I mounted a horse twice during the time I spent in El Salvador, and both times someone ended up on the ground. The first time, my friend Natalie (pictured here) ended up with a little bump on her head after she and her friend Marilyn both somehow fell off a horse that was walking at a snail’s pace. The second time was much more consequential.
I’d been working as a translator for a group of artists who’d come from San Francisco State University to work on art projects with students and community members in and around the village of Colima. On one of their last days in country, the San Francisco crew made arrangements to travel to Izalco for a day of fun, and they were nice enough to take me along with them. After meeting with a local witch-doctor of sorts and learning about some of the pre-Colombian traditions that are still practiced (by a few people anyways) in Izalco, we went to a ranch where a number of horses had been reserved for us. The plan was to take a short tour around the town and then head off in the direction of the Santa Ana volcano for a leisurely ride. Apparently, the horses themselves hadn’t been told of our plan, and instead thought that they’d been entered in the Kentucky Derby – as soon as we hit the first stretch of straight, flat cobblestone, the horses took off as if let out of a starting gate. I somehow managed to hold on, but the woman who was riding in front of me wasn’t so lucky, and after she’d fallen to the ground the horse I was frantically trying to control kicked her in the back of the head. And so I spent the rest of the day translating for her first in the health clinic in Izalco, where the doctors put her in a makeshift neck brace, and then in the hospital in Sonsonate, where x-rays revealed that, thankfully, nothing had been broken.
So, if you plan to go for a horseback ride while your in El Salvador and you’re a novice rider, do what you can to make sure that the horse you’re being paired with is sufficiently tame.
Nowadays, there’s a nice little bridge over the Río El Sumpúl that connects the village of Petapa (in the municipality of El Carrizal, department of Chalatenango) to the Honduran community of Olosingo on the other side of the river. Before 2008, however, there were only two ways to travel between these two communities: (1) walk across the hanging bridge (puente hamaca – hammock bridge – in the local lingo), but that would mean leaving your vehicle behind, or (2) do as these brave souls are doing and drive right across the river (very carefully). Morale of the story, if there is one: don’t let El Salvador’s roadways dictate your travel plans.
Unfortunately but understandably, departures to many smaller, out-of-the-way communities are much less frequent than inter-city traffic, and they are often scheduled at times that prohibit making day-trips to certain destinations (since the purpose of these routes is to get the locals to the nearest government/commercial center so they can go about their business and get back home before lunch gets cold). Take for example, the route that connects Los Prados (one of the villages I lived in) to the departmental capital of Chalatenango. This bus makes its round-trip journey once a day, leaving Los Prados at 5:00am, arriving in Chalatenango around 7:15am, and then beginning its return trip at 11:30am.
Sure, bus travel can be inconvenient for tourists. Especially when the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere, or just flat never arrives. I’ll even admit that I complained about the local public transportation more than once. In fact, one of the things that I had repeatedly told my wife during our last few weeks in El Salvador, when her spirits were understandably down as she prepared to leave behind her friends, her family, and the town she’d grown up in, was that she’d like life in the US because everything works there.
And then I rediscovered air travel. When my wife and I were finally able to leave El Salvador, our trip to Chicago was marred by an emergency landing in Corpus Christi, Texas, and an unscheduled overnight stay in Houston. Our next flight was little better – our Milwaukee-Los Angeles flight that was scheduled to depart at 7:20am didn’t actually leave the gate until 4:45pm.
I don’t complain about Salvadoran bus service any more.
To go from Santa Ana to Copán Ruínas in Honduras the quickest way is to go through Guatemala and if you are using public transportation it will include changes between several buses.
In the morning I went to the corner of Avenida F Moraga Sur and 13a Calle Pte in Santa Ana and there I waited 10 minutes for the next bus to Metapán. The ticket was 0.90 dollars (July 2009) and it took almost 1.5 hours because after half an hour a tyre exploded. We continued for another 15 minutes with an unbearable loud sound coming from the tyre. Then the bus company luckily had sent out another bus to meet us. When we reached the bus terminal in Metapán a bus was just leaving for the border. That bus was 0.55 dollars and took half an hour.
I walked over the border and got my passports stamped. On the Guatemalan side I was told to wait by the road. There were no one else waiting, but only lots of lorries. After some time waiting a bus to Chiquimula arrived though. It was 15 quetzales and took 2 hours. In Chiquimula the bus stopped at the market and I asked for the direction of the buses to El Florido. On the next bus the man told me it was 30 quetzales to El Florido. I didn’t believe it as I had just paid 15 quetzales for a longer ride. The man then changed his mind to 25 quetzales, which I still thought was too much, but he said that was the correct price. It turned out the bus was only going half way to El Florido and I had to change bus after 50 minutes). Money were handed over to a guy (not on the bus). I asked on the new bus for the price and they said they charged 16 quetzales, not 25. (Coming back from Honduras I was charged 25 quetzales again so I don’t know if that was the correct price or a price tourists are charged).
