There are 2 primary ways to travel from San Pedro in Guatemala to the beautiful beaches in El Tunco, El Salavador.
One route is to take a private shuttle from San Pedro to Antigua, stay over night then leave in the morning for El Tunco. This route will cost around $40 per person. The other option is to take the local buses. The chicken buses are a fast and inexpensive alternative travel method. The buses are old converted US school buses. They are popular due to their very cheap fares and fast paced travel. The trip to El Tunco would cost $12.50 per person. After some careful consideration and a bit of research (mostly thanks to this post we found), we decided to go the chicken bus route. 7 chicken buses, 13 hours, $25 and countless once in a lifetime experiences, we made it to El Tunco. Here’s how:
Step 1) San Pedro to Cocales
Get to the bus stop in San Pedro (which is located in front of the main park in front of the church near the market) at 4:45am. It was still dark, but we felt safe walking there. We caught the 5am bus to Cocales. The bus ride was about 2 hours and cost 20Q per person. We started out by jamming to a Michael Jackson Thriller remix and took that as a sign we were on the right path. The picture below was as blurry as we were at 5 am.
Step 2) Cocales to Escuintla
The bus transfer was right near where we were dropped off. This changeover was pretty easy, just step off the bus and look for your next destination advertised on the buses coming along. The area felt safe and convenient with locals offering cheap food. The next portion of the ride was about an hour and cost 10Q per person. This was our favorite bus as it had Undisputed 3 playing on a TV in the front of the bus (in spanish…. But it was a prison martial arts fight movie, so no words were really necessary).
Step 3) Escuintla to La Frontera de El Salvador
This cost us 45Q per person and was about 2 hours.
First off, when we got to Escuintla, we were immediately confused and our lack of proficient spanish didn’t help. We were convinced to be thrown into an early 90s model Camry packed 7 people deep (at no charge they said) to roughly 1/3 mile down the road where we were supposed to catch our bus to the border. Fortunately us and our bags made it to the correct bus stop. Where we were packed into an already over full bus.
This part was both the high-light and low-light of my chicken bus experience… I sat 1/2 a cheek on a seat with 2 other grown men (Weston was somewhere else in the back of the bus) that was made for 2 small school children, while a man standing a row in front of me yelled bible verses in spanish at me (and presumably the rest of the bus).
Step 3.5) Bus switch
Half way through we were inexplicably asked to switch buses at a random stop along the way (but didn’t have to pay any more… Glad we held on to our receipt from the previous bus). This worked out because local vendors boarded the bus and sold cold drinks and snacks. I thought we had seen and tried everything… I was wrong… We had not tried corn on the cob smothered with katchup and mayonnaise.
Eventually we made it to La Frontera … Which is literally the boarder. We go off the bus and ignored all of the offers for a ride to the other side… Which was indeed very walkable. By the time we made it to the El Salvador boarder (after accidentally getting our passports double stamped in Guatemala… But not at all in El Salvedor, because apparently you don’t get a stamp) we were dripping in sweat… Which just seemed right when walking across a boarder.
A little further of a walk past the boarder and we found the next bus stop.
Step 4) La Frontera to Sonsonate
This is where our (only) one week of spanish school hurt us because we understood enough to get on a bus…. But not enough to get on the right one. Oops. We were headed to Sonsonate bus depot (a huge bus terminal). Ideally, we would have better communicated that we would prefer to wait for a bus headed to Acajutla (which is directly on the route)…but we didn’t since there was only one bus there. Our trip cost $0.90 each and took about 2 hours.
Interesting fact: El Salvador uses the dollar as it’s currancy.
Step 5) Sonsonate to ??
$1 each and about 1 hour
While waiting for a bus to La Libertad, we met a couple of other English speaking backpackers (from Amsterdam and Isreal) who told us El Tunco was THE place to go for good surfing. They were told the bus to La Libertad (route 287) would be another couple of hours. But one of drivers assistants (called an Ayudante) informed us that his route goes the way we needed to go, but when they turn off the costal highway (I believe for Chiltiupan) we were to get off and catch the Route 107 to La Libertad and get off at El Tunco. This ride was fun… We didn’t actually have seats, but sat on our bags in the very back of the bus. For the majority of the ride it was extremely comfortable. Weston even opened and closed the back door every time we stopped to pick up locals on the side of the road along the route. At one point, a man got on with a 6 foot long tree branch and very large machete. Then a total of 13 people crammed themselves on top of us in the back… 2 men held onto the ladder on the back of the bus with the door open. Fortunately that only lasted for about 15 min of the ride. There were actually all very nice and joked about the awkward situation… It only added to the fun of the ride. Upon command of the Ayudante, 4 of us quickly jumped out of the back and waited on the corner for the next bus.
Step 6) ?? to El Tunco
We all stood on the corner of the road for about 5-10 minutes when the route 107 came around and we hopped on. This cost us $0.50 each and took 20-30 minutes. This dropped us all off on the end of the Main Street in El Tunco where we hurriedly walked to the beach to catch the very end of the sun set… A fitting end to our beautiful journey… And then 2 well deserved large beers!