San Pedro LL – Guatemala – To – Santa Ana – El Salvador

Santa Ana - Cathedral

OCTOBER 2017:


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BACKDROP:

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are known as the CA4 (Central American 4) countries.CA4 Countries Map

In June 2017, I left Palenque (Mexico) and cut across northern Guatemala to the Honduran Bay Islands.

I stayed nearly 3 months in Utila and Roatan before needing to get out of the CA-4 (again) to renew my visa. I bought a Shuttle / Boat Ticket from Roatan to Punta Gorda, Belize.

As I describe in my Roatan to San Pedro post, I ‘struck lucky’ at the Honduras-Guatemala border … Guatemala Immigration gave me a new 90 Day Visa (which they are not meant to do). This new visa got me into Guatemala and helped me avoid the boat trip to Belize … but, I didn’t know whether or not I would have trouble getting into El Salvador with it … I had to wait and see …


THE SHUTTLE OPTION:

You can buy a Shuttle ticket in San Pedro La Laguna to San Salvador City or the San Salvador Beaches (e.g. Playa El Zonte, Playa El Zunzal and Playa El Tunco) for GTQ200 (US$27).San Pedro - From the hills

My target was the surfing party town of Playa El Tunco.

The Shuttle leaves San Pedro LL at 4:30am and takes you to Antigua.Antigua - Frank&Fre - View of Vulcano

In Antigua, you catch another Shuttle to El Salvador at 8:00am. You should arrive in El Tunco at about 1pm.

I booked my ticket at a local Travel Agent to leave on Wednesday morning. After being let down previously trying to get from San Pedro LL to Tapachula (Mexico), I have learnt to double check that the Shuttle hasn’t been cancelled. I returned to the Travel Agent at 4pm Tuesday afternoon … sure enough, it had been cancelled (they did not have enough passengers) …

I decided to go anyway. I booked the 4:30am Shuttle from San Pedro LL to Antigua (GTQ60) and planned to get the rest of the way on my own …

This was my planned route:Lake Atitla to El Salvador Route Map


SAN PEDRO LL TO ANTIGUA:

I was advised to be at the Travel Agent 10 minutes early. Pick up was meant to be from outside of the Travel Agent (which was a short walk from my hotel).

I got there at 4:10am to find the Shuttle driver waiting. There was no Shuttle, just a man. We had to walk across town for 10 minutes to where he had parked his Shuttle.

There was one other person already in the Shuttle. We left immediately at 4:20am.San Pedro - Shuttle to Antigua

From San Pedro you drive (slowly) along badly pot-holed roads to San Pablo La Laguna (30 mins) and continue along more pot-holed roads to Santa Clara (20 mins). The blurred photo shows how bumby the ride was :-). After Santa Clara the pot-holes start to disappear.

By 5:30am we hit the main road to Antigua. We arrived at the central park, Antigua at 7:45am.Antigua - Central Square 1

The driver would only drop people off at the central park – he wouldn’t stop at the Bus Station (even though we drove past it on the way).


ANTIGUA TO ESCUINTLA:

It was a short walk along bumpy, cobbled streets to the Bus Terminal.

It is easy to get to the Bus Terminal … just walk down the roadway through the Antigua Market.Antigua - Bus Station

There are many Chicken Buses parked and waiting and they leave to their various destinations frequently. Just ask someone and they will direct you to the right bus.

I was at the Bus Station by 8am. I found my bus, my suitcase was thrown on the roof, and we set off to Escuintla at 8:20am (GTQ8).Antigua - Chicken Bus to Estuintla

The journey was uneventful. We arrived in Escuintla at 9:50am. Tell the driver that you are going to ‘La Frontera’ and he will take you to the right stop … which should be the final stop in the centre of town.


ESCUINTLA TO LA FRONTERA:

The Chicken Bus driver told me when to get off (which was the final stop) and pointed me at a white, DELTA, long distance bus parked in front of us.

As I got off my Chicken Bus, the courier from the DELTA bus helped me and stowed my suitcase.

These buses wait for each other … once all expected buses had arrived and passengers gathered, we set off at 10am.Escuintla - Bus to La Frontera

The price to La Frontera was GTQ60 (I think I was over-charged … my bus ticket had no price on it … I hear it should have been GTQ45).

We stopped at 11:20am in Chiquimulila for 30 minutes on the way. Here you can buy something to eat from the touts that get on the bus … or you can get off and look in the Bus Station cafes and shops. We were back on the road at 11:50am and at the El Salvador border by 1:15pm.

As I walked across the road towards Immigration I was approached by a Money Changer. I had already done my homework and knew what the current exchange rates were … I had Mexican Pesos, Belize Dollars, and Guatemala Quetzales on me. He would only take Quetzales and offered me GTQ8 to US$1. I knew that the exchange rate was GTQ7.33 so I asked for a better rate … he immediately offered me GTQ7.50 which I accepted.

NOTE: It is very hard to find a Bureau De Change in Central America and almost impossible to find a Bank that changes foreign currency. I advise you to change money with a tout at the border – but, know the exchange rate and negotiate a decent price.


LA FRONTERA TO SONSONATE, EL SALVADOR:

Guatemala Immigration is just one small window. The officer checked my Visa stamp and quickly gave me my ‘exit chit’ which was a small piece of paper about 3cms square. I kept the chit even though it only had one tick on it in the ‘Salida (Exit)’ box – no date and no other information.

