El Salvador Driving Guide
El Salvador is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit
El Salvador is full of wonders, from Mayan ruins and colonial architecture to deep crater lakes and enchanting beaches. You can expect so many water activities here as it boasts a magnificent Pacific Ocean coastline. You can go hiking to mountains and volcanoes, discover El Salvador’s history through its historical landmarks and try some local coffee brew which you can find in any Salvadoran corner.
It has a vibrant culture and tradition that translates to their dances, music, and festivals from El Salvador’s streets. You will normally hear the sound of guitars, marimbas, xylophones, trumpets, flutes, bells, and drums. Over six million Salvadorans will welcome you with warm and happy smiles as you travel across the country. Most of the country’s population speak Spanish, so bringing some Spanish phrases before you travel to El Salvador can come in handy.
How Can This Guide Help You?
Driving in El Salvador is generally safe, as the country has a reputation for having some of the best road conditions in Central America. Regardless, it is still proper to be familiar with everything concerning driving in El Salvador. This guide includes the driving rules and etiquette when driving in El Salvador and car rental information. If you plan on staying longer than a tourist in El Salvador, this guide includes things you can do and top destinations in El Salvador. Get El Salvador driving advice from our guide.
The country of El Salvador is famous for being the “land of volcanoes,” having more than twenty in its borders, and two of them are currently active. Being a tropical mountain country, El Salvador has excellent surfing spots all year round. This Central American country is the smallest of all the countries in the region, with its size slightly smaller than the US State of Massachusetts. The good side of this, you can just travel from one destination to the other in just four to five hours via car.
El Salvador borders the Pacific Ocean to the south, Honduras in the north, and Guatemala in the west. It also shares maritime borders with Nicaragua. The country’s landscape has three general regions - the northern lowlands, formed by the wide Lempa River Valley, a narrow Pacific belt, and a central plateau which is almost surrounded by active volcanoes.
When you travel to El Salvador, you will experience a tropical climate with dry and wet seasons. The rainy season falls from May to October, where most of the annual rainfall happens. Rains during these months usually come from low-pressure systems from the Pacific. From November to April, the country has dry weather where the air is hot, dry, and hazy, except for elevated areas where the air is generally cooler.
Salvadorans speak Spanish, being the country’s official language. Some indigenous people also use their native languages like the Nawat and Poqoman. Immigrants from Guatemala and the indigenous people Belizean speak Q’eqchi’. Some people in the country can speak the English language but not to a high standard, so familiarizing some Spanish will be of great help as you travel around El Salvador.
El Salvador is famous for being “the little thumb of America,” having the smallest land area but the most densely populated Central American country. It has a land area of 21 040 square kilometers. The mountain ranges and central plateau of El Salvador cover 85% of the country’s land area that comprise the interior highlands. The country historically depended on agriculture since the Spanish occupation with cacao growing to indigo plants then shifted to coffee.
The small nation of El Salvador was believed to be occupied by indigenous people like the Pocoman, Chorti, and Lenca, all related to the Mayans and the Pipil. Their civilization resembled that of the Aztecs in Mexico. The Spanish colonization in the country started in 1524 during the arrival of an expedition headed by Pedro de Alvarado. The Spaniards permanently established San Salvador as the capital of a province of the same name, covering most of the eastern three-fourths of the present-day El Salvador territory.
The lands that were formed in El Salvador became the heart of agriculture of Guatemala’s captaincy general. It became part of the First Mexican Regime and the Federal Republic of Central American; until it dissolved in 1841, the country became a sovereign nation. From 1980 to 1992, the country experienced another chronic political and economic instability brought by coups, revolts, and authoritarian rule in the Salvadoran Civil War.
The country’s 1983 constitution provides the representative government with three branches - the legislative, executive, and judicial. The president exercises the executive powers and also appoints the Cabinet of Ministers. The El Salvador Legislative Assembly consists of 84 deputies. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court heads the judiciary with 15 judges and one of them being elected as President of the Judiciary.
Tourism in El Salvador is the fastest growing sector in its economy. Based on data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, the country accommodated close to 2.4 million international tourist arrivals in 2019, 1.77 million overnight visitors. El Salvador offers many natural attractions with its beaches and volcanoes and has an exceptional potential for cultural tourism with its archeological landmarks.
You can guarantee that driving in El Salvador is now and any time of the year will be hassle-free if you have all the necessary documents with you. This way, you will surely not get in trouble during police checks. One of the things you must remember is to have an International Drivers Permit or also called international driver's license. Your IDP translates your local license to 12 UN-recognized languages. The use of your IDP is not solely for driving but also when renting a car in El Salvador.
Which countries recognize IDP?
The International Driver’s Association issues IDP that is valid to more than 150 countries worldwide. Once you have your IDP with you, you can use it to travel even outside El Salvador, given that it is still not expired. If it has expired after driving in El Salvador, update your IDP online.
Your IDP is valid for up to three years; the price varies from its validity length. If suddenly you lost it while in El Salvador, you can request a replacement for free, and you only need to pay the shipping fee. To continue driving in El Salvador, the zip code of your current shipping should be updated to the one in El Salvador and not in your home country. The physical copy of your IDP will be shipped within 24 hours after you applied for a replacement.
