crossing borders: how to get to el salvador from guatemala

Looking to make a break for El Salvador, but can't afford a shuttle-bus on your tight budget? Here's our guide on how to reach the coast in El Tunco from Guatemala, without breaking the bank. 

#1 leaving quetzaltenango, guatemala - crossing the border, el salvador

Set your alarms for an early rise; this is going to be a long day. 

Start by catching the collectivo from the main square to Xela's bus terminal, found after a 2-3 minute walk through the market. You won't have to wait long for someone to try and man-handle you onto a bus, so make sure these two places are etched in your memory: Mazatenango and Escuintla. 

Ideally, you will take a direct bus to Escuintla, however departures to Mazatenango (they'll likely call it 'Mazate') are more frequent. If you do the latter, this will necessitate a swift change over in Mazate for a bus to Escuintla.

Normally, you will pay the bus driver on the Mazate bus a fare for the entire journey, he'll hand you a ticket stub and direct you to your second bus. This means you will not have to pay twice - but make sure you confirm this with him. 

If leaving Xela at 7 a.m, you'll be dropped off in the streets of Escuintla at around 11 a.m.; this is a town with a very poor reputation, so be cautious. Thankfully, the bus to the border passes very close to where you are dropped off - just make your way to the corner where there is a pay-phone and often a few men hanging around and ask "esta la parada para la frontera?". There are usually quite a few police in this area, so they may be your best point of enquiry. 

Although they will tell you this is a direct bus, you will probably have to swap over again after around an hour's travel (we can't remember the name of the tiny town) - as above, just confirm with your driver that you don't have to pay twice. 

The last bus will drop you off right at the border, where you'll find a decent rate of exchange if you need dollars. Disregard the tuk-tuks and cross over on foot (no exit charges for Guatemala, although they may try to get 10-20Q from you - just say no repeatedly).


#1 - Collectivo from Xela's main square to bus terminal (15 minutes, 1.5Q per person)

#2 - Bus from Xela to Escuintla, this may require a change over at Mazatenango (4 hours, 50Q per person)

#3 - Bus from Escuintla to 'La Frontera', this may require a change over (2 -3 hours, 40Q per person)

#4 - Cross the border on foot (30 minutes)

Total time: 6.5 - 7.5 hours  /  Total cost: 91.5Q  per person

#2 leaving the border, el salvador - arriving el tunco, el salvador

Now, on the El Salvador side, this is where it can get a little frustrating.

Most gringos will be making a bee-line for El Tunco. Unfortunately, no enterprising local has set up an economical shuttle system, so your best option - whatever your destination -  is to grab one of the buses regularly departing for Sonsonate. 

Sonosonate is a main transport hub for the country and, although it may seem a little out of the way from the coast,  it will make your next move easier.  

An alternative option, which we ended up taking, is to take the Sonsonate bus to the 'Aquillo' junction where it is possible to reach El Tunco, but really quite complicated and time-consuming, so we do not recommend it.

We had read erroneous information on another blog which indicated it was easy to catch a bus from there to the coast. However, when we reached the Aquillo junction, locals indicated that wasn't the case and, as night was fast approaching, we decided our best option was to take a bus for 10 minutes to the port town of Acajutla, where a friendly local helped us find a room for $10. 

The next morning, it was incredible how many buses and how much time it took to cover the 35kms to El Tunco. Although this wasn't a terrible way to spend a morning, it would have been much easier starting from Sonsonate. 

So, we can confirm that the best option for El Tunco is definitely to take the bus to Sonsonate and either:

a) stay the night there and find the right bus in the morning.

b) if you arrive in Sonsonate earlier than 1 p.m., you may be able to find a connection to reach the coast before dark. 


#1 - After the border, take a bus to Sonsonate (1.5 - 2 hours, $1 per person)

#2 - Stay the night in Sononate. It's not a great town, with some safety concerns, so get here before dark and have an idea of where a hotel is. If arriving after dark - definitely take a taxi. 

#3 - Bus from Sonsonate to 'La Perla', this may require a change over (2 hours, $1.5 per person). 

#4 - Bus from 'La Perla' to El Tunco (1 hour, $1 per person)

*If you want to head to the 'Ruta de las Flores' first, then find a connection in Sonsonate to Juayua. The journey takes around 45 minutes and costs $0.5. 

Total time: 5 hours travel time  /  Total cost: $3.5 per person

we loved guatemala - check out some of these posts and find out why!