While touring Central America, I think I have crossed about 6 or 7 borders, all in different ways, sometimes walking, sometimes ferry, sometimes chicken buses, mini buses, organised transport however the best and smoothest border crossing to date was the crossing I did from Guatemala to El Salvador. In fact this crossing was so luxurious I was surprised!! I’m not sure I can even class this one as budget backpacking in fact, but I was certainly the only backpacker on my bus…
I basically decided to head from capital to capital, i.e. from Guatemala City to San Salvador. After three incredible days in Guatemala City, staying at the excellent Posada Belen Museo Inn and doing a cycling tour of the city, I headed to Zona 10 in GC to book my bus across the border. I wanted a smooth and easy crossing for this one, having had my fair share of dodgy, unfriendly and downright exhausting border crossings down the years. Zona 10 in Guatemala City features two bus companies within 5 minutes walk of each other, so I headed to both to compare prices and details.
Booking Your Bus Ticket with King Quality
It was either Pullmantur or King Quality. In the end I opted for the King Quality bus as it was a straight price of $35 US Dollars, was direct from Guatemala City to San Salvador (only a brief stop at the border for passport control), it was safe, very cosy, included wifi, coffee and even a full breakfast. I paid my $35 US and got my ticket.
Leaving Guatemala City
Two days later I bid a fond farewell to the Posada Belen Museo Inn and my host there, Francesca and I headed on a 6am taxi to the King Quality bus departure point. It’s in Zona 10, so about 45 Quetzals by taxi from Zona 1.
On arrival at the King Quality terminal, I showed my ticket and checked my big backpack in at the desk, getting a ticket for it. I headed into the lounge to wait for the bus to be called. This was the first big luxury surprise! They had free wifi, pretty fast too. They had free coffee (I took three cups) and they had free water while we waited.
By 7.15am we were called to board the bus. Wow. This bus was pure luxury. I had to pinch myself in fact as previously I had heard reports that Guatemala City and San Salvador were dangerous and dodgy cities and that I’d especially have to be careful crossing the border. But with King Quality it was just incredible luxury that I felt safer than ever before.
On boarding the bus, the rows were seats of 2 on the right and seats of 1 on the left. I was on the left. The seats were luxurious, cosy and reclined! I had lots of leg room. My entrance into Guatemala at La Mesilla had involved having my legs squashed on chicken buses and getting some bugs. Now I was living the dream border crossing I’d never thought existed.
Seat belt on, I lay back and listened to my iPod, planning my travel notes and doing some blogging offline. The bus actually has wifi – first time on a bus since the awesome buses I took in Turkey though the wifi network is in El Salvador so would only work once we crossed the border.
We left Guatemala City behind and it was actually a tad emotional, I had enjoyed my time in Guatemala and Panny had entered the country with me, but I left alone. She headed up to Semuc Champey the same day I headed to San Salvador and we had been apart for a few days, she decided to stay in Antigua – a city I found to be rather average in contrast to GC and Xela.
Just after leaving GC, the hostess brings us a pillow and a blanket adding to the luxury. Next up was a breakfast box including mango juice, a bean and cheese roll and fruit. Amazing!
The journey to the border takes just a few hours and just before the approach to Valle Nuevo, we get coffee and biscuits!!
Leaving Guatemala at Valle Nuevo
OK so this might be the confusing part for some of you and I’ll try my best to explain what happened. Basically Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua are all included on one 90 visa you get issued with on arrival. Basically I was on day 24 of the 90, having entered from Guatemala. On arrival in Guatemala that day from Mexico, I got my entrance stamp which is valid as a 90 day visa for all 4 countries. The stewardess on the bus collects the passports for checking only at Valle Nuevo.
You don’t get a stamp here unless you ask for one. These days I try to avoid getting stamps if I can as otherwise my passport fills up too quickly. I didn’t get an exit stamp for Guatemala, but I had officially left the country. If you really want the exit stamp, get off the bus and walk into the office on your own and get it. I was just enjoying King Quality too much.
After that, we cross the bridge over a river into El Salvador.
Arrival in El Salvador at Las Chinamas
There is a very brief passport check on the bus here when we stop on the El Salvador side of the bridge. A local police officer, very friendly and chatty gets on and has a quick check. He doesn’t even have a stamper with him, so again no stamp for entrance. If you really want one, head to the office yourself and ask for one. I knew I still had a 90 day visa for the 4 countries and would break it to head to Belize anyway so I was fine.
We have about a 20 minute break here on the El Salvador side of the bridge. There is no time change but a currency change – we now use US Dollars for everything. So make sure you use up all your Quetzals in Guatemala or worst case scenario, change them at Valle Nuevo just before you cross the border.
I take my photos and videos and check the price of things. I fancied a beer but none of the vendors here had them. Instead I just asked the stewardess on the bus for a free water. She obliged of course – I’d paid $35 for this luxury border crossing so water was free.
Driving from Las Chinamas to San Salvador, El Salvador
We board the bus and we are now in El Salvador. I was heading for Ximena’s Guesthouse near Boulevard de los Heroes in San Salvador. Everything so far had been so smooth in easy – I was loving the travel lifestyle, getting some blogs done, even now had intermittent wifi and I messaged my Mum!
Then we get a packet of nuts and a drink.
I choose a clamata juice. Again – amazing service. I drift for a 10 minute doze then realise we are already almost in San Salvador. The journey has been so fast. We rock up into San Salvador around 12 pm – so the entire journey took just 4.5 hours including the border crossing!!
Arrival in San Salvador, El Salvador
We get off the bus at the King Quality bus terminal in Zona Rosa. I had actually predicted we would get off at the Terminal Puerta Bus (that’s my fault for trusting my Lonely Planet too much – their stuff on El Salvador in general is utterly woeful and they were wrong here!!). So on a hot Sunday in a new country and city for me, I ignored the ridiculous requests of the taxi drivers at the bus depot – they wanted $8 US and some even $10 US for a taxi to the hostel!
Instead I walked through the area of Zona Rosa with some bars and had a look at taxis – my hostel was about 3-4 kilometres away and I was looking forward to putting my feet up, checking into my room, having a beer and a quick walk around the area I was staying in. A security guard at one of the bars just called me a taxi and I made the deal of $5 US and off I went. Direct to the door of my new home in Ximena’s Guesthouse before 12.30 pm! Amazing quick time and such a smooth border crossing and in reality for $35 it was completely worth it!! I have to recommend the King Quality crossing and also loved both these cities – Guatemala City and San Salvador!
Here are my videos from crossing the border from Guatemala to El Salvador: