Red Volkswagen van and a white pickup truck parked under a palm tree in front of a cathedral in El Salvador.

Getting Around El Salvador

El Salvador is a tiny country and its cities and sights are incredibly well-connected. Even so, navigating the country can be a little tricky, especially for first-time visitors. But there’s no need for concern. Getting around El Salvador is incredibly easy once you know the trick.

Depending on your budget and the amount of time in the country, you have several options for transportation in El Salvador.

The most important factor to consider while travelling in El Salvador is to be sure of your route and destination. Gang activity is an unfortunate reality in the country, and certain areas are prone to violence and crime. Always know where you’re going and ask locals what areas to avoid. It’s never a good idea to hop on random buses, especially in San Salvador.

Local Buses

Local buses are by far the most common way to get around El Salvador. For travellers and locals alike, “Chicken Buses” as they’re known, are both convenient and dirt-cheap.

These former American school buses are a sight to be seen, with their colourful paint jobs and often gaudy accessories. Often blasting loud music in the wee hours of the morning, the ride alone is often an experience in itself.

Local buses in El Salvador run nearly everywhere, connecting towns and villages, and with central hubs in the bigger cities. There’s almost nowhere in El Salvador you can’t get by bus. And most single trips cost less than a dollar.

While chicken buses are a great budget option, it requires many different buses to reach your destination. This can lead to some long and exhausting travel days.

School bus painted green and red.
Chicken Buses are Fun but can make for long travel days

Are Local Buses Safe in El Salvador?

Generally speaking, taking local buses in El Salvador is safe. Most roads are too small for the buses to speed or drive dangerously, but accidents do happen. And if you remember riding a school bus as a kid, seat belts aren’t a thing.

As well, depending on the route, buses can get incredibly cramped. There have been occasions where I’ve personally spent an hour standing in the doorway, holding onto anything I can for support.

The last thing to note regarding safety is to keep an eye on your belongings. Salvadorans are generally some of the kindest people in Central America. But petty theft happens, and cramped buses make for easy targets.

Good | Cheap and a fun experience.

Bad | Journeys can be long. Though unlikely, there is a risk of theft.

Taxi & Uber

In larger cities, taxis and Uber are the way to go. Fares are far cheaper than the equivalent in most western countries, and they’re found everywhere.

While both Uber and regular taxis are available, for the sake of convenience and safety, Uber is more commonly used by travellers. This isn’t to say taxis are unsafe — we’ve used taxis in all major cities without issue — but Uber is generally safer and more convenient.

While their services are typically only available in cities such as Santa Ana and San Salvador, their use isn’t so limited. Many Uber drivers will happily take you between major cities and to popular destinations such as El Tunco and the Ruta de las Flores.

Yellow building with a ring of flowers and birds on it. Beside it, another building painted with indigenous art from El Salvador.

The Complete Guide the Ruta de las Flores

Wander the cobbled streets of the many charming towns along El Salvadors famous route of flowers located in the lush Salvadoran highlands.

Get the Guide!

Taxi Safety in El Salvador

Taxis in El Salvador are regulated but rules aren’t heavily enforced. And unfortunately, some drivers will take advantage of foreigners. On top of that, unlicensed drivers, known as piratas, operate outside the system and can be outright dangerous for travellers.

If you are using a traditional taxi in El Salvador, it’s best to go through an official operator. Better yet, have your accommodation or an official at the airport organize it for you. Ultimately, Uber is the safer option.

Pros | Convenient, fast, and relatively cheap.

Cons | Typically limited to cities. Taxis can be dangerous.

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Hiring a Driver

An excellent option for getting to specific places in a hurry is to hire a local driver. Many hotels, guesthouses and tour companies offer this service.

The main advantage of hiring a private driver is not worrying about the return trip. Unlike using a taxi or Uber, you won’t have to hire a new one to get back.

This is especially convenient for visiting more out-of-the-way locations like Joya de Ceren or the Malacatiupán waterfalls, where hiring a ride back to the city could be difficult.

A bonus is you’ll also have a local guide. Spending a few hours in a car with a local can be a great way to learn about the culture and the country as a whole.

Woman sits on the edge of a rock ledge overlooking a pair of waterfalls in a river.
The easiest way to get here, is to hire a driver.

Is it Safe to Hire a Driver in El Salvador?

As with taxis, there are always some drivers who will take advantage of travellers. Though the risk is low, it exists.

The best and easiest way to avoid problems is to always book a driver through your hotel or guesthouse. They’ll know which drivers are reputable and which are not.

Pros | Convenient and fast. Having a guide is a bonus.

Cons | Expensive.

Renting a Car

Driving in El Salvador can be a daunting task, especially in major cities. But there is no more convenient way to get around.

Hiring a car is a straightforward process and depending on what you’re looking for can be quite reasonably priced.

Of course, driving won’t be for everyone. It can be intimidating for many and certainly isn’t a budget option. But having the freedom to come and go as you please, and to quickly cover long distances, nothing beats driving yourself.

Is Driving in El Salvador Safe

Driving in El Salvador can be tricky for some. Road conditions can be questionable and traffic in large cities is chaotic. Overall, however, it’s generally considered quite safe.

Read More | Driving in El Salvador

See the Guide

Pros | Fast, incredibly convenient. Freedom.

Cons | Expensive. Having to drive in cities.

Hitchhiking in El Salvador

While I would never outright suggest doing so, hitchhiking in El Salvador is a great way to get around. Although limited to rural areas, it’s a common practice among locals and some travellers.

We were first introduced to this by a fellow traveller, a young German girl who was hitching her way through all of Central America. And we were shocked at how easy it was.

It takes little more than waving down a passing vehicle, and in our experience, we’ve never waited more than 5 minutes for a ride. And it’s almost inevitably a pickup truck, so if you do hitch a ride, expect to ride in the box of the truck.

In our experience, we’ve never been asked to pay for a hitch. But it’s probably a good idea to have a dollar or two on hand, just in case.

A blue pickup truck passing a dump truck full of logs on the highway. Several hitchhikers are standing in the back of the pickup.
This is the standard ride while hitchhiking in El Salvador

Is Hitchhiking in El Salvador Safe?

Safety is never guaranteed while hitchhiking, which is why I’m not suggesting you do it. Especially not in the city, and never at night. While Salvadorans are typically kind and friendly, you never know who will be picking you up.

Even with a safe driver, there are risks involved with riding in the back of a pickup truck — especially on the highway.

Hitching in El Salvador is generally considered safe, but if you do so, understand the risks involved.

Pros | There’s nothing cheaper. A fun experience.

Cons | Can be dangerous.

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