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Renting a Car In El Salvador: All You Need to Know

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Renting a car in a country that is not your own can be intimidating. That's why we are here to help! We spent two weeks road tripping this small Central American country. So without further ado, let's dive right in to everything you need to know to rent a car in El Salvador.

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Rent a Car in El Salvador vs Public Transportation

We have done El Salvador both ways. The first time we used just public transportation, and the second we rented a car. We can say that both are doable, but here are some of the Pros and Cons.

Pro: If You Rent a Car in El Salvador  it Gives You More Freedom

Having a car means you don't need to worry about a timetable. You can go when you want, where you want, and for however long you want.

rent a car in El Salvador

If you rent a car you can reach wherever you want, whenever you want.

Con: It is More Expensive to Rent a Car in El Salvador

The public transportation is so ridiculously cheap in El Salvador, that getting a car adds many more expenses such as rental fees, insurance, gas, and parking. 

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Pro: If You Rent a Car in El Salvador You Can Visit Hidden Gems

Many of the most amazing spots in El Salvador are truly off the beaten path. This means that public transportation options are non-existent if you want to visit places like the geothermal springs or the hot spring waterfall. Having a car will allow you to be able to explore more authentic places.

hot spring water, things to do in El Salvador
Cascadas de Don Juan, Ruta de las flores
Los Ausoles de Atiquizaya, things to do in El Salvador

Some of the best spots in El Salvador can only be reached by renting a car.

Con: It Can Be More Stressful to Rent a Car in El Salvador

As all roads are not in great shape in El Salvador, there is always the stress of keeping your car safe. We ran into this issue many times, so make sure to do your research before blindly following Google Maps.

Renting a car in El Salvador

Roads can be unpredicatable.

Pro: Traveling is Much More Comfortable

Public transportation is very often extremely packed, and there is no AC. Not to mention that schlepping your luggage around on crowded chicken buses is not ideal. With a car you don't have to worry about this.

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Is Renting a Car in El Salvador Worth It?

This is for you to decide. But in our opinion, time is more valuable than money. We also love exploring more deeply into nature.

If you really only want to hit the major tourist hot spots, than renting a car may not be necessary, But if you want to really see more authentic spots, than renting a car in El Salvador is the way to go.

Rent a Car in El Salvador
Views while renting a car in El Salvador

The view driving near San Miguel

Renting a Car in El Salvador In the Airport Vs the City

If you want to rent a car in El Salvador, there are two options: renting straight from the airport, and renting from the city center. The difference is that renting from the airport is much more convenient, but is more expensive. There is a 13% tax on all rental cars, but another 15% on top of that as an "airport fee".

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If you are just visiting for a few days, we would suggest renting from the airport. However, if you are staying for a longer period of time, that 15% would be better saved by getting a rental in the city.

Car Rental Companies in El Salvador

The different rental car companies at the San Salvador Airport.

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Road Conditions While Driving in El Salvador

Most main highways in El Salvador are well paved, It's when you want to explore a bit off the beaten path that this becomes tricky. More times than we had wished we thought "I wish we got a 4x4". Unfortunately we rented a smaller car that was low to the ground, and that didn't work out well for us,

The bottom of our car got completely destroyed, and if we had opted for a larger car we would have been fine! That being said, if you are adventurous like us, then get a bigger car. You'll thank us later.

dirt roads while renting a car in El Salvador

The road to Los Ausoles

If you don't plan on getting a 4x4, then we suggest skipping the hot spring waterfall, los ausoles, and Conchagua volcano.

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If You Rent a Car in El Salvador and Want to Cross Borders

When we first planned our second trip to El Salvador, we had intentions of also visiting Honduras and Guatemala. However, when you rent a car in El Salvador, there is special documentation needed to cross the borders. 

The permission is granted by your rental company and is at least $150. Each company varies about when they can issue the paperwork. For example, Alamo said that they require a 72 hour request in advance for this.

Renting a Car in El Salvador

It may be better to leave your car inside the country,

Aside from the paperwork of crossing the border, you will then be forced to purchase the full coverage on the vehicle (not to mention you should probably also splurge for the 4x4).

When all is said and done, the price can double, triple, or even quadruple! This is definitely something to keep in mind if you rent a car in El Salvador.

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Gas Prices in El Salvador

The price of gas in El Salvador is pretty in line with many other places around the globe. It hovers around $1/ liter which is around $4/gallon.

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If Something Goes Wrong with Your Rental Car

This was particularly something that we had to deal with unfortunately. We drove around for ages trying to find someone who would fix our car.

Our Situation:

We had driven on a bad road (the one to "los ausoles") and the underneath of the car got ripped off. We had to completely replace a few of the parts, and the bumper and the side were torn up. If this had happened in the US, we would be looking at a pretty hefty price tag.

destroyed car in El Salvador
car trouble renting a car in El Salvador

The outcome of driving our rental car down terrible roads.

The good news is that in El Salvador things are much cheaper to fix. After everything we had to fix, we spent $300. Being that it was a few-day job, we directly brought it to the rental company and we paid them on the spot when giving the car back.

It may sound odd, but we were thankful that it worked out this way. We didn't have to wait for them to send us a bill, and everything was settled within minutes.

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Moral of the Story:

Drive carefully when you rent a car in El Salvador, and really give a thought to getting a 4x4 or high clearance vehicle. If you can get something fixed at a shop-great. If not, just be honest with the rental company.

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Other Things to Keep in Mind If You Rent a Car in El Salvador

Many of the cars in El Salvador are brought down from the US (after they are no longer wanted in the states). This means that it is very common to find certain things missing such as seatbelts, airbags, and even horns.

Make sure to ask your rental company about these things, as well as checking that everything is working before you drive away with your rental vehicle.

Always drive carefully, and remember to expect the unexpected!

cow on street in El Salvador

You never know what you'll run into on the roads!

We hope this has helped in your decision of whether or not you want to rent a car in El Salvador. Now you are ready to explore all that's out there!

Want to know some must see places throughout the country? Well we have plenty of great El Salvador travel guides for exploring this underrated country,

Ready to plan your trip? How about maybe another getaway?  Whatever it is, we're here to help! We're here to help you explore more, and save money. Want to learn more about our specialized travel planning services? We have a few different Travel Planning packages to choose from.

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