Can I Rent a Car without an IDP?
If your valid driver’s license is not in English, you probably need to secure an IDP. Most car rental companies will ask for your local license and your IDP for verification when renting a car. It can be a case-to-case basis depending on the rental company, but it pays to have it readier than going back and forth. When driving in El Salvador, requirements like your local license, IDP, passport, and visa should always be available during border and police checks.
How Do I Get an IDP?
Applying for an IDP is in the palm of your hands. You do not need to visit an office since you can do it online. Just fill out the online form with your personal information such as your name, address, contact number, and email address. Before submitting your application for an IDP to go driving in El Salvador, the zip code and your shipping address must coincide. This will make sure that there will be no delays in the shipment.
Apart from the application form, to get your IDP and start driving in El Salvador, requirements like your local driver’s license and passport-sized photo must be uploaded online. Within two hours, you will receive a digital copy of your IDP. The physical copy will be shipped to your location within seven days if you are US-based and 30 days internationally.
Renting a Car in El Salvador
The best way to fully enjoy your trip to El Salvador is to have your transportation. Car driving in El Salvador will give you the freedom to plan out your itinerary without having to check for the schedule of public transportation. Besides choosing the type of car you are to drive in El Salvador, it pays to be aware of car rental costs, insurance, and requirements to rent a car in the country. Read more below for more car hire info in El Salvador.
Car Rental Companies
International car rental companies like Alamo car rental is one of the most booked car rental companies in El Salvador. They offer cross-border travel all over Central America. Suppose you plan on driving from El Salvador to Honduras or another neighboring country, like driving from El Salvador to Guatemala. Meanwhile, the car rental agency National offers several locations in San Salvador with four locations which can be very convenient for you.
If you stay in El Salvador for a month, Enterprise can offer you cheap deals and discounts, including unlimited mileage and roadside assistance. Enterprise is also one of the car rentals in El Salvador, with the most affordable rental deals at $12/day. You also have to check with your car rental in El Salvador if they offer cars with automatic transmissions. Some only have manual transmission cars available at their locations.
Car rental companies will need your local driver’s license to rent a car. Apart from this, you have to provide the company with an International Driver’s Permit (international driver's license) if your local license is not English or Roman Alphabet. These two should go together to rent and enjoy car driving in El Salvador easily. For additional identification, bring with you your passport, and a credit card with the renter’s name should be presented to the car rental company.
When driving in El Salvador, the vehicle to use will depend on your itinerary, the number of people you travel with, and the season you visit in the country. If you are driving in El Salvador during the dry season to enjoy the great weather freely, you can opt for a convertible. Small vehicles, meanwhile, are easier to park and suitable for short travels.
If you are traveling in a group or with your family, you can choose an SUV or sedan that provides a more comfortable ride and offers enough space for many passengers. This vehicle type is also perfect for traveling in main cities. A four-wheel-drive car can also come in handy if you prefer to drive on rough roads in the remote areas of El Salvador. Be sure to consider all the factors before you choose which vehicle you will drive.
Car Rental Cost
The average price for a car rental in El Salvador is $23/day. However, it will depend on the package and the vehicle type you choose. It can go lower or higher, also depending on the season you are traveling to El Salvador. Availing for extra services and products will increase your cost from the basic rate. Add-ons like child seats, GPS navigation, additional insurance, and roadside assistance can affect the cost of your rental. These will be additional fees to your package.
Besides add-ons, you can also avail yourself of services like cross-border policy, one-way car hire drop policy, and refueling service. Car rental costs can be higher in El Salvador's larger cities. Before driving in El Salvador, price quotes from different car rentals will help you weigh your options for renting a car in the country. For your reference, here are estimated rental prices per vehicle type you can rent in El Salvador.
- Economy: $11/day
- Compact: $12/day
- Full-size SUV: $29/day
- Mini: $7/day
- Pickup Truck: $42/day
- Standard SUV: $42/day
- Intermediate: $26/day
- Mini Van: $70/day
The driving age in El Salvador for a tourist is 21 years old. However, those renting a vehicle below 25 years old have to pay for a young driver surcharge. Car rental companies vary with the allowed driving age in El Salvador, so you might want to check with your rental agency just to be sure. When renting a car and driving in El Salvador, basic quotes do not include the young driver’s fee. This means that you have to pay this on top of your basic rate.
Car Insurance Cost
Driving in El Salvador requires insurance. This will be one of the things that will be discussed when you rent a car. You need to purchase insurance from your car rental company unless you already have insurance coverage for the country. Proof of valid insurance should be available at the time of rental. Insurance will give peace of mind if anything happens to you or you get involved in an accident. Make sure to check every policy before purchasing one.
Car Insurance Policy
Your rental insurance is one of the most important and costly purchases while renting a car in a country. However, it will ease up your mind of some worries along your trip. Some insurance covers you might encounter when you head to your car rental company is the Third Party Liability Insurance. This insurance covers any damage claims from the other party involved in case of an accident.
