October 2018.
The more comfortable and faster Expreso del Sur leave Wednesday and Saturday, the more basic Wara Wara del Sur, Monday and Thursday. Prices vary according to departure day and class.
Train tickets for Salon class have to be bought the day before the train leaves (but they are kind of flexible about this rule) and for Ejecutivo they may be bought the same day. Trains leave at 15:30.
- Tupiza – Between 04:30-21:00, hourly (or when full) vans/servis run between Tupiza and Villazón, Bs. 20. There is also a 20 people minibus leaving Tupiza at 10:00 for Bs. 15.
- La Paz – 24 hr, Bs. 80-100.
- There are bus connections to Tarija and Potosí.
There are two terminals in use:
- 2 Villazón (Old) Bus Terminal (10 min on foot from the border).
- 3 Villazón New Bus Terminal (40 min on foot from the border, and 10 min by taxi). This one is the main one served by connections from Tupiza.
- 4 La Quiaca Bus Terminal (about 15 min walking from the border if you are fit and acclimatised to the altitude; if you have issues with heat, altitude or baggage get a taxi which should only cost AR$5 -- the taxis are old and look pretty poor by western standards but seem to get there without hassle). There are connections to Jujuy, Salta and as far as Buenos Aires. Luggage storage is available.
Bus companies with good reputation include Flecha and Balut. The Balut office accepts credit cards. Avoid Panamericano as they charge a hidden gringo tax, sell overpriced service to Salta that changes bus lines in Jujuy, and the bathrooms on their buses do not work.
La Quiaca can be reached from Buenos Aires by Highway 9 or Highway 34. Both highways have some four-lane sections, but most of them are busy two-lane highways. The distance is 1,830 km. From Potosí in Bolivia you can get in along Highway 14 (paved). The town is also the northern end of Ruta 40, stretching the length of the country to Punta Loyola in the far south.
Taxis are available.
Taxis are available, and they line up just north of the bus station.
Villazón is separated from La Quiaca by an 5 international bridge with Bolivian immigration on one side and the Argentinian on the other. The border procedures are fairly easy for most western tourists. Don't forget to go to both countries' passport control when you cross the border—it's easy to miss one by mistake, and if you fail to get stamped in you could be in for an unpleasant situation when you try to leave the country.
Crossing from Bolivia into Argentina is straight forward and does not take long.
Crossing from Argentina to Bolivia can take painfully long – you may get through in just a few minutes, but it could take as much as several hours. There is no shelter where you queue, and remember that at high altitude the weather conditions are harsh and can change rapidly, so it is advisable to get in as early as you can in the morning! (Sometimes foreigners get shuffled through but don't count on it.)
As of January 2018, US citizens can obtain Bolivian visas on arrival at this border crossing. Make sure you have all the required documents (color photocopy of your passport, itinerary, lodging, proof of funds, passport photo, visa application form, copy of yellow fever vaccine) and US$160 in undamaged bills. Dual citizens who entered Argentina on a US passport are required to pay for a visa – the border officials don't let you switch passports at the border.
There's not much to see in this pair of small border towns. They seem to be thriving on international trade, though, and growing with construction around the center of town. At the border crossing there is an army of Bolivian people taking heavy loads of goods across the border. It is possibly easier to have the army of couriers take the goods by foot than to get the goods through customs by truck.
- Museo Etnográfico Mosojñan, Av. Sarmiento 60, La Quiaca. 10:00–13:00, 16:00–20:00. Museum of the indigenous history and culture of the region.
There are plenty of money exchange offices only on the Bolivian side in Villazón. There is one bank (Macro) on the Argentinian side, which however does only exchange money for its own customers.
On the Villazón side, right near the border, there are lots of shops selling clothes, souvenirs, and all kinds of stuff.
There are hearty and cheap menus available upstairs at the municipal market, from about Bs. 8. Around the bus terminal in Villazón, there is an abundance of reasonably priced eateries. For better food you have to head to La Quiaca, where there are a bunch of restaurants on Belgrano, near the bus terminal. Also in La Quiaca, there are lots of stands selling juice and some street food on Lamadrid. Watch out for restaurants refusing to give prices, they charge a lot more if you don't agree a price beforehand.
- La Coyote near the bus station down towards the center is very basic looking but the prices are good.
- 1 Mercado Municipal, Pellegrini (esq. Rivadavia) (La Quiaca). Large and attractive indoor market selling produce, with a bunch of tiny mom-and-pop restaurants. Good place for inexpensive, authentic local cuisine.
- Hotel de Turismo is reasonable. The standard is as good as it gets in town, close to shops as the town of La Quiaca is not too big.
- 1 Hostel Copacabana, Pellegrini 141, ☏ . Check-out: 10:00. Somewhere between a luxury hostel and a budget hotel, with a kitchen, Wi-Fi, free breakfast, and 24-hour hot water.
There is an abundance of cheap hostels between the bus terminal and the railway station, so accommodation will not be a problem.
- Hostal Plaza is a decent, reasonably clean hotel with hot water. It's on the main square, and costs about Bs. 150 per night for a twin. Bs. 135 for a double.
There is no access to Wi-Fi in Villazón. There are several Internet cafes that charge about Bs. 3 an hour; you just can't use your own computer.
There are two ATMs that take foreign cards in Villazón, both on Calle Independencia - one on the Northwest Corner of the square - Banco Union (it charges 5% on withdrawals) and one that is quite hidden, about 5 m further up.
If you need to print some last-minute documents for a Bolivian visa, never fear—photocopy places can be found in La Quiaca, including one that does color photocopies and prints from USB drives, across from the bank at the intersection of Lamadrid and Pellegrini. There are also a couple of photo and photocopy places in Villazón on Avenida República Argentina, a couple blocks north of the border.
- Argentinian consulate in Villazón, Calle Tarija c/20 de Mayo, Piso 1, ☏ .
- Bolivian consulate in La Quiaca, Calle 9 de Julio No 100, (esq. Rep. Arabe de Siria), ☏ . M–F 07:00–18:30.
If you're passing through these towns, you probably already have a good idea of where you're going next. But here are some nearby destinations: