Getting there & away
San Salvador has three main terminals for long-distance domestic buses: Terminal de Oriente (Alameda Juan Pablo II) is used by buses serving all eastern and some northern destinations; Terminal de Occidente(Blvd Venezuela) serves all western destinations, including most of the Guatemalan border crossings; and Terminal de Sur (Autopista a Comalapa), also known as Terminal San Marcos, serves destinations to the south and southeast, and is several kilometers south of the city center.
All three terminals are busy and hectic. They're not unsafe, per se, but keep an eye on your bags and pockets - and on buses pulling in and out! Some destinations have different categories of service, so be sure you know what bus you're getting on. 'Directo' sounds nice but is usually standard stop-and-go service known as 'ordinario.' 'Especial' buses have air-con, reclining seats and TV, and are well worth the small extra cost. They also make fewer stops (or none at all), which is not only faster but safer - though relatively rare, most bus crime occurs when a 2nd-class bus picks up an unsavory character mid-route.
To get to this terminal, take bus 9, 29 or 34 from the city center; bus 29 or 52 from Blvd de los Héroes; bus 7C or 34 from Terminal Occidente; or bus 21 from Terminal de Sur. Most buses coming from the city center drop you on the opposite side of a busy roundabout. Use the pedestrian walkway to cross - it's safer and leads right into the terminal.
The following destinations are served by buses departing from Terminal de Oriente:
Chalatenango Bus 125 (US$0.90, two hours, every 10 minutes from 4am to 6:40pm).
Cojutepeque Take an ordinary San Vicente bus (US$0.40, one hour).
El Amatillo (Honduran border) Bus 306 or 346 (directo US$3, four hours, every 30 minutes from 3:45am to 3:45pm; super especial US$5, four hours, 5:20am, 11:40am and 2:20pm); or take any San Miguel bus and transfer to bus 330.
El Poy (Honduran border) Bus 119 (US$1.60, three hours, every 30 minutes from 4am to 4pm).
Ilobasco Bus 111 (US$0.70, 1½ hours, every 10 to 15 minutes 5am to 8pm); some Sesuntepeque-bound buses (bus 112) also enter Ilobasco.
La Palma Take an El Poy bus (US$1.50, 2¾ hours, every 30 minutes from 4am to 4pm).
La Unión Bus 304 (directo US$3, four hours, every 30 minutes from 4:30am to 4pm; especial US$5, three hours, 1pm).
San Francisco Gotera Bus 305 (US$3, 3½ hours, 6:40am, 12:30pm and 2:33pm); or take any San Miguel bus and transfer to bus 328.
San Miguel Bus 301 (directo US$2.10, 2½ hours, every 10 minutes from 3am to 5:10pm; super especial US$4, two hours, 7am, 8am and every 40 minutes from 11am to 3pm).
San Sebastián Bus 110 (US$0.68, 1½ hours, every 20 minutes from 5:30am to 7pm).
San Vicente Bus 116 (directo US$0.83, 1½ hours, every 10 minutes from 4:40am to 9pm; especial US$0.83, one hour, 6am, 6:20am, 6:40am, 7am, 4:20pm, 5pm, 5:30pm and 6pm).
Santa Rosa de Lima Take an El Amatillo bus, or any San Miguel bus, and transfer to bus 330.
Sesuntepeque Bus 112 (US$1, two hours, every 15-30 minutes from 4:20am to 6pm).
Suchitoto Bus 129 (US$0.66, 1½ hours, every 20 minutes from 4:35am to 8:15pm).
Usulután Bus 302 (US$1.50, 2¾ hours, 7am and 8am); or use Terminal de Sur.
From the city center, bus 34 will drop you in front of the western terminal; from Blvd de los Héroes take bus 44 down 49a Av Sur, get off at Blvd Venezuela and walk a few blocks west to the terminal. From Terminal de Oriente, take bus 7C or 34; both buses return to Terminal de Oriente but bus 7C is fastest, notwithstanding the fact you catch it heading west on Blvd Venezuela.