A Theft Protection Policy covers you for any loss of the rented vehicle. The Collision Damage Waiver is a policy that waives responsibility for all or part of the cost of damage to the vehicle’s loss. There is also a Personal Accident Insurance covering ambulance service, doctors, hospitalization, and nurses for each passenger in the vehicle. Each insurance policy also has distinct conditions per rental company, so be sure to check them before renting a car.
Road Rules in El Salvador
Driving laws in El Salvador may vary from other countries regarding the severity of sanctions in every violated law. This is why no matter how familiar you are with the driving laws in El Salvador, it pays to review and be mindful of them as penalties can jeopardize your trip to the country. Ensuring that you follow the rules on Salvadoran roads will prevent you from accidents and get involved with collisions between animals and pedestrians.
Before driving in El Salvador, tourists must consider all the essential road rules in the country. This will assure you of a hassle-free drive on Salvadoran roads. Apart from this, religiously following driving laws will prevent you from penalties and accidents for the duration of your trip.
One of the more shocking pieces of information when driving in the country is the penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador. They say that authorities impose a death penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador, but it has not been proven as of late. Regardless, you must not be complacent and still follow the rules on the road. Read more below to know really what is the penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador and other significant rules you have to remember while in El Salvador.
Drunk driving in El Salvador results in hefty penalties waiting for you. There were talks of a death penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador; however, many have debunked one of the drunk driving laws in El Salvador based on conflicting reports. You might be wondering, if it is not death, then what is the penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador? The penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador includes the seizure of your license, standard fees, or going to jail.
Drinking and driving in El Salvador is not recommended in the country. Drunk driving laws in El Salvador include a 0.05% blood alcohol limit for locals and tourists. Random test breathing from authorities is not frequent in El Salvador. However, if they suspect you of drinking and driving in El Salvador, they will not hesitate to stop you and impose a penalty for drunk driving in El Salvador.
Turning Signals at an Intersection
Turning signals on the road is your way of communicating to other motorists and serves as a sign of respect to others who use the road. If you plan to turn left, make sure to position your vehicle into the proper turning lane before reaching the intersection and signal left thirty meters out from the intersection before making a change.
Other changes on the road where you have to turn signals include entering a driveway, right-hand turn at an intersection and parking lot on either side of the road, changing lanes, overtaking, and leaving a roundabout. It is your responsibility as a driver to let others know you are making changes, especially on intersections and junctions. Make this a habit in every situation while you are on Salvadoran roads.
Parking is loosely regulated in El Salvador, especially in rural areas. Locals tend to park anywhere they feel convenient. However, there are paid and covered parking in big towns and cities. You will find some parking bays in San Salvador with ticket machines, for short terms only - often to a maximum of two hours. As a tourist, you can park in open spaces, but make sure it will not obstruct any buildings or other cars from passing through.
The police often patrol key places in the urban areas for those vehicles not parked in designated areas; however, they normally have to be on an operation before they clamp down on parking. Regardless of the leniency, don’t gamble on not securing a proper parking space to save money since the fine usually outweighs the saving. Remember to secure your belongings before leaving your car unattended in parking areas.
Ensure you and your vehicle are in good condition before driving
At the rental company, before you head out, you must see to it that the vehicle’s engine, wipers, and car doors are functional and in good condition. Inspect your rented vehicle’s physical, look for bumps and scratches and report it to the rental company if there are. This will prevent you from paying for any damages to the vehicle.
Before driving in El Salvador, make sure to have with you your driver’s license, IDP, passport, visa, and other travel documents. If you are traveling with a child, you need to secure a child seat. When driving in El Salvador, a map can also come in handy to guide you on directions to each destination. Remember to bring with you warning triangles, beam deflectors, and other warning devices that will be useful in accidents. Make sure to have enough fuel for your trip. There are plenty of El Salvador petrol stations to refuel.
General Standards of Driving
Previously, most cars in El Salvador have manual transmissions; that’s why most car rental companies use the same transmission. However, locals, when driving in El Salvador, update the types of cars they drive on the road. So if you are not comfortable with a manual transmission on foreign roads, you can opt for an automatic one. It will depend on your preference.
Authorities in El Salvador impose the same speed limit of 90 kph on motorways and rural roads. Meanwhile, for cities and other urban areas, maintain your car speed at 50 kph. Overspeeding is one of the causes of road accidents and road deaths in El Salvador, so unless you want to jeopardize your vacation, always follow the speed limits. Limited speed limit signs are expected as you head to remote areas of the country, so you might as well pace yourself reasonably.
The driver and the passengers must use seat belts while the vehicle is moving. Most drivers take for granted this rule, but this basic regulation prevents you from getting severe injuries during car collisions or any road accidents. Children up to two years old and 15 kilograms have to be transported with a child restraint. Remember that children must sit at the rear side of the vehicle.
As you approach a roundabout, you have to slow down and watch for pedestrians on the crosswalk. Remember to yield to the existing traffic at the roundabout, avoid changing lanes, and not stop in the roundabout. When driving in El Salvador, a bus, truck, or any oversized vehicle may position next to you, so be mindful. Huge vehicles may need extra room to complete their turn at a roundabout.