As you enter the El Salvador side you will be approached by Cycle Tuk Tuk touts; these guys offer you a ride to the Bus Station – I did not find out the price. I had been sitting on a bus for many hours and wanted to walk.

I passed a Claro Store and stopped to buy a Mobile SIMcard and Internet Plan. I had already done my homework and knew that a Claro SIMcard should cost US$2.50 and a 20 day 3GB data plan US$12. She wanted US$25 just for the SIMcard … I declined and walked on.

The road into El Salvador is riddled with queuing trucks in both directions … you have to weave your way up the road in between them and dodge the Tuk Tuks and mototcycles.

I walked for about 15 minutes and crossed 2 small bridges. I eventually fell upon El Salvador Immigration; if I had blinked, I would have missed it. You will find it on the right just after a small roundabout.

The Immigration Officer politely asked to see my chit and asked what I was doing in El Salvador. He kept my chit and wished me well. My 90 Day Visa was good!

I walked for another 5 minutes towards the Bus Terminal.La Frontera - Downpour

It was now that the heavens decided to open up and it bucketed down with rain. I took refuge under a tin roof in front of a small store. I waited there for about 20-30 minutes.

When the rain eased I walked on … to discover that I had taken shelter only 20 meters from the Bus Terminal … a grubby little mud-gravel park with 2-3 buses parked in it.

Within 5 minutes a parked bus started its engine and re-positioned itself in front of the bus shelter. I asked if there was a bus that hugged the coast road to El Tunco / La Libertad … they said no. I believe that these busses only go to Sonsonate and leave every 30 minutes. I asked if I could change to another bus at Acajutla or San Julian (to connect to El Tunco) … again, the answer was no. Apparently, I had to go through Sonsonate.

I entered the bus through the back (exit) door so that I could stow my suitcase in the luggage area – and took a seat next to my luggage. The bus left at 2:30pm. The price to Sonsonate was US$0.90c. We arrived in Sonsonate at 4:10pm.

There are 2 Bus Terminals in Sonsonate … make sure that you get off at the second and final one (they are only a few 100 meters apart).

NOTE: Chicken Busses stop frequently. Expect to make about 30-35kms per hour on average. What looks like a short journey can take much longer than you think.


SONSONATE TO SANTA ANA:

At 30-35kms per hour I was in trouble … if I wanted to continue to El Tunco, I would need to go to San Salvador and change to another bus to get to the coast. This would put me in San Salvador in Rush Hour and at night. I may have to cross San Salvador to another Bus Terminal to head south. I probably wouldn’t have arrived in Playa El Tunco until after 9pm …

I decided to head for Santa Ana instead.

The Bus Station was very organised with different bays sign-posted for different destinations. I asked a worker for the ‘directo’ bus to Santa Ana … he pointed me at an awaiting blue bus. I entered through the back, stowed my suitcase in the luggage area, and found a seat next to my luggage.

The bus left at 4:25pm. We arrived in Santa Ana at 6:15pm.


SANTA ANA, EL SALVADOR:

I wasn’t expecting to be in Santa Ana … but I had done some pre-planning and I had already short-listed some hotels. I wanted to be in the Historical Center area of town near the Cathedral.Santa Ana - Cathedral

The bus stopped over 1km away near the main market on the corner of Calle Aldea San Antonio and 15 Calle Poniente. We were in the middle of a thunderstorm.

I had no idea what town busses to catch – and, they were all full anyway … impossible for me to get on with my suitcase. Taxis? What taxis!

Bugger it, I was going to get soaked anyway … I started walking the 1km to the Cathedral.

I needed to get on the internet … I arrived at the Cathedral Square just before 7pm … soaking wet. Almost everything was closed. I went into one of the few open places: a KFC-style chicken restaurant – they had free wifi.

I got onto the internet. My top 2 hotels were booked out. I booked the nearest one that I could find: Hotel Libertad.Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Frontage

I booked a Double Room with Fan and Private Bathroom for US$16.40 / night for 7 nights (including taxes). It was only 100 meters from the restaurant.Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Street

I arrived at the hotel at about 8pm. They had received my booking, I paid in cash, and I checked into my room.Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Room Entry

The room was simple but came with a big wardrobe and Cable TV. There were over 100 channels but none in English. However, the in-room wifi was good.Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Bed Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Ensuite Entry Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Ensuite Shower Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Wardrobe

The Private Bathroom was basic and needed a paint job.

But, the bed was comfortable and I needed to sleep.

I noticed the standard price for the room pinned to the inside of the door:Santa Ana - Hotel Libertad - Non Internet Prices

I had paid US$16.40 for a room that should have been only US$12.

NOTE TO SELF: Next time, I won’t book on the internet … I’ll just turn up and try and get the cheaper, local rate …


CONCLUSION:

I was knackered.

I started my travels in San Pedro LL at 4am. I travelled not stop and, if I ignore the delays caused by rain, I would have arrived at my hotel in Santa Ana at 7:00pm. A total journey time of 15 hours.

I would never have made it to Playa El Tunco in one day.

My total cost from San Pedro to Santa Ana was about GTQ140 (US$19). To El Tunco it would have been about GTQ155 (US$21).

MY ADVICE: Catch a Shuttle from San Pedro to Playa El Tunco for GTQ200 (US$27). It’ll take only 9 hours. It will be a lot more comfortable and cost you only US$6 more than catching Chicken Buses.

At least, now, you know how to do it.

Meanwhile, I was planning to visit Santa Ana anyway … so, I’ll spend a week here and look around. I’ll let you know what happens in a future post.

TTFN


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