El Salvador Driving Advice and Car Hire Info
The research for this website was carried out mainly in 2011 and 2012. Therefore there is a good chance that much of the information may now be out of date. This is particularly true of countries in the developing world, especially Asia, Africa and parts of South America where conditions can change often. Also, the political climate in many countries has changed a lot in recent years. Therefore the information on this website should be treated with caution. You should always check with your Government’s website or the UK Foreign office travel advice website before finalising plans to drive abroad.
Driving In El Salvador
You can use an EU Photo licence for up to 3 months, but it may be advisable to also take an International Driving Permit. Most of the main roads are generally in very good condition and are some of the best in Central America. Many are dual carriageway, but even smaller local roads are usually in reasonable condition with very few pot holes.
The Panamerican Road crosses El Salvador and connects Santa Ana, Santa Tecla, San Salvador, San Vicente, San Miguel, the Western border with Guatemala and the Eastern border with San Miguel. Driving in El Salvador is on the right the speed limit is 90 kmh on motorways and 40 kmh in cities, though there are very few speed limit signs. If in doubt, as a general rule of thumb, make sure you aren’t the fastest car on the road as the police tend to be inconsistent in their approach and may target you as a foreigner, though I was never stopped when driving in El Salvador.
Driving style is fairly laid back and non aggressive, though I noticed an increase in speed and urgency when approaching San Salvador at around 15 km from the Capital. I avoided driving in San Salvador centre as the traffic is generally horrific by day and its not really safe to drive at night unless you know where you’re going.
El Salvador international airport is a great location to pick up a rental car. Its well away from the centre and you drive out onto quite, orderly, roads that are in great condition. If you arrive at night though I’d maybe stay near the airport and pick the car up the next day -if you do this though, call the rental company from outside the arrivals terminal. If you try to walk back into arrivals as I did, you will incur the displeasure of the policeman guarding the doors.
The main hazard on roads in El Salvador is poorly marked speed bumps. You could severely damage your car if you hit one at speed and another hazard is other drivers braking unexpectedly as they spot a speed bump at the last minute. Most towns in El Salvador are set out in a grid system so its generally quite easy to find your way around, though many side roads don’t have street signs.
El Salvador is a small country and driving times and distances are surprisingly low. Its possible to drive between the countries farthest points in around 4 hours. For tourists, expect to be able to travel from the airport along CA-2 to the Sonsonate turn off in around 45 minutes. From there its around another 1 hr 15 minutes to the car park at Cerro Verde National Park, for Volcans Santa Ana and Izalco. (The actual location isn’t marked on many maps but is a left turn along CA-8 just after El Sunza, heading East towards the CA-1). From Lago Coatapeque it takes about 45 minutes to reach the Coast road at La Libertad.
Driving at night can be dangerous outside the capital as there are few road lights and many vehicles lack adequate lighting. Salvadoran law requires that the driver of a vehicle that injures or kills another person must be arrested and detained until a judge can determine responsibility for the accident, so drive defensively and carefully at all times.
El Salvador Car Rental –
Hertz, Alamo, National,Avis, Budget,Thrifty, have branches here. Also usually features on Car rental broker sites such as Argus Car Hire and Web discount sites such as LastMinute.com. The international company Economy Rent a car also operate in El Salvador.
Below are some local companies though unfortunately none seem to have a working English language website. Try emailing them in English and Spanish (using www.Freetranslation.com or similar) and see if you can find someone who speaks English that can help advise you.
El Salvador Self Driving Rules –
Most of the big companies allow cars to be taken to Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua but will probably charge for this and will require you to advise that this is your intention when you make the reservation. (Hertz charge 50 dollars).