Besides roundabouts, you must take note that overtaking in El Salvador is on the left. Every driver wishing to overtake another vehicle must see sufficient space and visibility ahead to avoid danger. Overtaking is prohibited at crossroads, on the top of the hill, on curves, and when visibility is insufficient.
Traffic Road Signs
Traffic signs serve as your guide when driving in El Salvador. Signs get limited when traveling to some roads in the country. Nevertheless, you have to be familiar with them to avoid getting lost and avoid accidents while on the road. Most road signs are in Spanish, so studying might be a good thing before driving in El Salvador. Here are some traffic signs that you will see on the roadside of the country.
Warning road signs are those that alert highway and road users of unexpected or dangerous conditions ahead, which might need you to slow down. Below are some of them.
- “Pavimento deslizante” - Slippery road
- “Rocas decrecientes” - Falling rocks
- “Obras” - Road works
- “De dos camino tráfico” - Two way traffic
- “Estrechamiento de calzada” - Road narrows
- “Cruce de peatones” - Pedestrian crossing
- “Curva peligrosa” - Dangerous curve
- “Estrechamiento de calzada por la derecha” - Road narrows on right
Regulatory road signs command drivers of what they must not and must do. They indicate and reinforce traffic laws and regulations that apply either all the time or at a specified time or place.
- “Ceder el Paso” - Give way / Yield.
- “Entrada prohibida” - No entry
- “Límite de velocidad mínimo” - Minimum speed limit
- “Límite de la velocidad máxima” - Maximum speed limit
- “Media vuelta prohibida” - No U-turn
- “Ninguna parada” - No stopping
- “Adelantamiento prohibido” - No overtaking
- “Entrada prohibida a vehículos de motor” - No motor vehicles
- “Prohibido el paso” - No entry
- “Prohibido estacionarse” - No parking
For Mandatory road signs, impose an obligation or command which drivers should, and other road users must comply with. See the list below for additional information on these types of signs.
- “Girar a la izquierda” - Turn to left
- “Gire a la derecha” - Turn to right
- “Rotatoria” - Roundabout
- “Curva a derecho” - Curve to right
- “Curva a izquierdo” - Curve to left
Priority road signs command the order in which vehicles must pass at intersection points. Without following these signs, you might get involved in alteration with other drivers and pedestrians who also intend courses of travel on the place as you. To avoid this, below are some priority signs you should take note of.
- “Detención obligatoria” - Stop and give way
- “Fin de prioridad” - End of priority road
- “Intersección con prioridad” - Junction with a minor road
- “Párese y ceda el paso” - Priority road
Right of Way
When two vehicles approach a road intersection by different roads, of which one does not enjoy any priority over the other, the driver coming from the right has the right of way. However, if the driver travels along a road having such priority has the right of way. All vehicles at any roads announcing their proximity using siren have the right of way. So if you happen to hear some sirens from ambulances, police cars, or other emergency vehicles, you must give way.
Legal Driving Age
The driving age in El Salvador is different from some countries. Others would always ask about what is the legal driving age in El Salvador. Authorities in El Salvador allow 15-year olds to secure a driver’s license and drive a private car. It is called the Young License for Private Vehicles, which expires when the driver turns 18. If you drive and have your legal driving age in El Salvador at 15, you must include in your requirements your parents’ consent and insurance.
The driving age in El Salvador may differ; however, all applicants have to undergo a series of tests to get their license. Still, the legal driving age in El Salvador follows with other territories, which is 18. However, if you are confident in driving at age 15, then you can do so. Before getting a license, you can first get more information on what is the legal driving age in El Salvador and its terms, and how to apply.
Laws on Overtaking
Before you overtake, you make sure that there is enough space for you to do so and when visibility ahead is sufficient. It may be a risk for you to overtake when driving in El Salvador on a bus, trucks, or other big vehicles. Remember that you are only to overtake on the left and not on the side lane you drive. And after you overtake, move back to the right-hand side of the road and do it without colliding with the vehicle overtaken.
You are only to overtake when you have enough room to maneuver and before doing so, remember to turn signals ahead of time to alert vehicles behind you and ahead of you. Overtaking is not allowed on curves, crossroads, and narrow roads. Tourists will always ask- is driving in El Salvador safe? Road conditions can be a factor; however, almost half of it depends on how law-abiding drivers are in the country. Follow the rules, avoid accidents.
Like most countries, El Salvador also drives on the right side of the road. If you are coming from the left-hand side driving countries, it will take you a few moments to get used to driving on the right. While on the road, ensure that you position your car on the far right of the lane to avoid any car collisions and give way to vehicles who wish to overtake. You need to stay on your lane, no matter how wide the roads are and how quiet it will be in the rural areas.
There will be instances that you need to use your phone for emergency purposes while on the road. Read more below to know more about using a handheld phone while driving in El Salvador.
Can I Use My Mobile Phone While Driving?
