Getting there & away
El Salvador's immigration officials are more discerning - and the border procedures more sophisticated - than those of most other Central American countries. They're fair, but they do scrutinize entry and exit stamps, so avoid cutting corners.
El Salvador shares shoreline on the Golfo de Fonseca with Honduras and Nicaragua. It's possible to go by boat from La Unión (El Salvador) to Coyolito, Amapala or San Lorenzo in Honduras, or to Potosí in Nicaragua. However there is no scheduled passenger boat service, so you would have to hire a private boat at a very high price. A car-ferry-turned-booze-cruise from La Unión stops in Amapala once a month, and you may be able to use this as a way to get to Honduras. Going by boat is more interesting, perhaps, but does not save any time since the land crossings are so close.
There are three first-class international bus lines connecting El Salvador to other Central American capitals. There are also a number of second-class bus lines, but it is highly recommended you take a first-class line, as much for safety as for comfort. The second-class buses stop more often, and make much easier targets for would-be bandits in El Salvador or another country.
Border crossings to Guatemala are La Hachadura, Las Chinamas, San Cristóbal (all in the west) and Anguiatú (north of Metapán). Ordinary buses make it just to the border; international buses continue to Guatemala City.
For La Hachadura take bus No 205 to Sonsonate, transfer to bus No 259 to the border; for Las Chinamas take bus No 202 to Ahuachapán (from Santa Ana use bus 210) and transfer to bus No 263; and for San Cristóbal take bus No 498 at 4:10pm, 4:50pm and 5:20pm Monday to Friday, plus 7:20am on Monday and Friday only, and Saturday at 12:20pm. There's no service on Sunday. For Anguiatú take bus No 201A direct, or 201 to San Salvador and transfer to No 235. In Metapán transfer to a microbus to the border.
Pullmantur has two daily buses to Guatemala City (executive/first-class US$26/41, 4½ hours, 7am and 3pm Monday to Saturday, 8:30am and 3pm Sunday), while Tica Bus has just one bus daily (US$11, five hours, 6am), passing its Zona Rosa stop a half-hour later. King Quality/Comfort Lines has first-class service to Guatemala City on Comfort Lines (US$22, five hours, 7:30am and 1:30pm) and the slightly more upscale King Quality (first/'King' class US$26/33, five hours, 6am and 3:30pm). Second-class buses leave Terminal Puerto Bus for Guatemala City (standard US$10, five hours, every hour 4am to 3pm; executive US$13, five hours, 6am and 4:30pm).
Border crossings to Honduras include El Poy, El Amatillo and Sabanetas/Perquín. Note that there is no Salvadoran immigration post at the Sabanetas/Perquín border. This means your passport will not be stamped when you leave El Salvador - no big deal if you're not planning to return this trip, but it could cause complications if you are. It is not recommended to enter here until an official immigration post is established, as you risk being fined for entering illegally.
Ordinary buses to the Honduran border at El Poy leave from the Terminal de Oriente in San Salvador every half-hour from 4am to 4pm (Bus No 119). Buses to El Amatillo (No 306 or 346) leave frequently from the Terminal de Oriente in San Salvador and from San Miguel. There is twice-daily service to Marcala, Honduras, via Perquín and Sabanetas.
Pullmantur buses leave every day for Tegucigalpa at 2:15pm (executive/first-class US$27/45, 6½ hours). King Quality has services there at 6am and 1:30pm (first/'King' class US$28/41, six hours, 6am and 1:30pm), and San Pedro Sula at 5am and 12:30pm (first/'King' US$28/41, six hours). Tica Bus has a once-daily service to Tegucigalpa at 5:30am (US$15, six hours). You can transfer to a San Pedro Sula bus from there, but it's quicker and cheaper to take the direct King Quality bus.
From the Honduran side of the El Amatillo crossing, you can take microbuses across the southern tip of Honduras to the Nicaraguan border town of Guasaule (US$4, two hours). From there, connect to buses to León and Managua.
King Quality has one daily departure to Managua (first/'King' US$28/42, 10½ hours, 11:30am) as does Tica Bus (US$25, 11 hours, 5am).
The Tica Bus that runs to Guatemala City continues to the Mexican border at Tapachula, Chiapas. From San Salvador, the trip takes 12 hours and costs US$23 one way. There's also second-class service to Tapachula from Terminal Puerto Bus (US$43, 10 hours, 6am)
If you drive your own vehicle into El Salvador, you must show a driver's license (an international driving permit is accepted) and proof that you own the car. You must also fill out extensive forms. Car insurance is both available and advisable but is not required - you should double check at the border in case this has changed. Vehicles may remain in El Salvador for 30 days. Those travelers wishing to stay longer should leave the country and drive back in rather than attempt to deal with the Transport Ministry.
Entering El Salvador is a relatively painless procedure. Salvadoran immigration officials are well-known to be efficient, polite and professional. They are also more scrutinizing than in most Central American countries, carefully checking all entry and exit stamps (so don't overstay your visa!). The procedures are the same whether you enter the country at an airport or at a border: visitors must present their passport, fill out a simple tourist card and pay a US$10 entrance fee.
El Salvador's international airport, Aeropuerto Internacional Comalapa(SAL; 2339 8264), is located about 50km southeast of San Salvador. It is a major Central and Latin American hub, and a gateway to and from North American cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. The following airlines fly to and from San Salvador, and have offices in the capital
Continental Airlines(airline code CO; 2207 2040; Metrocentro, 2nd fl; 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat; hub Houston)
Copa Airlines (airline code CM; 2209 2672; World Trade Center I; 89 Av Norte & Calle El Mirador; 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat; hub Panama City)
Delta Air Lines (airline code DL; 2275 9292; World Trade Center I, 89a Av Norte & Calle del Mirador;8am-5:30pm Mon-Fri, 8am-11am Sat; hub Atlanta)
TACA (2267 8222; airline codeTA; Galerías Escalón mall, street level; 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm Sat, 9am-5pm Sun; hub San Salvador)
United Airlines (airline code UA; 2279 3900; Galerías Escalón mall, street level; 8:30am-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat; hub Chicago/O'Hare).