The tourist shuttle from Copan Ruinas to Santa Ana in El Salvador costs around 40 USD per person. That’s maybe a good option if you’re short on time but an awful lot of money otherwise. So we decided to make the trip using local transport. Here’s how to travel the cheap way from Copán Ruinas in Honduras to Santa Ana in El Salvador. And see some interesting, off the beaten track places on the way.
The shortest, and probably fastest, way to get from Copán Ruinas to Santa Ana is to go back to Chiquimula in Guatemala and continue to Santa Ana from there. But we just came from Guatemala and don’t like backtracking the same route.
Which is why we choose to cross the border at El Poy. To breakup the trip we include a side trip to the colonial town of Gracias and a stopover in La Palma, famous for its street art.
Step 1: Copán Ruinas to Santa Rosa de Copán
From Copán Ruinas there are two direct buses to Santa Rosa de Copán. First leaves at 6:45 AM and the other at 8 AM. It’s 100 HNL (5 USD) per person and takes a little less than 3 hours.
If you want to make it to San Salvador or Santa Ana in one day you better take the 6:45 bus.
From Santa Rosa de Copán you can easily continue to the border at El Poy and on to San Salvador. We’re not in a hurry so we decide to visit Gracias, a colonial town in the highlands. From Santa Rosa we take a directo to Gracias (50 HNL, 1 hr).
Founded in 1526, Gracias is apparently one of the oldest settlements in Honduras. For a short period it even was the capital of all Spanish-conquered Central America. Before Antigua took over.
In Gracias we get a lot of stares. Even though the Lonely Planet lists Gracias as one of the highlights of Honduras it obviously doesn’t see many tourists. Most people who do visit come here for hiking the nearby Parque Nacional de Montaña Celaque, supposedly Honduras’ most impressive national park.
While probably worthwhile we skip the hiking and just go for an afternoon stroll around the old center. LP describes Gracias as a “jewel”. That’s maybe a little exaggerated. It has a couple of nice cobblestone streets though. And plenty colorful buildings. Plus there’s a fort, a couple of old churches and a lively plaza.
We stayed in the clean and well run Hotel Guancascos which has a good restaurant and a terrace with wonderful views over town (550 HNL for a double).
Step 2: Santa Rosa de Copán to La Palma
The next day we take the 8 AM directo back to chaotic Santa Rosa where we arrive in time to catch the international bus to San Salvador. Don’t know how often that one goes but ours passed Santa Rosa around 9:40 AM.
Alternatively you can get a bus to Nueva Ocotepeque where you have to change bus for El Poy (the border). From El Poy there’s a direct bus to San Salvador (every half-hour).
The border crossing at El Poy is smooth and easy. Our big backpacks stay on the bus while we go through both immigrations. On the Honduras side we get an exit stamp. Entering El Salvador you don’t get a stamp. No exit or entrance fees.
We paid 150 HNL per person to get to La Palma which seems a little steep. I guess they just made up a price. But considering it’s a fast and comfortable air-con coach we’re ok with it. Plus it saves us the hassle of changing buses in Nueva Ocotepeque and El Poy.
Stopover: La Palma in El Salvador
La Palma is a small town just 12 km south of the border. The town is famous for it’s street art which is literally splashed all over town. In the seventies painter Fernando Llort moved here and brought Naive Art, a style that still represents El Salvador around the world.
The town is full of bright, primitive images representing mountain villages, farmers and churches. Llort taught the locals how to create the same images and started a successful cooperative. Nowadays many of La Palma’s inhabitants make a living by mass-producing these motifs.
We stayed in the rundown Hotel de Montaña de Pital and paid 25 USD for a double which is definitely not value for money. As a bonus we get a drunken Salvadorian neighbour. Unfortunately the options in La Palma are limited.
Step 3: La Palma to San Salvador
The next morning we hop on the especial to San Salvador which again is a fast and comfortable coach with air-con (3,50 USD, 2 hrs).
Alternatively there are cheaper and slower directos. Which look like this.
In San Salvador we arrive at Terminal de Oriente. Buses for Santa Ana leave from Terminal de Occidente. You can take bus 7C or 34 to get from one terminal to the other.
Being on a city bus in San Salvador with all our luggage doesn’t seem like a good idea though. So we take a taxi for 5 USD. Nice, safe and easy.
Step 4: San Salvador to Santa Ana
At Terminal de Occidente we take the especial to Santa Ana (1,30 USD, 1 hr).
Make sure you get off at the endpoint in Santa Ana because in our case the bus immediately returned to San Salvador. We found that out when we were already 2 km on the way back. We quickly got off and luckily the driver on an empty chicken bus picked us up and delivered us back at the center. For free. People in El Salvador are nice 🙂
- Bus Copán Ruinas to Santa Rosa de Copán: 5 USD (3 hrs)
- Bus Santa Rosa de Copán to La Palma: 7,50 USD (3 hrs including border procedures)
- Bus La Palma to San Salvador (3,50 USD, 2 hrs)
- Taxi between terminals in San Salvador (2,50 USD, 20 min)
- Bus San Salvador to Santa Ana (1,30 USD, 1 hr)
That’s about 20 USD per person. Or 25 USD including the side trip to Gracias. About half the price of the tourist shuttle. And twice the fun.