Friday, 20 March 2015

Death Train Bolivia & Border Crossing – Puerto Quijarro (Bolivia) to Corumba (Brazil)

The Death-train in Bolivia is the train that goes from Santa Cruz to Puerto Quijarro a small town at the border of Brazil near the Pantanal region. Wondering how dangerous this would be I consulted Wikipedia and apparently it was called the Death-train due to its purpose of transporting yellow fever infected during the early years hence coined the Death-train where people on board were more or less on a journey to death door.
Death Train - Bolivia

I got on the 2nd most expensive train the Oriental Express, more due to timing (Different Days different train service) rather than choice. It was 100 Bolivianos about 20 SGD for an 18 hours ride throughout the night which had air conditioning in the train and good reclining seats. Food however was a challenge for they would stop at one station near to dinner time and local kids would board the train selling all kinds of cooked food to the passengers before hopping off just before the train moved again. Some of those food look like it was hunted in the nearby forest and cooked to taste like chicken.

Border Crossing – Puerto Quijarro (Bolivia) to Corumba (Brazil)
Puerto Quijarro
The train arrived in Puerto Quijarro in the morning on time at 6 am and there were taxi waiting to shuttle people where they wanted to go. I took a stroll along the dead town, maybe because it was too early in the morning but it was really small and uneventful. Eventually I hailed a cab and got to the border which is a short ride but not so short if you are walking. It cost me 5 Boliviano ….
Border Control - Bolivia
Everyone was queuing up waiting for the Bolivia border control to open. You could walk into Brazil and no one would stop you. Some money exchange shops were nearby and I dumped all my Bolivianos for Brazilian Reals. Exchange rate was fair and good. (The immediate vicinity of the Brazilian border control has no shop whatsoever).
The border control finally opened at 730am and the slow processing of clearing one at the time dragged on for 2 hours before it was my turn at the counter. The officer did not ask me anything other than my passport. As far as I could tell he was viciously keying in every form of permutation he can think of my name, passport number, nationality, identity card number but the computer return nothing to his efforts. I understood that he was trying to find my entry on the registry and he was failing at it. I was a ghost in Bolivia apparently.
I had all the right stamps and all the Visa plus the paper slip so the officer and I knew I would leave eventually but he just needed to get that data entry done. Take a seat and wait was what I understood after 10 minutes of trying and my passport was passed on to the next office. Stuck for another hours waiting.
While I was waiting I saw a sign (written on paper) on the counter which I translate as :
Exit Tax
Nationals of Bolivia - 15 Bol
Foreigners – 100 Bol  
Sitting down just waiting all things went through my mind for I had dumped most of my Bolivian money for Brazilian Real and had only 40 Bol left in my pocket ….  …. Dammit I should have change after getting the exit stamp. I clearly remembered there was no such fees when I checked on the internet so what was this all about ?? Was it an open bribe ?? No way to know till I got my passport and imagination ran wild during the 1 hour of waiting

Finally a lady came back with my passport and passed it back to the same officer. I was called to the front and he processed the exit with a stamp and passed me back the passport and waved me away. I did not need to pay anything apparently (Thou everyone was paying for some reason) and quickly left before they change their mind.
Border Control - Brazil
4 Hours now approximately and moving on to the Brazilian side of border control. 5 minute walk and back in the queue line. Another hour of queue and during that hour I got to see the Brazilian police in action where during one of their random checks of cars passing through they found one with drugs in it. All guns was in the hands pointed at the one man and one woman while they were slowly being removed from the car and put in handcuffed.

My turn up the counter and the Officer looked at my passport and immediately turn around and started conversing with his other colleague. Why am I not surprise. A question came in Portuguese and I was lost. His English was also non-existence and I had to fumble my way through with Spanish instead.
He asked me if I needed a Visa for Brazil and I said no while he double checked it with a file. The officer also asked how long I was traveling in Brazil and my standard one month answer came up and he nicely only gave me exactly 30 days. I need to start learning how to say 90 days ….

Important :
Lookout at the entry stamp and make sure the number on the right side is an Odd number which means entry into Brazil. If the Officer weather on purpose or accidentally give you an even number then you have just entered Brazil with an exit stamp which would make leaving the country very tricky.
Into Brazil, No Visa for Malaysian passport holders, no bribes and no customs just immigration which if wanted one could skip all together and enter illegally since no one checks … but crossing a rural border with a Malaysian passport took me 6 hours in total.

At Brazilian side of border control there is no stalls or shops whatsoever, just a bus stand, a taxi stand and a motor taxi stand. I was so tired I jumped on the motor taxi …. An actual motorbike with my backpack behind me and he took me to the hostel for as little as 15 Reals …. I miss Bolivia already … and dreaded how expensive Brazil is going to be compared to Bolivia.  

Welcome to Brazil …



  1. Hi, I'm looking to do the same journey in a few weeks. I also will be arriving into Quijarro at 6am. The bus I wanted to get from Corumba leaves at 8am, I am presuming this is irrealistic that I might be able to get through border and to the bus station for that time? I'm UK citizen.

    Thanks, Lucy

  2. Hi, I'm looking to do the same journey in a few weeks. I also will be arriving into Quijarro at 6am. The bus I wanted to get from Corumba leaves at 8am, I am presuming this is irrealistic that I might be able to get through border and to the bus station for that time? I'm UK citizen.

    Thanks, Lucy

    1. Hi Lucy,
      Yep its almost impossible since the border opens about 730 so really depends how fast you clear customs on both sides. There is always a chance the bus delays and you can catch it.

  3. Hi Lim, I plan on doing the same journey soon, but on google maps it looks like Puerto Quijarro and Corumba are 50kms apart? How far is the border crossing to Corumba?

    1. Hi Mark , i dun really know the distance but it was not that far in my view.... i took a cab from the train station to the border which was a few minutes and walked over the border to Brazil. Once pass there is a small bus stand and some taxi drivers waiting. i took a motor taxi to town ... about 10minute ride

  4. is this possible for a US citizen?? That does not have a visa?? Probably not... But I already bought my train tickets to Quijarro... So we'll see... Might be screwed haha

    1. I really don't know ... also this was way back in 2014 ... all the best and safe travels