El Salvador & Honduras Weekend, part 2: overland to Mayan Copan

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Part 1 left off Sunday morning before daybreak, woken from a fitful sleep in a generous bus ticket vendor’s hammock in the El Savadorian town of Aguilares (see also companion UNESCgo post on Joya de Ceren).

5:00 am at the Aguilares bus stop. The first bus from San Salvador soon to cruise through on the way to the Honduran border.

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Aguilares bus stop

Bus duly arrived and made good time winding through the mountain roads. As 8:00 approached the bus rolled through towns like La Palma, but everything was shuttered and The Rapid Traveler pressed on to the border.

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Sun up, passengers down

Border formalities were efficient. The early buses piled up into large crowds but most traffic was local, requiring only an ID card, quickly processed. Passports are not stamped on exit from El Salvador or Honduras. Entry to Honduras requires payment of USD 3. The atmosphere was so casual it seemed possible to saunter across without any formalities, and indeed, some little-used crossings are reportedly unmanned. The banks were closed for Sunday and the moneychangers gave rates of 18 Honduran Lempiras to USD 3, negotiated up to 18.5 to 1, lower from the official 19 to 1

The nearest town is Nueva Octopeque, reached by taxi or shared minivan. Typical square and cathedral. Buses run up to Santa Rosa de Copan, continuing on to La Entrada, branching west to Copan Ruinas and east to San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ main commercial center. The road network in Western Honduras so limited that buses east to the capital, Tegucigalpa, go all the way northeast to San Pedro Sula and then down southest. Those going direct from San Salvador to Tegucigalpa have a direct route to the east.

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Onward through southern Honduras

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Farmers, please check your giant machetes at the door

Difficult to make much drama out of nine hours of bus rides. The buses are ex-US school buses in trippy colors. They stop everywhere. Farmers check their gigantic machetes at the front. Vendors hop on and off with filing snacks.

Time was the constraint, needing to reach Copan Ruinas by 3:00 pm in order to see the museums and ruins. The Rapid Traveler grew in agitation as the minutes slid by, peering at road signs with no distances. He reached La Entrada at 1:15, over an hour later than planned, but fortunately his Lonely Planet directed him to an alternate bus stand to bypass the infrequent Copan Ruinas-bound departures from the main station. The road twisted downhill and the whippersnapper behind the wheel let it fly. The hour-long trip took half that.

The Copan Ruins are mainland Honduras’ biggest draw and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The companion town is Copan Ruinas and has all the typical boutique travel and backpacker facilities, guesthouses with wi-fi and restaurants with granola. The Rapid Traveler found a guest house, slapped on some sunblock and loped to the Museo Regional de Arqueologia Maya to catch it before close – except it has been closed for renovations for some time. So it was off to the ruins (see tomorrow’s feature on the ruins).

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Copan Ruinas

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Just in time for the museum...closed for renovations

The ruins closed sharp at 5:00 pm, just when the animals were out to play.

Back in town The famished Rapid Traveler gorged on a pizza (guilty pleasure after so many pupusas) while empathetically watching a dedicated cheesehead, jersey and all, view her Packers fall to the Giants.

Shower time was a bit of a hassle, no towel and too tired to go out in search of an open store. An air dry seemed a good idea, despite the chill creeping in from the storms, but the shower never got hot. Brrrrr.

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Hanging out in Copan Ruinas

6:00 am, bus to La Entrada, transfer to a San Pedro Sula-bound bus which took two hours more than the guidebook suggested, so it was a direct taxi to the airport, no chance to partake in the blue collar city. San Pedro Sula’s airport is small but contains good eats. Tellers at the airport departure tax window accept whatever lempiras travelers have left and then make up any difference with USD.

Less than 48 hours on the ground, but a challenging glimpse of two countries, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a bus ticket vendor who took in a stray traveler who could not speak his language. A great weekend and not a minute of vacation time used!

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5 years ago

“The road network in Western Honduras so limited that buses east to the capital, Tegucigalpa, go all the way northeast to San Pedro Sula and then down southest.”

Nothing to do with the bus network being limited – try checking out a topological map of the country!


[…] Suchitoto in this little-touristed country, see my El Salvador & Honduras Weekend parts 1 & 2, and a focus on the ‘Pompeii of the Americas,’ Joya de […]

10 years ago

Hey there, Was just doing a bit of learning on the University of Google to see if Suchitoto to Copan in one day was possible. Sounds like it is, though it will be a full day of transport. Know of any way to avoid so much hassle? Seems like I could backtrack to San Salvador to catch a direct tourist shuttle (if one exists), but I think that would take just as long. I do have a full day (from dawn in Suchitoto to sunset in Copan) to make the trip, don’t plan on seeing the ruins until the following… Read more »

Rapid Travel Chai
10 years ago
Reply to  Nico

@Nico, it should be possible, the buses start running even before sunrise but a start that early is not required. Budget 1-2 hours for Suchitoto to the main north-south highway, pick up a border-bound bus, 2-3 hours to get up there and across, about 1 hour to get from the border to Nueva Octopeque and the wait time for the bus, another 2-3 hours for the bus to La Entrada, and then 1 hour over to Copan. The key is in La Entrada do not wait at the bus station for the very infrequent buses to Copan, rather head toward… Read more »

10 years ago

What did the bus ticket from El Salvador to Honduras cost?

Are there a few “big” bus operators or several small carriers?

Great report.

Rapid Travel Chai
10 years ago
Reply to  aadvantagegeek

@ aadvantagegeek – Since I hopped on and off the buses in small towns I was not able to take advantage of the big carriers and their faster, better services. The local buses each cost less than USD 5, I spent less than USD 20 cumulatively to get from Suchitoto, El Salvador to Copan Ruinas, Honduras, but it was a hassle. When going from major city to major city there are many companies and in initial trip planning I did do some research. King Quality and Tica Bus serve many of the Central America destinations and into Mexico. Transporte del… Read more »