Let me start out with one thing: flying to Peru or Chile is not as easy as it used to be. But it’s getting better.
Peru and Chile have just opened up for tourism, have low cases of COVID-19, and are responsible with their sanitary measures. They’re both ideal candidates for safe travel during these times, and both rely on tourism for economic survival.
(Other countries currently open for tourism include Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and much of Latin America). Read about safe countries you can visit right now with no/limited quarantine.
We’ve Come a Long Way
Our journey began in the lonely island of Cyprus, located in the Mediterranean Sea, not far from Lebanon. As lovely as Cyprus is, after 2 weeks there, we had a sudden urge to head to Peru and Chile – two of my favorite countries in the world.
The first step: searching for flights. In this COVID-stricken, flight-deprived world, any itinerary less than 45 hours of duration had a price tag of over 800 Euro. Ouch.
The next step was to comb through the fine print of all the travel restrictions, making sure we weren’t paying hundreds for flight tickets we couldn’t use. We e-mailed and called embassies, consular workers, airlines, all to ensure the trip could and would happen.
As a European, my girlfriend was not allowed to even transit through the United States, so we had to find an itinerary that avoided the states. This is a perfect example of awful, illogical travel restrictions.
Buyer Beware: Repatriation Flights to Peru
I work for an airline. I know how tough times are. However, some things are inexcusable. Air Europa sold us a ticket that we weren’t allowed to use. And trust me, we did the research ahead of time.
We initially purchased a ridiculously cheap (200 euro) direct flight ticket from Madrid, Spain to Lima, Peru. The day after buying it, Air Europa called us to tell us it was reserved only for Peruvians.
The reason why? It was a repatriation flight. And their website did NOT have that information available.
You could (and still can, for the rest of December) find the fare on any flight ticketing website (such as CheapOair or Kayak) with nothing warning you, even as you’re entering your passport information, that you won’t be allowed on the flight. They will take your money though.
Facebook is Peru’s Official Medium of Travel Info
You might be thinking: maybe Peru isn’t open? That’s simply not true; I’m writing this from Miraflores, Lima right now.
The secret ingredient that was missing was the hidden fact that Peru was only allowing flights under 8 hours into their country. Interestingly, taking a direct 10-hour flight was considered less safe than taking a 2-hour, 3-hour, 13 hours, then 3-hour flight into the country. More illogical travel restrictions.
After reaching out to friends from Peru, I found where this hidden rule could be found: on the Lima Chavez International Airport’s Facebook page. Somehow, I hadn’t thought of looking there before buying my ticket.
As you can see, Peru will now be allowing direct flights from Europe. I just wish they had made that decision a couple weeks earlier….
My recommendation, if you are uncertain before buying your ticket, is to call/contact the airline. Though sometimes, even they don’t know.
We were also told false information by the Peruvian consular in Austria. They told us Peru was closed to foreigners. This was also false.
So I guess, Facebook it is.
Let’s Try This One More Time
Even with this letdown, we were adamant that we’d get to South America somehow.
After spending a couple hours researching flight options, we stumbled on some excellent Black Friday deals with LATAM. In the end, we had return/roundtrip tickets for only 100 Euro more than the original one-way flight. Call it magic.
The only issue was that our itinerary now took 50 hours to get to LIM, with 10-hour layovers in AMS and SCL. Maybe it’s not all magic. Ah well, for that price, we can manage.
Then came the investigation of all these travel restrictions. For both Chile and Peru, we’d need a COVID test. Luckily, we easily arranged to get one in Cyprus.
When researching where to get tested, consider how long it takes to receive the results. You only have 72 hours of validity from your test being taken until departure.
As EU citizens, we were allowed to quarantine for our 10-hour stay in the Netherlands at the CitizenM airport hotel at AMS. This is a HUGE deal on a 50-hour journey starting at 2AM.
And since we were arriving from Cyprus, a country without community transmission of COVID, we would be allowed into Chile without needing to quarantine. Phew, what a relief.
Unfortunately, Chile’s health affidavit told us that we would have to quarantine upon arrival, against everything we had researched. We were willing to try anyways.
Document Check Prior to Boarding to Chile or Peru
It’s very common these days to run into extensive document checks before you can board the plane. When they say you should arrive earlier than usual, they mean it. I’d recommend arriving 2-3 hours before departure.
One-by-one, airline employees verify that you have negative RT-PCR test results, all passenger locator/health affidavit forms complete, the proper passport/visa/residency to enter the country, and all the proper gear (face mask/shield to get into Peru).
As you can imagine, it takes a while to get through all the passengers.
I have seen passengers refused when boarding. It’s happened almost each time I’ve flown during this COVID-19 pandemic. Double check your documents and all travel restrictions!!
Immigration and Customs During COVID in Chile
Before you can enter the immigrations area, you must pass through a health and documents check. There are about 12 desks with workers that check that you have all required documents.
Remember my worries about having to quarantine 14 days? I came prepared; I printed out the WHO weekly epidemiological report showing that there was no community spread in Cyprus.
The health worker told us we would not need to quarantine, no questions asked. They do ask you to fill out a form everyday by e-mail, detailing if you have any symptoms and where you’re staying at night.
The three new things Chile requires prior to entry:
- Travel insurance with medical coverage of $50,000
- Must insure for COVID-19 and pandemics
- Negative RT-PCR test results within 72 hours of departure (antigen/rapid test not accepted)
- Health affidavit
Then, border patrol agents (called “PDI”, Policía De Investigaciones) check your documents one more time. Chile is VERY thorough.
Luckily, since December 7th, no quarantine is required after arrival. You must simply report your location and symptoms to an online reporting system for your first 14 days.