On the border to Honduras I had expected there to be some militaries as all borders had been closed a few days earlier because of the political situation in Honduras. There were no militaries at the border, there was not even anyone at the immigration office, so I had to ask for someone to come. The departure tax from Guatemala was 25 lempiras and for entering Honduras I paid 3 dollars(June 2009). When I was ready a minibus was leaving for Copán. It was 20 lempiras and it took about 20 minutes. In Copán the minibus stops near Parque Central and when I arrived it was afternoon.
Traveling around El Salvador is easy. Don't forget that you are in Central America and that El Salvador is recovering from 12 years of civil war and a major earthquake last year so don't expect German highways. The airport is located about 45 min away from San Salvador, about 20 minutes from the Costa del Sol resort and 6 minutes away from the airport. The main roads are well kept (for Central American standards), so you shouldn't find any difficulties if driving. Always carry a detailed map since there are roads that are not well signaled. Car rental is cheap, numerous travel agents organize bus tours, 4X4 rentals, and more, check the different options like “Hollywood A1 Express” that can take you wherever you want to go, you can get this service calling to the mobile phone (503)72649698 I recommend this because the owner is a very reliable business man who knows very interesting and beautiful places known only for natives(he is also one my best friends). Once again since El Salvador is not a major tourist destination you may be surprised at the price of some of these options. The public transportation system is not very good and I wouldn't recommend it to tourists, but there are some intercity bus lines that are OK (to go to Santa Ana, San Miguel, from San Salvador). There is an excellent bus service from San Salvador to Guatemala City and to Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in Honduras ($60.00 for a round trip San Salvador/Guatemala City. San Salvador luxury bus ticket with A/C, movies, and full meal). Traveling by car allows you a certain freedom and time to take in the spectacular scenery that the country offers. Some scenic roads are: Carretera los Naranjos in the Apaneca mountain range, the road from Santa Ana around the rim of lake Coatepeque and up to Cerro Verde, la Carretera del Litoral between La Libertad and Sonsonate takes you along the Balsam coast-breathtaking, the road connecting the Indian villages of Sonsonate (Izalco, Nahizalco, Caluco, etc)
The buses in El Salvador are a thrill for those who have never experienced the guanaco mode of transport. If you enjoy a thrill, feel free to use the public bus system on your free time to get around. It can be slow at times, but it is extremely cheap. Even if you choose not to use the public transportation, you should take one bus ride just for the experience. There is nothing quite like it... believe it!
Many of the organized tours for travelers conducted by first class tour operators
are in insured vehicles with driver for your comfort and safety..Many small and medium sized
operators drive uninsured..so be sure and ask before going on a cheap tour!
Authorized Taxis (yellow) within the city of San Salvador are reliable. Do not walk alone nor take public transport after 8PM within San Salvador unless you are familiar with the area and route. Simply flag a taxi down on the street if you require to and determine the price
to your destination before you get in the cab (It is ok to haggle the price) There
are also dispatch services that you can call from your lodging place and have pick you up. Most dispatch drivers have their own cell phones and you are able to contact them later for pick up. Try to avoid the taxistas at the luxury hotels, unless you are able to negociate in Spanish, or if not, try and have a local negociate price for you in advance if possible.
If taking certain
specialized archaeological and ecological trips it may
be necessary for your group to rent a 4WD vehicle, advise hiringone
of several qualified native guides is able to conduct you if desired. Remember that rental car companies in Central America offer you two insurance options:
1. Basic: with a $1,000 to $1,200 deductible on your Credit Card at approx. $17 per day up insurance charges or...
2. Full insurance, including all collision damages, fire and theft at approx. $60 per day
insurance charges for a 4WD, if venturing to remote areas with rough terrain then choose full
insurance, a friend recently did so in Nicaragua and saved $1,200! Again, economic car, approx.
$40-$55 for a four door sedan, $75-$100 for a large pickup or SUV. All these prices include insurance and 13% sales tax (IVA). Always leave your rental car in guarded parking
areas with security overninght, never parked on the street, even if locals tell you it is ok!
All except one of the buses that I took in El Salvador were old colourfully repainted American school buses. They are often referred to as chicken buses , and actually once a woman did bring aboard a chicken under her arm.
On every bus ride I could have my backpack with me by my legs. That’s better than to have it with the other luggage in the back, as there is also a door in the back. There might be some changes soon because someone told me they were going to change the buses within a few months to newer ones.
When the buses stand still there are often vendors passing through the bus selling snacks, drinks and much more.
I travelled in El Salvador in the end of June 2009 and here are some prices for the buses I took:
San Salvador - Sonsonate: 65 minutes, 1.15 dollars
Barra de Santiago - Sonsonate: 1.5 hours, 1.70 dollars
Sonsonate - Ataco: 1.5 hours, 0.75 dollars
Ataco - Ahuchapan: 20 minutes, 0.40 dollars
Ahuchapan - Tacuba: 40 minutes, 0.60/0.65 dollars
Ahuchapan - Juayúa: less than an hour, 0.75 dollars
Juayúa - Santa Ana: 1 hour, 0.80 dollars
Santa Ana - Cerro Verde NP: almost two hours, 0.90 dollars
Santa Ana - Metapán: 1.5 hours (tyre exploded), 0.90 dollars
Metapan - Angulatú: 30 minutes, 0.55 dollars
El Salvador now counts with it's own GPS navigation system (just like "Never Lost") It's very complete, with almost any imaginable point of interest and all roads, from main highways to the smallest dirt road you can find. The name of the device is QFind and you can find it in it's web page: http://www.elsalvadorgps.com
Well I visited El Salvador in November 28 2008. Visited relatives, in San salvador and San Miguel, and attended th 50th anniversary of th Carnaval de San Miguel. Left on the last (so called) special bus from Terminal de Oriente , its a more modern bus than the conventional buses , no restroom though and it only cost like 2 or 3.00 p.p, not bad for a 2 1/2 hour drive.