The following destinations are served by buses departing from Terminal de Occidente:
Ahuachapán Bus 202 (directo US$1, 2¼ hours, every 10 minutes 4:50am to 7:10pm; especial US$2, one hour, every 20 minutes from 7am to 6pm).
Joya de Cerén Bus 108 to San Juan Opico (US$0.52, 1¼ hours, every 10 minutes from 5:30am to 8pm).
La Hachadura Take bus 205 to Sonsonate, transfer to bus 259.
La LibertadBus 102 (US$0.55, one hour, every 10 minutes from 4:30am to 8pm). Note: the bus passes in front of the western terminal, not inside; alternatively catch it at its terminal on 37a Av Norte near the Gimnacio Nacional, or at Iglesia La Ceiba de Guadalupe.
Las Chinamas Take bus 202 to Ahuachapán, transfer to bus 263.
Los Cóbanos Take bus 205 to Sonsonate, transfer to bus 257.
Metapán Bus 201A (directo US$2.50, 1¾ hours, every 30 minutes from 6am to 6:30pm).
Ruínas de San Andrés Take ordinary Santa Ana bus to ruins turnoff (US$0.80, 25 minutes).
San Cristóbal Bus 498 (US$1.25, three hours, 4:10pm, 4:50pm and 5:20pm Monday to Friday, plus 7:20am Monday and Friday and12:20pm Saturday).
Santa Ana Bus 201 (directo US$0.80, 1¼ hours, every 10 minutes from 4am to 8:10pm; especial US$1.25, one hour, every 20 minutes from 6am to 7:40pm).
Sonsonate Bus 205 (directo US$0.70, 1½ hours, every three to 10 minutes from 4:20am to 8pm; especial US$1, 1¼ hours, every 15 minutes from 5:30am to 7pm).
To get to Terminal de Sur take bus 26 or microbus 11B from the city center, or bus 21 from Terminal Oriente. From Terminal de Sur, bus 11-B is the most convenient, stopping at the city center and then on Alameda Juan Pablo II - handy if you're headed to the Blvd de los Héroes, Colonia Escalón or Zona Rosa areas. Buses 26 and 'A' also work if you're just going to the city center.
The following destinations are served by buses departing from Terminal de Sur:
Costa del Sol Bus 495 (calle vieja US$1.10, 2½ hours, every 30 minutes from 6am to 6pm; calle nueva US$1.10, 1½ hours, 8am and 4pm only).
Puerto El Triunfo Bus 185 (US$1.50, two hours, 9:05am, 11:10am, 12:50pm, 1:35pm, 2:10pm and 5:30pm); or take an ordinary Usulután bus to Jiquilisco turnoff and transfer to bus 363.
Usulután Bus 302 (directo US$1.50, 2½ hours, every 10 minutes from 4am to 4:55pm; especial US$2, 1½ hours, 8am, 9:10am, 11:15am, 12:35pm, 1pm, 1:30pm, 2pm, 2:40pm, 3pm and 4:25pm).
Zacatecoluca Bus 133 (via calle vieja US$0.68, 1½ hours, every 10 minutes from 4:30am to 8:10pm; via calle nueva US$0.68, one hour, every 10 minutes from 4:30am to 8:10pm).
A number of bus lines offer international bus service throughout Central America. It's highly recommended that you use 1st-class service for safety as much as comfort. Some companies offer two classes (usually 'executive' and '1st class') on a single split-level bus. All quoted prices are one way.
