If you are traveling to Central America soon and looking for information on how to travel between countries by bus safely, read my quick how to guide and experience traveling from Guatemala City to San Salvador. This guide is perfect for solo travelers, backpackers, and anyone interested in Central American travel on a budget.
In October 2021 I planned a group trip to Antigua, Guatemala for six friends and I after I found $400 flights. It also happened to be one of my friend's birthdays during the trip (Happy B-day Larry!) so it was awesome to celebrate with him since we live in different cities. I absolutely loved the colorful buildings, cobble stone streets, and gorgeous lakes that Antigua had to offer and highly recommend you add it to your list of Central American cities to visit.
As I was planning, I started getting a little nosy (like I always do). I proposed the idea of visiting another country to one of my friends joining the trip and she was down to extend our exploration. I started zooming in and out of the Central American countries, seeing what was close, what was far away, and looking up flights between countries to see if I could tack on another city. Unfortunately those flights...were disgustingly expensive. It would have costed another $400 to get from Guatemala City to San Salvador. The two cities are only 3 hours drive away from each other. YIKES. Later on my friend ended up telling me she couldn't join the trip so I had to make a decision to either cancel the idea of visiting El Salvador or suck it up hop on a bus and go solo!
Well you guessed it...I chose to go solo because you only live once and I was on a mission to meet my goal of 25 countries by age 25. I started researching how to travel by bus, ticket costs, and safely traveling between countries. I realized I could do it successfully and safely without breaking the bank. There's a horrible stigma surrounding travel to Central America but during any of your travels make smart decisions, be aware of your surroundings, and always have backup plans.
Let's dig into my experience traveling by bus to find out the costs, border patrol, and arrival experience!
FIRST UP: WE GOTTA FIND A BUS - DUH!
During my search I found a variety of bus lines where you could purchase tickets online to reserve your spot as well as bus lines that provided information to book in person. Let's take a look at the list of transportatoin options based on your budget!
You want to get there as fast as possible to maximize your time in the new country cause you got places to be and things to see!
Those seeking less travel time and more time for FUN may want to consider booking a flight. Flights will be arrive in a blink of an eye and you'll be on your way to a volcano excursion in El Salvador roasting marshmallows. Unlike Europe, flights between countries in Central America will require an increase in your trip budget. You're not necessarily going to find cheap $50 flight tickets to explore Central America. I decided this wasn't an economical choice for me since I was only going to stay in El Salvador for a few days and didn't want to dish out another $400.
TRAVEL TIP: You'll need to remember to setup your primary arrival and departure flights as one way legs if you choose to fly to the next country one way as well. For example: you'll select a one way flight from your US departure city to Guatemala, and a one way flight from El Salvador back to the US. Then you'd purchase the flight from Guatemala (GUA) to El Salvador (SAL).
You want to travel to as many places as possible so your budget has to STRETCH STRETCH. So you have a few lil dollas to get to the next destination.
Backpackers traveling country to country may have more time to arrive to their destination with the goal to spend as little as possible for transportation and accomodations. There are options for bus lines that have flexible arrival and departure times. These buses vary on the type and size. Some may be coach buses where you pay as you board and others may be similar to regular city buses. You'll stand at the bus stop waiting...and waiting...and waiting until the bus arrives. These buses make several stops along the way and may require transfers between bus lines. You'll more than likely experience all kinds of people, families, and even their pets piled on the bus traveling to their destination. This is the cheapest option and can cost as little as $10 dollars USD. At the end of the day, you get to where you need to go and can save your money for other travel related expenses that may be more of value to you.
You're visiting just a couple of countries and want to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride so you'll spend a little bit more for convenience and comfort. Who wants a crooked back after a long journey?
This was my winning choice! After researching the available coach bus companies that travel from Guatemala City to San Salvador, I ended up booking with Transporte del Sol. Their economy bus tickets ranged from $20-30 whereas their premium bus seats go up to $40-60 for a little more comfort. This coach line would be similar to a greyhound bus in the United States. You'll be able to watch a movie onboard, receive complimentary snacks, and have one personal item and checked bag as apart of your ticket. It was a super comfortable 4 hour ride including the stop at the border.
Transporte del Sol will provide you the departure and arrival addresses in order for you to plan better. My departure address where the bus picks you up was a super nice hotel in the city which made it even easier and safer to check in with my passport and documents to receive my luggage tag.
HOW TO BUY TICKETS WITH TRANSPORTE DEL SOL
Navigating the website is fairly easy if you know Spanish, and or have booked a bus, train, or flight before. If you don't read Spanish, use your internet browsers translation feature to make sure you book the appropriate ticket(s).
Navigate to Reserva de Boletos in the to blue navigation bar for Ticket Reservations.
The Compra de Boletos section or Ticket Purchase section, will detail the travel restrictions and rules for arriving to your desired country. Transporte del Sol travels to Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua for super affordable prices. A-MAZING!
Scroll to the bottom to enter your desired ticket information. Select whether it will be roundtrip, one way, or have a open ended return date.
- Ida de regreso: Roundtrip
- Sola Ida: One Way
- Regreso Abierto: Open return date
- Origen: Origin departure city
- Destino: destination
- Fecha de salida: Date of departure
- Fecha de regreso: Date of return
- Cantidad de pasajeros: number of people
- Buscar: search
I chose a one way bus ticket from Guatemala to San Salvador since my departure flight back to the US was out of El Salvador.
After entering your travel information you will see a variety of departure and arrival times as well as types of seat selections.
Each seat selection provides different options to fit your budget. My example bus search returned the following prices depending on seat type:
- Turista $25
- Ejecutiva $30
- Brillante $45
The more expensive seats are offered towards the front of the bus and may provide more leg room or comfort. There are options both in the top and bottom decks.
After selecting your seat you'll enter your passenger information including your name, email, phone number, and passport data.
Next you'll confirm the cities for departure pickup and arrival drop off.
Confirm your secured payment information and your tickets are purchased! You're now headed to El Salvador!
CROSSING THE GUATEMALA BORDER - HOLA EL SALVADOR!
During your journey you will eventually stop at the Guatemalan passport control center for ground transportation. This was a little chaotic especially since the stewardess was explaining we only had a certain amount of time. I'm like girl what?! So y'all just gonna leave folks at the border? Oh lawd jesus. But luckily, it ended up being fairly organized once we all rushed off of the bus. There were several buses arriving at once so remember the people on your bus to make sure you get back on the right one LOL. If you no longer see the people you got off the bus with..its time to frantically find your bus so you don't get left! Your bus stewardess will still do a headcount before the bus driver pulls off...so hopefully if you aren't on the bus they won't just jet off and leave you stranded.
YOU MAY WONDER: Will they bombard me with tons of questions? I don't speak a lick of Spanish!
There was an organized sections you could say for each set of people from each bus. They allowed a certain number of people inside at a time for document review and passport information. It was like the DMV in the US. The person behind the window will essentially just ask for your passport and may ask you a few questions but if you don't speak Spanish, they will just move on by recording your documentation, and go to the next person. Make sure to keep the confirmation papers close by - you'll need them later on!
YOU MAY WONDER: Where can I exchange my money?
If you want to exchange your money you'll have the opportunity at this first border stop. There are people selling water, food, snacks, jewelry, and pairs of men asking if you'd like to exchange your money for a good rate. Definitely play this by ear. If you see other locals exchanging their money or other Spanish speaking tourists then you can choose to exchange. I decided to exchange only part of my USD that I had on hand which honestly made it easier upon arrival so I didn't have to find an exchange rate location.
YOU MAY WONDER: Phew looks like I cleared the border. That was easy!
I definitely thought that the Guatemala passport check was easy and snuggled back into my reclined chair to sleep the rest of the way. Welp, I was mistaken. It was pitch black, the middle of the night and the bus came to a hault. It seemed to be a lot going on and no one on the bus knew what was happening. Eventually, someone boarded the bus to confirm your name, and collect my papers from the Guatemalan passport control. Later, someone boarded to confirm each passenger's negative COVID-19 tests and gather our paperwork to record it. Then we were back on the road to San Salvador.
TO SUM IT UP: lots of paperwork checking, different people from different agencies confirming said paperwork multiple times, sleep, snacking, and relaxing the remainder of the ride. There will be other English speaking travelers on board that can potentially translate for you if you are confused. If you don't know what's going on, just make sure you have your paperwork organized. Also pay attention to the person next or ahead of you of what they provide the agency worker so you don't get overwhelmed when it's your turn.
Okay nowwww we can officially say HOLA EL SALVADOR! You made it, phew! My original bus would have arrived in the early afternoon but since I got the wrong dang COVID test I was rebooked for free on a late departure afternoon bus so I could retake the correct test. Meaning, I arrived towards 8pm in El Salvador. The bus dropped everyone off in a residential neighborhood and unloaded our bags. I booked a boutique hotel for my first night's stay in San Salvador for less than $100. I tap tap tapped away on my phone but for some reason my Uber app wasn't working! It was dark AF, I was in a random neighborhood, and I slowly started seeing other passengers greet their families, hop in the car, and speed off. The number of people started to dwindle down from 20 to 10....5...3....okay you get the point. I was running out of time to figure out what the heck was wrong with my phone before I was alone on the street with no people in sight.
I finally gave up on my phone and decided I was going to have to walk. GULP. I literally had to ask someone next to me if I could use their phone map to memorize how to walk to my boutique hotel. I took a mental picture and wrote down the directions in my note app so I remembered each street name, the side streets and any close buildings nearby. Probably not the best idea to walk but after deciphering the neighborhood...there weren't going to be any taxis driving by any time soon so it was time to stay alert, walk fast and with purpose ASAP.
The good news is my boutique hotel was less than a 15 minute walk away from the bus stop. Thank goodness. I could also tell from the map it was right off of a major street in the city. So I knew there would be restaurants, street lights, and plenty of cars once I made it to the main street from the bus stop! I share this to remind travelers to always stay alert, make conversation with people so they are more wiling to help you, assess your surroundings, and make safe travel decisions. Oh, and to make sure your data is actually turned ON under your Uber app settings so you can get a ride and avoid walking in the middle of the night in a random city neighborhood with no lights, a huge suitcase, and rumble down narrow freaking cobble stone streets and sidewalks waking everyone and they momma up *inhales*
Well folks thats it for another how to for traveling between countries by bus as a female solo traveler. Comment below and let me know what you would have done upon arrival finding out that your phone wasn't working. Cry? Freak out like Homer Simpson? Stay at the bus stop until a taxi popped up?