Audrey and I caught a shuttle from Antigua to El Salvador at 8 am. Along with eleven other travelers, we all were eager to go to the beach. Audrey and I weren’t thrilled to be taking a six hour shuttle, but adding another country to our list was exciting. For our Central American trip, Salvador was country number three.
The shuttle was actually quite comfortable, plus it made a couple of stops for bathroom and food breaks – two things a chicken bus can’t boast. For 232 Q ($30), the shuttle took us from Antigua through the border and straight to Playa El Tunco.
We made it to the border without any issues. While the other eleven passengers headed to the Oficinas de Migración El Salvador, Audrey and I snapped a picture of the official “Bienvenido A El Salvador” sign.
The two of us proceeded to immigration. There was a huge line, but we both patiently waited to enter the country. This was the first time we were forced to wait; generally we breezed right through immigration. However, I suppose the Salvadorian border is a bit more traveled than the Honduran one.
The immigration official asked what I was doing in Salvador. After responding with a simple, “tourista,” he seemed satisfied and handed my passport back. No fee, no stamp. In horridly broken Spanish, I asked him why there was no stamp. From what I understood, we received no stamp because we were still in the C4. Unfortunate, but fair enough.
Since we had taken photos, Audrey and I were the last to board the shuttle. Or we should have been. The shuttle driver came back and nodded when he saw us and started to turn on the vehicle to leave. We soon realized the two Australians who were sitting in the very back were not with us. We frantically told the driver, and he impatiently looked at this watch and shook his head. No one knew where they had disappeared to.
After a few minutes, the driver seemed fidgety. In an effort to either calm his nerves or kill time, he decided to have his shoes shined at the border crossing. He returned to the shuttle about the same time one of the Australians came back to make sure we didn’t leave.
Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua are part of the C-4. Once you get a stamp into any of those four countries, you have ninety days to travel throughout all of them freely. In theory that’s how it works, although Honduras is a bit of an odd-ball. Belize is not part of the C-4. Apparently when they took a bus from Belize into Guatemala, they never received an entry-stamp (no one on the bus got a stamp). Therefore, they were entering El Salvador illegally. That’s what the hold-up was for. Half an hour of trying to explain, and they were issued a fine and given a stamp. Unfortunately for them, the fine was $100 each. Fortunately for them (well, kind of), the official had already stamped their passports before the Aussies informed him they only had just over $50 each.
They coughed over the $100 and we were all on our way. Borders can be intimidating. Even so, as long as you have all of your documents, the border crossing fees (where applicable), a basic knowledge of Spanish and you’re calm, they really aren’t that big of a deal. The biggest thing that we discovered was that every single border official will check your passport for your stamp. Every single one. So make sure you have your stamps!
Border crossings are always full of people offering to taxi you from one border to the next. This would be more handy if you arrived on a chicken bus and departed on another chicken bus (they don’t cross borders), but the walk across the border isn’t a great distance. That’s a picture of a “taxi” dodging in and out of trucks to get to the other side of the border and into the next country.
It’s difficult to imagine if you’ve never experienced a border crossing by land, but the vehicle lines are absolutely insane. Buses and cars have first priority and can drive directly to the border. Trucks are not so fortunate. Honduras was even worse, but Salvador was pretty bad, too. Truckers just sit for hours waiting to inch up to the border. They are backed up for miles and miles.
This trucker had such an amazing idea and relaxed in a hammock underneath his truck. Audrey and I were dying to take a picture and a local Salvadorian offered to snap a quick photo. He jumped out of the shuttle and took a picture. From what he said, the trucker wasn’t very happy to be the new object of one of our many photo shoots. This photo is courtesy of Audrey.
We finally arrived at El Tunco and had the task of finding a hostel. El Tunco is quite small, and we soon stumbled upon La Sombra. It was a cute little hostel only a couple of minutes walk from the beach. Plus it was only $8.50 per person, per night. One nice thing about El Salvador is they use dollars as their currency, so no need for converting. :)
El Salvador turned out to be unbearably hot and sticky. To top that off, there is no air conditioning. For the first of many nights, Audrey slept better outside than inside. This hammock became her bed. Side note: El Salvador was also the beginning of enjoying no hot water. From this point on, I did not have a warm shower until I flew to Canada nearly a month later.
After unloading our bags, we decided to hit the beach. It’s a very beautiful, albeit rocky beach.
After a long day of traveling, we finally arrived and were able to enjoy El Tunco. We stayed in this lovely beach town for two nights, and more stories and adventures here will be posted soon!