King Quality/Comfort Lines Terminal Puerto Bus (2271 3330, 2271 1361; Juan Pablo II); Zona Rosa (2257 8997; Blvd del Hipódromo) Service to Guatemala City (Comfort US$22, five hours, 7:30am and 1:30pm; first/'King' class US$26/33, five hours, 6am and 3:30pm), Tegucigalpa (first/'King' class US$28/41, six hours, 6am and 1:30pm), San Pedro Sula (first/'King' US$28/41, six hours, 5am and 12:30pm), Managua (first/'King' US$28/42, 10½ hours, 11:30am) and San José, Costa Rica (US$48, 18 hours, 3:30am). Buses depart from Terminal Puerto Bus and pass its Blvd del Hipódromo office 30 minutes later.
Pullmantur (2243 1300; www.pullmantur.com, in Spanish; Hotel Sheraton Presidente; Av La Revolución, Zona Rosa) Service to Guatemala City (executive/1st class US$26/41, 4½ hours, 7am and 3pm Monday to Saturday, 8:30am and 3pm Sunday) and Tegucigalpa (executive/1st class US$27/45, 6½ hours, 2:15pm).
Second Class (2217 3300; Terminal Puerto Bus, Alameda Juan Pablo II) Groups of five 2nd-class bus lines rotate days to provide daily service to Guatemala (standard US$10, five hours, hourly 4am to 3pm; executive US$13, five hours, 6am and 4:30pm) and Tapachula, Mexico (US$43, 10 hours, 6am).
Tica Bus (www.ticabus.com) Hotel San Carlos (2222 4808; Calle Concepción 121); Zona Rosa (2243 9764; Blvd Hipódromo) Service to Guatemala City (US$11, five hours, 6am), Tegucigalpa (US$15, six hours, 5:30am), Managua (US$25, 11 hours, 5am) and San José, Costa Rica (US$42, 18 hours, 3am). For San Pedro Sula (US$23, nine hours) take Tegucigalpa bus and transfer; for Panama City (US$61, 36 hours) take San José bus and transfer. Buses depart from Calle Concepción and pass its Blvd del Hipódromo office approximately 15 minutes later.
Rental cars from well-known chains average US$50 to US$60 per day for an ordinary car: pretty pricey, especially factoring in gas prices. Ask around and check for weekend, long-term or web-only specials. Local companies are significantly cheaper - starting around US$25 per day - but less formal in their operations and service. This doesn't make them unreliable, per se, but factor in your ability to handle a breakdown or other situation should it arise - for example, how good is your Spanish? Do you have a cell phone? How much luggage do you have?
It's typically cheaper to rent in the city rather than at the airport, where agencies include an 11% surcharge. Recommended car-rental agencies include the following:
Alamo/UNO (2211 2111; Blvd del Hipódromo 426; 7am-6pm Mon-Fri; 8am-5pm Sat, 8am-noon Sun)
Budget (2260 4333; www.budget.com.sv, in Spanish; 1a Calle Poniente 2765; 9am-1pm & 2-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat)
Quick Rent a Car (2229 6959; www.quickrentacar.com.sv, in Spanish) Offers hotel or airport pick up/drop off.
El Salvador's main international airport, and a major Central American hub, Aeropuerto Internacional Comalapa (SAL; 2339 8264) is located 50km southeast of San Salvador. Airline offices in San Salvador are listed below; they also have offices at the airport. Many of the phone numbers listed are for central call centers and may be open longer hours.
American Airlines (2298 0777; Edificio La Centroamericana, Alameda Roosevelt; 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat)
Continental Airlines(2207 2040; Metrocentro, 2nd fl, Blvd de los Héroes; 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat)
Copa Airlines (2209 2672; World Trade Center I, cnr 89a Av Norte & Calle del Mirador; 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-noon Sat)
Delta Air Lines (2275 9292; World Trade Center I, cnr 89a Av Norte & Calle del Mirador; 8am-5:30pm Mon-Fri, 8am-11am Sat)
TACA (2267 8222; Galerías Escalón, street level, Paseo General Escalón; 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm Sat, 9am-5pm Sun)
United Airlines (2279 3900; Galerías Escalón, street level, Paseo General Escalón; 8:30am-6:30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat)