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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:
My target was the surfing party town of Playa El Tunco.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
The Private Bathroom was basic and needed a paint job.
But, the bed was comfortable and I needed to sleep.
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 …
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.
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