Getting Around El Salvador
There are no scheduled internal domestic flights.
San Salvador’s old international airport, Ilopango, lies to the east of the city and is now shared between the military and civil charter operators. It may return to a civilian use for scheduled flights.
Well-maintained paved roads cover most of the country. New cars, particularly with foreign licence plates, are targets not just for any valuables that might be left in the car but also for parts theft. Carjacking is not uncommon (especially in the cities) and drivers are advised to travel only by day and with the doors locked at all times.
Side of the roadRight
El Salvador has an extensive network of good-quality intercity paved roads and San Salvador’s roads are among the best in Central America. However, of all the country’s roads, at least a third are unpaved, many in large towns. Dust, mud and potholes are all common.
At a national level, roads are managed by El Salvador’s Ministerio de Obras Publicas (Minister of Public Works). Below this management and maintenance is on a provincial and municipal level. The Pan-American Highway is designated CA-1 with other intercity highways having a numerical RN designation.
Available in San Salvador and at the airport from international and local firms. Drivers must be at least 21 years old and have held their licence for a minimum of one year.
Travellers who would rather avoid the cross-country chicken buses might opt to hire a taxi to take them to their destination. El Salvador is small enough to make this feasible, though it is best to clearly negotiate a fixed price before departure. Larger hotels often offer their own car service to guests.
Taxis on the street are plentiful but not metered, so it's essential to agree the fare beforehand. Cabs are yellow with a chequered stripe and easy to flag down. Alternatively, head to the town square (or similar), where taxis usually congregate between fares. Drivers do not expect tips, except when the taxi has been hired for the day.
Cycling on main highways is certainly possible. Although a densely populated country, El Salvador’s roads are often surprisingly quiet and hard shoulders are generally wide enough to give a margin of safety. Some of the climbs can seem long and arduous, but there are few that are impossible. Unpredictable, erratic driving is always a risk, and off main highways, potholes and mud can make cycling a chore.
Without formal timetables or ticketing systems, competing colourfully painted buses criss-cross El Salvador, visiting almost all towns, villages and cities. Don’t expect luxury (these are old US school buses) but fares are low – pay on board after grabbing seat. Some routes feature especial or super-especial services, typically with air conditioning and fewer stops, and usually with less overcrowding.
Seat belts must be worn. Speed limits vary from region to region.
Automóvil Club de El Salvador (tel: +503 2231 5555; www.aces.com.sv) has reciprocal agreements with some international motoring organisations and can provide further information on driving in El Salvador.
A national or International Driving Permit is required for 30-day visits, after which visitors need to obtain a Salvadoran licence.
Beware of floods on coastal and river roads, and watch out for temporary bridges that may require slower, careful crossing.
City buses are cheap and offer a good service, but are often crowded.
San Salvador's railways are managed by FENADESAL (Ferrocarriles Nacionales de El Salvador) (www.fenadesal.gob.sv). However, there are no fully-functioning passenger services at present.
A scheme aimed at commuter traffic involves limited services between San Salvador and the nearby town of Apopa. It is hoped this will lead to a larger re-opening of the rail network.
There is a regular ferry service across Lago Suchitlán to Suchitoto and ferries ply the waters around La Unión.