Update: As of December 31st, those who enter Chile, whether Chileans, resident foreigners or visiting foreigners, must undergo a mandatory 10-day quarantine. The quarantine can be lifted with a negative PCR result taken from the seventh day of quarantine onwards.
COVID-19 Means You Can Expect Curveballs
Ah, the success of making it through. Since we had our doubts, we didn’t have anything reserved.
Our next flight to Lima wasn’t for another 10 hours. Because of that, my first thought was to get a rental car and explore. This is what happened next:
- The rental car shuttle wasn’t running
- No rental cars were available at the airport
- None of the rental car agencies would even pick up the phone
My next step was to try to get rid of our large, heavy luggage. At least for a couple hours. Then:
- Luggage storage was closed for COVID-19
- It was too early to check in our baggage for the flight to Lima
- None of the hotels were willing to hold our luggage, even for a fee. Again, COVID-19.
After almost two hours of scrambling to find options, we gave up and took a taxi downtown. We dragged our suitcases through the streets and up and down way too many staircases, just trying to find a restaurant that would hold our bags.
After about 25 minutes of walking and negotiating with restaurants, we finally found one with an owner who understood our pain and let us keep our bags there a couple hours,
The restaurant is called “Como Agua Como Chocolate”, and it was absolutely lovely.
Though not effortlessly, my plan finally worked. We were now able to spend a couple hours exploring the beautiful Parque Forrestral, Lasterria, and Santa Lucia areas. Santiago de Chile had us in love.
A couple hours later, we took a taxi back to the airport for the final leg of our 50-hour journey.
TL;DR: Don’t expect things to be as easy as before.
Customs and Immigrations in Peru
In relation to Chile, the initially screening was done in much less detail. A worker simply verifies that you have the correct documents before you get to immigration, without checking the details.
The bulk of the work goes to the immigration officer, who actually types all your info into the computer system. This includes your planned stay, your RT-PCR COVID-19 test results, your planned exit date, everything.
For sanitary reasons, Peru has gone as far as discontinuing passport stamps. That’s the reason they have to enter all your info into their system.
Requirements in Peru:
- Face mask AND face shield. You cannot board without both. You CAN use protective glasses.
- Negative COVID RT-PCR or Antigen (Rapid) test results within 72 hours of departure to Peru
- Rapid tests usually have results within 15 minutes – this is a huge help to meet this requirement
- Health affidavit
It will make life a lot easier if you print your documents ahead of time. We did this on our 10-hour layover at the CitizenM hotel in AMS.
From January 4th, the Peruvian Government established that in addition to the current requirements, all passengers who enter the country, regardless of their nationality and origin, must comply with a mandatory 14-day quarantine at their declared address, lodgings (prior coordination) or health residences arranged by the authorities. More information.
Moving Around Within Peru
Though Lima is quite nice, there is more to see in Peru. A lot more. Machu Picchu? Rainbow Mountain? Amazon rainforest, active volcanos, desert dunes practically made for sandboarding, or great beaches – Peru has it all.
If you’re wondering how easy it is to move around Peru, have no worries. It’s almost as easy as ever.
Some airlines will have you complete a Passenger Locator/Health Form on your domestic flight. Some don’t even do that.
Taking a bus around is possible, but some roads may be closed – for example, the road to Ica (where Huacachina Ica, the epic desert dunes) is closed. The Islas Ballestas, epic islands nicknamed the alternate Galapagos, right off the coast of Paracas, are closed.
Luckily, Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain are open. Not just that, they’re nearly empty. This makes this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit these sites unencumbered by hoards of tourists surrounding you.
Moving Around Within Chile
This can prove to be slightly more difficult. The reason is that Chile is taking a tactile, agile approach to COVID-19. In the “paso-a-paso” program, each region is split into 5 steps, depending on how intensely the virus is spreading. Steps 1 through 5 range from quarantine to fully open.
You may only travel to travel to regions in step/ “paso” 3 (preparation) or above, and you must carry your sanitary passport (c19.cl). You can see a map of the ever-changing regions steps here. Yellow, light yellow, and blue are the regions you may travel to.
This makes it tough to book in advance. Luckily, flights within Chile are typically less than $30USD each way, and airlines offer flexible bookings. Plus, most hotels are currently on discount.
Travel Between Peru and Chile
We travelled from Santiago de Chile to Lima, Peru and had no issues. Since our COVID-19 test was still within 72 hours of our departure, we were able to use the same one to get into Peru as well.
Whether you’re entering Peru or Chile, the requirements are the same as if you were entering from another country. There is no agreement between the two countries for transit.
As for land borders, you may only enter Chile by land if you are a Chilean citizen or resident. Your only way into the country as a foreigner is via flying into SCL (Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport).
Land borders going into Peru are closed as well, but supposedly will be gradually re-opening.
If you’re spending any amount of time in either country, you may be wondering how to get a COVID-19 RT-PCR so you can enter the next country.
Luckily, COVID-19 RT-PCR tests are easy to get in Peru. Unilabs provides them for a reasonable price.
In Chile, it’s tougher to get, as you need a medical order, a report for EPIVIGILA (where Chile keeps track of COVID-19 cases), and the actual test. This is possible to get by contacting testing centers directly, but it takes a lot of work.
This is the exact reason we decided to go to Peru right away and then head to Chile.
Is It Worth It?
YES. YES. It is absolutely worth it.
Whether you’re going to explore the gorgeous mountains and fjords of Patagonia, the sacred valleys of Peru, the salt flats of the Atacama desert, Peru and Chile offer magical sights you can’t find anywhere else.
Though traveling might seem like a hassle, it really is only for your safety and the safety of the countries you’re visiting.