And on the way back , we took the extra special bus at 5am from San Miguel wich cost just a dollar more. very reliable , and clan buses.
On Dec 5 we rode TICA bus to Tegucigalpa was approx 6 1/2 hrs , but bus again , very clean with a bathroom , although they were out of tissue paper (since the bus had just arrived from Tapachula , MX. I guess it was finished)
That ride was 15.00 , he had better movies than in the plane (lol). Honduran immigration officer boarded the bus to check documents .
In Tegucigalpa 2 days later I boarded The Sultana Bus to San pedro , almost like the one in El Salvador , but in this one some people rode standing , but it was like a local bus since people were getting on and off the bus it cost 100.00lps (5.30 usd approx) , for the 4 1/2 hrs into San Pedro. The bus was modern and clean and also had a bathroom
There are other bus options like el Rey and Vianna bus , they are approx 145.00 lps(8.00usd)
When doing the Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras loop, I would seriously consider using the Pullmantur bus lines. This is a professional run and accommodating outfit. They offer two classes on their double-decker buses; Premiere and Executive. Premiere class is topside in unreserved but spacious leather seats. See the country from uptop and with a waitress offering basic comforts like refreshments, coffee and lunch.
Below is the Executive class with a few extra-spacious seats and more personalized services, and the bathroom. Figure an extra $20 for Executive class but I would forego this as it looks like a cave down there.
Tica Bus is not for me. I'll take Pullmantur and Transnica anytime. I took it from Guatemala City to San Salvador and from San Salvador to Tegulcigalpa. Loved it. For the next legs of my trip through Central America, nothing matched it.
I'm a planner and having a comprehensive website helped out a great deal. They post their phone numbers, itinerary, and office locations. If your ride with them you'll get discounts at the Sheraton in El Salvador among other first class hotels.
We found the best way to get around was with a car and driver. The roads are pretty good but there are no directons and signs are scarce! It's a much better option , than driving yourself, unless you know the area.
Taca air was great . They have what looked to be new planes and the service is top notch . No delays and they send an email with your intinery a couple of days before you leave. Would definitley use them again.
The airport is quite modern with some duty free shops and a few places to eat . They even have a Subway restaurant. We were surprised at the umber of dogs they had checking people . We counted 6 in the room at once! Going through customs you press a button . If you get red light you get checked!!There were only a few taxis waiting out front and some hotel suttle vans.
We paid $25.00 for a taxi to Costa del Sol.
Many people who are heading south from El Salvador to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or beyond commit themselves to making the journey locked up inside the long blue tablet that is the Tica Bus. That’s undoubtedly the fastest option, but not necessarily the most enjoyable. You won’t necessarily save much money taking local buses – traveling in early 2006, I spent $24.44 traveling by local buses from San Salvador to San José, compared to $42 taking the Tica Bus one-day express on the return trip – but you will get to see and experience more along the way. If you’d prefer to be able to stop and see things, or even just stretch your legs out, along the way, I can offer two useful bits of advice:
1. There are vans that provide direct service from the Salvador/Honduras border to El Guasaule (the Honduras/Nicaragua border). Taking them will save a couple of hours, and you won’t miss anything because there’s very little to see in southern Honduras.
2. Setting out reasonably early from San Salvador, you can make it to León (a great place to spend a day before continuing your journey) before nightfall.
If no other option presents itself, the best transportation is a sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes – start walking and then, if you’re lucky, the “RUY” you were waiting for will catch up with you sooner or later, since hitch-hiking is quite common in El Salvador. In addition to the omnipresent pick-ups, which I used often, I also managed to hitch rides in the back of a bakery’s delivery truck, in a number of government vehicles, and even on the back of a couple of motorcycles.
Look in your English-Spanish dictionary, and you’ll probably find that a “pick-up truck” should be called a “camioneta,” and that a “ride” (as in, “can you give me a ride to Chalatenango?”) is either an “aventón” or a “jalón.” Throw your English-Spanish dictionary in the garbage! In Salvadoran Spanish, a ride is a ride, and a pick-up is a pick-up. But “ride” is pronounced without the ‘d’ and actually rhymes with the word ‘guy,’ and “pick-up” is pronounced PEA-coup, with the ‘p’ just barely voiced. Many travelers prefer the pick-up to the bus (at least when it isn’t raining) because they tend to be faster, and also because the breeze is almost always welcome (except during the last couple of months of the dry season, when you’ll be swallowing all sorts of dust).