The first time I entered Bolivia, it was from Argentina through the Pocitos (Arg) – Yacuiba (Bol) border-cross and thus I got a very erroneous first impression of the country. Instead of seeing the mountainous, cold plateau where most Bolivians live, I found a lush tropical garden. Moreover, despite its popularity – and maybe due to it – this border-cross is cumbersome. Thorough checks by the Argentinean customs can cause significant and unpredictable delays. Luckily, there are two lines – one for Bolivians and another one for others. The second one advances much faster and custom officers walking around the place make sure tourists stand on the right one. A point to be remembered while crossing is that Argentina is an hour ahead of Bolivia.
Reaching Yacuiba from Santa Cruz is easy. Night buses leaving from the last arrive to Yacuiba in the early morning; the trip longs roughly twelve hours and costs around six dollars. The cities are connected also by trains that are slower, less safe and marginally more expensive than the buses. The railway station and the bus terminus are along Av. San Martin, by the edge of the town. While exiting or arriving to the cities – as everywhere else in Bolivia – the police checks the passengers’ documents; carrying passports at all times is essential.
From Pocitos (Arg) the best is to continue to (or arrive from) Salta – the main city on the Argentinean northwest. From Salta there are good buses to other main destinations in Argentina – including Buenos Aires.
If crossing from Pocitos into Bolivia, then the tiny Bolivian village next to the border is not Yacuiba but Pocitos Bolivia; even if crossing at night, staying there is a bad idea. Yacuiba is less than five kilometers away and a shared taxi to there costs fifty Argentinean cents or two Bolivian Bolivianos.
Yacuiba is surrounded by low hills, which are densely covered with lush forests; on one side of the town the hills are much higher. Many of the streets are not paved, and give the place a feeling of being an ephemeral place on the move, which accurately portray its border-cross nature.
The town is a travel hub in Bolivia, but nothing more. The best would be not to stop there in the way to or from Argentina. However, if arriving late and the border cross is closed, a few guesthouses cater for travelers in the immediate surroundings. All of them are very basic. Residencial Dieguito, at Calle Comercio 1018 between Sucre y Crevaux, is suitable for such a forced stop. By the central plaza there is a hotel (which was apparently closed at the time of my visit) and a close approach to a pub-restaurant called Bulldog.
Yacuiba Central Market looks similar to its Asian counterparts, though it is distinctly less clean. A "café con leche" (milk coffee) costs 2BOB, and is prepared with rather fat milk and weak coffee. The "pastels" served together with it are a thin fried pastry filled with a bit of white cheese and are worth a try. Fricase (a typical Bolivian dish in which a tasty slice of pork meat swims in a rich, oily and spicy broth) is served there from the early hours for less than one dollar. Even outside the market, Yacuiba streets feel like one endless market, with stalls selling endless knickknacks on every free spot. Semi-automatic orange peelers consisting of a knife attached to a screwdriver are used to prepare fresh juice and add a surrealistic angle to such a simple experience.