Salvadoran authorities do not allow drivers on a moving vehicle to navigate through any gadgets, including mobile phones. However, you can use the hands-free system to answer important calls. If you need to reply to an urgent text message or email, you can find someplace where you can stop and park while using your phone. Divided attention while on the road is one of the causes of accidents in El Salvador.
Driving Etiquette in El Salvador
Unfortunate incidents can come your way when driving in a foreign country. It could worsen if you are not prepared for what to do in certain circumstances. No matter how familiar you are with the country you are visiting, it can come in handy to know the locals’ basic etiquette. This way, you can spare frowns and the locals’ complaints to avoid getting into trouble while you are on the road.
In case your engine malfunctioned or you ran out of fuel, causing your car to breakdown, you need to make sure to steer clear your vehicle away from the travel lane. If this is not doable, you can contact your car rental company or the police (911) for assistance. While waiting for help, you can pull out the early warning devices you brought before starting your drive. Place the warning triangle at the back of your vehicle to signal drivers of an accident ahead.
Car breakdowns at night can be a handful, and the fact that you are on a foreign road adds up to it. Your warning triangles will not be enough to signal oncoming traffic at night. You can use a beam deflector or wear your visibility vest so drivers and other people can see you. Avoid leaving your car unattended on the roadside as it will signal several speculations from the locals, even if it is just a car breakdown. Don't try to fix the mechanical problems of your rented car on your own.
One reason for the police to stop you is you violated traffic laws. Avoid speeding away. You need to slow down your vehicle and position it on the roadside while the police ask you questions. Often, authorities will stop you if they see you driving irregularly on the road, looking like you are not in great condition to drive. You have to answer the police politely but avoid bribing them just to get away from your violation.
Be ready with your documents as they will likely ask for them. As for on-the-spot fines, the police will notify you of the violation you committed along with the penalty that you have to settle. Again, you will not pay them anything; instead, you have to visit the police station within 14 days to settle your penalty. In most cases, your driver’s license is withheld until you clear your violation.
Asking for Directions
While driving in El Salvador, your map can always come in handy. But what if you suddenly reached an area where a map can never identify your location and where you are headed. This circumstance will test your communication skills and how you approach people to ask for directions. Salvadorans are known to be very warm and accommodating people. They mostly speak Spanish, you bringing some phrases in their local language will be of great help.
You also have to be polite when asking help, questions, or directions from them. The way they treat you will also depend on how you initiate a conversation with them. Here are some Spanish phrases that will be useful for tourists in El Salvador.
- “Hola” - Hello
- “Por favor” - Please
- “Gracias” - Thank you.
- “Buenos días” - Good morning
- “Buenas tardes” - Good afternoon
- “Buenas noches” - Good night
- “¿Cómo está?” - How are you?
- “Mucho gusto” - Nice to meet you
- “Disculpe/Con permiso/Perdóname” - Excuse me
- “¿Me podría ayudar?” - Can you help me?
- “Estoy perdido” - I am lost
- “No hablo español muy bien” - I do not speak Spanish very well
- “¿Habla inglés?” - Do you speak English?
- “¿Cuánto cuesta?” - How much is it?
- “Busco un…” - I'm looking for a...
- “¿Dónde está…” - Where is…
Frequent checks are present in El Salvador, especially on border zones. If you are driving from El Salvador to Guatemala and vice versa, all travel documents should be available during cross-checks at the border. The same goes for tourists planning a return after driving in El Salvador to Honduras. Just like when the police stop you when approaching a checkpoint in El Salvador, slow down and do not speed away.
Authorities will ask for your travel documents, including your IDP, so have them in one place to not delay the inspection. Just stay inside your vehicle until the inspection is complete. You can politely thank the officer at the checkpoint and continue with your trip. You will never have problems with authorities so long as you have all your documents in place and follow the traffic laws in El Salvador.
You also have to know how to deal with an accident while on the road. Unfortunate incidents like this will test your presence of mind. You should know what to do and who to approach during accidents. Read more below.
What Should I Do if I Get Involved in an Accident?
Accidents can happen no matter how careful you may be. In the event of an accident, secure the accident scene and assess whether there are injuries to the parties involved. You can call an ambulance (913) to assist and treat injured ones and the police (911). For damage claims, you have to inform your car rental company about the accident. The documented report from the police will come in handy in case of insurance claims.
Do not just drive away, and do not let the other party leave the scene until the police arrive. Salvadoran law requires the driver of the vehicle which injures or kills someone to be arrested and detained until a judge can determine who’s responsible for the accident. Remember to exchange personal information with the other parties involved to communicate still, especially if damages to the vehicles are evident and either of you needs damage claims.
Driving Conditions in El Salvador
When in a foreign country, you also need to consider the country’s driving conditions and situation. This will help you prepare for any challenges you might encounter on the road while exploring tourist destinations. As you read through this guide, it will take you to some significant driving conditions in El Salvador so you can be ready and be more alert while driving in the country.
The Transit Division of the National Civil Police (PNC) revealed that an average of 63 road accidents is recorded every day from 2015 - 2018. From the same period, 75,421 accidents were recorded in El Salvador. Most accidents include collisions when vehicles are in motion and when the car hits a static object. Driver distraction, lane invasion, not following the priority passage, and avoiding keeping safety distance are top common causes of El Salvador’s accidents.
Road accidents happen in the department of the country’s capital, San Salvador, with almost half of the accidents recorded here. So if you are planning to explore the capital, drive defensively as accidents are frequent here. You also can’t count out roads in the rural areas, as complacency will also be a factor on quiet roads that will violate some road rules in the country.
When driving in El Salvador, you usually see vehicles like passenger cars, light commercial vehicles, taxis, heavy trucks, and city buses on the road. They typically are in a large number in key cities and towns. Some locals also use small and compact cars for those usually driving in the cities and rural areas in El Salvador. Others would opt for cars that withstand poor road conditions, like pickup cars and four-wheel drives, especially in traveling to potholed roads.
Currently, there are no toll roads in El Salvador. Being a small country with driving distances of about four to five hours, you can visit every destination on each side of El Salvador. The good thing about not having any toll roads when you drive will not cost you money when passing from one end to the other.
Despite not having any toll roads, El Salvador has Hwy CA-1 or the Pan-American Highway. This serves as the nation’s main highway traveling from the western Guatemalan border through San Salvador straight to the eastern part of the Honduran border. The CA-2 has the same direction along the coast and is intersected by three north-south highways running the country’s length.
El Salvador has newly constructed, well-marked, and paved highways running the length of the country. The main roads are generally well-maintained. You still have to be mindful of some large roadway markings in the urban areas and some potholed roads. As you travel out from the main highways, roads can be a challenge. They are not usually paved, and even in the dry season, you may pass through several potholed roads. And some are not passable by small vehicles after a heavy downpour.
When driving in rural areas during the rainy season, beware of floods and river roads. There will also be temporary bridges that may require you to slow down and be mindful when crossing. It is better to schedule your trip in El Salvador during the dry season to avoid all the hassle brought about by heavy rains and possible strong typhoons.
Drivers in El Salvador have a reputation for being unpredictable on the road. They do not always turn signals and suddenly cut in front of you. You need to drive defensively, as some drivers will opt not to follow traffic rules. Be mindful of driving on blind corners or across several lanes of traffic. While many drivers will fail to follow the right of way at intersections and junctions, it is best for you to religiously follow road rules to avoid accidents.
Besides driving defensively, you also have to anticipate what other drivers will do next since most of them tend to do what they believe is comfortable for them when on the road. While it can do good for you to stay calm and always yield to them, there are times that you must be aggressive on the road to get to the places you wish to go. Just remember that you can be aggressive and follow the road rules at the same time.
It will also be beneficial for you to be familiar with other matters about El Salvador’s driving conditions, such as the unit of speed used on speed limit signs and driving at night. Read through to know more details about other tips when driving in El Salvador.
What is the Unit Used to Measure Speed?
When driving in El Salvador, you normally know speed limits as part of the country’s traffic signs. They are printed in numbers with a corresponding unit which is kilometers per hour or kph. Speed limits vary in every area in El Salvador. They can go faster on rural and on highways. Better check them while driving to be guided and avoid any speeding tickets being issued by authorities.
Is Driving in El Salvador Safe at night?
If you plan to drive outside San Salvador, you can do it in daylight, like driving at night outside the capital can be dangerous. Inadequate road lights and many vehicles lack safety lighting or reflectors. There could also be some robbery cases as you head to rural and the country’s outskirts with low visibility or the absence of any light at all. Possible accidents will still happen even if you use your headlights, but other vehicles will not drive at night.
Things to Do in El Salvador
In the course of driving and exploring El Salvador, you might want to decide to look for opportunities in this fun country and eventually live here. As you explore more of this country, you'll find more interesting things. There are necessary things that you have to consider and documents that you need to prepare to secure a working permit if you wish to work and a residency permit if you decide to reside in El Salvador. As you read through, learn more about the things you can in the country aside from driving as a tourist.
Drive as a Tourist
You can drive in El Salvador for a maximum of thirty days with your local license and your International Driver’s Permit for most tourists. However, if you wish to stay longer than the specified period, you need to secure a license issued in El Salvador. Remember that you can’t overuse your local license as a tourist just to get away with getting the license issued in El Salvador. This can get you into trouble with authorities.
Work as a Driver
With agriculture being one of the top industries in El Salvador that provides jobs in the country, you can find job opportunities in delivery and truck drivers in the agriculture and manufacturing industries. Truck and delivery drivers in El Salvador earn between 490 USD to 520 USD in a month. Your salary will depend on your employer and level of mastery in driving. Remember that driving these types of vehicles is not an easy job.
Before you work legally in El Salvador, you need to secure both a Work Permit and a Temporary Residence Permit. These are valid for an initial period of one or two years with a five-year extension. You can visit the El Salvadoran Embassy in your country to get the detailed requirements and start your application. And remember to secure a driver’s license issued in El Salvador before you can work as a driver.
Work as a Travel Guide
One of the leading industries in the country is tourism. As El Salvador accommodates millions of visitors yearly, you can expect job opportunities in the industry. For travel guides in El Salvador, you have to be equipped with enough knowledge about its history, traditions, culture, and language. It will be a plus if you know multiple languages apart from the country’s official language.
Apart from being a guide, you can also explore the job of being a tourist driver. You are a travel guide and a driver at the same time. So it will be a plus if you know how to drive. Of course, it will require several training sessions before working in the tourism industry to provide an informative narration and description of each country’s destination. The same with exploring driving job opportunities in El Salvador, you have to secure a Work Permit and a Temporary Residence Permit.
Apply for Residency
Foreigners can only apply for permanent residence in El Salvador after three consecutive renewals of their Temporary Residence Permit. However, there are considerations given to Central American countries’ citizens to apply directly for a permanent residence. Those citizens from Spain, Latin American, or Spanish-speaking countries can apply for the permanent one after a tear of holding a Temporary Residence Permit.
Other Things to Do
There are plenty of things you can do in El Salvador if you plan to stay longer. With its natural wonders and unique charm, you might want to explore the country more and immerse yourself in its culture and tradition.
How to Exchange my Local Driver’s License for a Salvadoran License?
Most tourists are allowed to stay in El Salvador for up to ninety days. If you wish to stay and drive in El Salvador longer, you have to replace your local license with a Salvadoran license. You have to be at least 18 years old to apply for a Salvadoran license and submit your driving licence requirements like your passport, Temporary or Permanent Residence Card, Tax Identification Number, and series of driving tests authorized by the Deputy Minister of Transport.
The Top Destinations in El Salvador
El Salvador is for every tourist who loves adventure, natural attractions, and colorful customs and traditions. With so many sights to see, choosing on driving in Salvador now will assure you of the best experiences in a foreign land. Marvel your way to every magnificent attraction in El Salvador as you read through the top destinations in the country.
San Salvador is El Salvador’s capital and where most likely you start your trip in the country. It sits at the center of the country in a valley near the base of the city’s volcano. Who would expect to go into a volcano site at the country’s capital. Apart from San Salvador’s rich history, with origins dating back to the Spanish occupation of the Pipil tribes, it is also a city with intense earthquake activity from the San Salvador volcano.
- From El Salvador International Airport, head west toward Autopista Comalapa/RN-5.
- Follow Autopista Comalapa to San Salvador.
- Sharp right onto Autopista Comalapa/RN-5.
- Keep right to continue on Autopista Comalapa.
- Continue onto Bulevar Los Proceres.
- Take 49 Avenida Sur and Bulevar Arturo Castellanos/Boulevard Venezuela to Citi Venezuela.
- Keep left.
- Continue onto 49 Avenida Sur.
- Turn right at Oficina Electrónica Japonesa onto Pje N1.
- Slight right at Montheri Garage onto Antigua Calle del Ferrocarril.
- Turn right at Casa de jere onto Bulevar Arturo Castellanos/Bulevar Venezuela
- Continue straight past MotoFenix to stay on Bulevar Arturo Castellanos/Boulevard Venezuela.
- Turn right at Men's City onto Citi Venezuela.
Things To Do
You are in for a treat as you visit San Salvador, from volcanoes and lakes to national parks and museums; you can visit them all in the capital. Check the list below for more information.
1. Hike at El Boqueron National Park.
This park sits on top of the San Salvador volcano with an elevation of 5,905 feet. The park offers a panoramic view of San Salvador and the distant yet picturesque sight of Lake Ilopango and Izalco Volcano. This is just a 30-minute ride from the city, so you can opt for a day trip here and enjoy nature. One of the exciting things not to miss here is hiking down to the crater measuring 5km in diameter.
2. Go nature tripping at the Plan de la Laguna Botanical Garden.
The botanical garden came into place in 1976. You will find its location interesting as it sits within a volcanic crater just outside San Salvador City. The 3.15-hectare garden displays more than 3 500 species of native and exotic plants, from ferns to orchids, medicinal and desert plants, and native vegetation. There are a few iguanas, fish, turtles, and birds lurking around the garden for you to spot on.
3. Explore the National Museum of Anthropology.
This museum opened back in 1883 that will serve as a fascinating stop to understand El Salvador’s history and its people. It has five different halls featuring agriculture and human settlements, religion, arts, and trade. You will see some of the most significant artifacts of the pre-Columbian settlers from these five halls, from the Maya and Olmec to the Pipil tribes who inhabited the country.
4. Visit the National Palace.
The current National Palace is replacing the old one, which was destroyed in a fire during the late 1880s. This place offers visitors a glimpse of the political, historical, and national past of the country. It has four main rooms and more than one hundred secondary ones providing 1900s furnishings and well-curated historical displays.
5. Climb the Devil’s Door.
You can take a side trip here after exploring the city. It will give another view and atmosphere of San Salvador. Devil’s Door is made up of two striking boulders that reach for the sky. This site is for adventure hunters and one of the country’s most popular rock-climbing sites. From the top, you will have a view of El Salvador to the Pacific Ocean.
Santa Ana’s city is the second largest in El Salvador and boasts some of its most well-preserved colonial architecture. It sits just 65 kilometers from the capital; Santa Ana is also a place tourists visit as an alternative to San Salvador’s volcanoes and other natural attractions. The city’s long-standing coffee wealth reflects its architecture and is considered one of the most magnificent in Central America.
- From El Salvador International Airport, head west toward Autopista Comalapa/RN-5.
- Continue on Autopista Comalapa. Drive from Bulevar Monseñor Romero/RN-29 and Carr. Panamericana to La Libertad.
- Take Acceso a Ciudad Mujer to Carretera Panamericana.
- Follow Carretera Panamericana to Bulevar Los 44 en Santa Ana. Exit from Carretera Panamericana.
- Continúe con Bulevar Los 44. Take Av. Independencia to 6a Avenida Sur in Santa Ana.
Things To Do
Santa Ana is one exciting city as it shows some cultural ruins and natural attractions from which you can get to know more about El Salvador. Read below for sights to see and things to do in the city.
1. Hike the Santa Ana Volcano.
This attraction is not to be missed by anyone visiting the city. As you reach the top, see for yourself the stunning blue/green crater lake. The view from the top also offers the entire National Park. The volcano sits inside the Cerro Verde National Park, the biggest and one of the country’s most active volcanoes. Santa Ana volcano last erupted in 2005.
2. Explore Santa Ana Cathedral’s Architecture.
The cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Central America. If you will explore its architecture, it is inspired by a Neo-Gothic cathedral of Europe with ornate moldings covering the church’s front. And as you go inside, interior pillars and high arches are painted in slate and pink stripes, enhancing a sense of spaciousness and stillness.
3. Enjoy Water Activities at Lake Coatepeque.
The most popular activities at Lake Coatepeque are swimming and watersports like sailing, kayaking, water skiing, and scuba diving. Suppose you are doing this on a side trip to this lake. In that case, you can appreciate the great blue pool sitting beneath the peaks of Cerro Verde, Izalco, and Santa Ana volcano and surrounded by sloping sugar and coffee plantations.
4. Check out the Mayan Ruins in Tazumal.
Tazumal sits within the municipality of Chalchuapa near the city of Santa Ana. The Tazumal ruins is one of the most significant archeological sites in El Salvador, which offers a glimpse of what daily life was like for the Mayans. If you are looking for ruins with lesser crowds, these archeological sites in El Salvador are for you.
5. Visit the Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site.
This site is a pre-Columbian Mayan farming village dating back to A.D. 600 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The impressive ruins were discovered in 1976 and have become one of El Salvador’s most visited archeological sites. The Joya de Ceren sits just minutes away from Lake Coatepeque.
Playa El Tunco
About an hour’s drive from San Salvador is a tiny surf village of Playa El Tunco. It used to be a quiet village but has become one of the top destinations for surfers and visitors who love the ocean. This small town offers several activities that even non-surfers will love. Surfing enthusiasts flock here because of the ocean’s excellent and great waves for experienced and beginner surfers.
- From El Salvador International Airport, head west toward Autopista Comalapa/RN-5.
- Drive from CA-2 to La Libertad.
- Sharp right onto Autopista Comalapa/RN-5.
- Sharp left onto CA-2.
- Turn right at the playground to stay on CA-2.
- Keep right.
- Turn right onto CA-2.
- Drive to your destination.
Things to do
For surfers, you can go surfing all day if you want to. But for those who just want to spend some time on the beach and enjoy the island vibe, there’s more for you at Playa El Tunco. Read more below.
Waves in El Tunco run all year round, but if you are an experienced surfer and want to ride good waves here, consistent waves fall during the wet season between May and October, followed by March and April. Within walking distance is access to four breaks of different sizes. Surfboards for rent and surfing lessons are available near the beachfront for those who want to try this exciting activity.
2. Relax and stroll through the town.
Even with the busy days at the beachfront, especially on weekends, you can still find time to chill, enjoy the island vibe by just sitting at some bars and restaurants at the El Tunco, read a book or watch the surfers from afar. If it’s too relaxed for you, you can stroll along with the village, get some massage or explore the town with the locals. There are small shops and stores where you can grab a bite and buy some smoothie or coffee.
3. Eat Pupusas.
Everyone who visits El Salvador never leaves the country without trying their traditional food, “pupusas.” These are thick corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of fillings and cooked on a grill. The most common fillings include cheese, loroco or a flower bud, or chicharon. You can never miss El Salvador’s “pupusa,” and when you visit the country in November, check out the “National Pupusa Day.”
4. Beach caving.
You can explore the caves in El Tunco, located to the left, facing the sea. You can just walk for about ten to fifteen minutes to reach the caves. These caves are only reachable during low tide and dry seasons. These are large caves and can even stand on them. So if you happen to visit Playa El Tunco, you can check out the caves if accessible.
5. Watch the Sunset.
There’s no leaving a beach without witnessing wonders brought by the sun. In Playa El Tunco, you can see the spectacular sunset on a fine day. It is a perfect way to end the day as the sun slowly goes down and kisses the horizon with its changing colors illuminating the ocean. On a rainy or stormy day, you can expect thunderstorms, as these are frequent with the country’s location near the Pacific Ocean.
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