Driving in El Salvador


toyota rav 4, foreign service cars, good cars for el salvadorOur car arrived last week. So with a newfound sense of freedom, we’ve been making our way around the city and trying to learn our way around. Since public transportation is a no-go and general mobility is somewhat limited, having our car is huge.I no longer feel trapped in our apartment while Kail is at work. We no longer have to bum rides to the grocery store, to restaurants, to the movies — basically everywhere (and Kail no longer has to rely on others for rides to work) — or call a cab to take us from point A to B and back.Even better: Our mobility is no longer limited to getting from point A to B and back. We can — as we did this weekend — drive from home to the embassy for a run, followed by breakfast and a trip to the supermarket. We can return home for a couple hours then head back out again to explore San Salvador. We can take a wrong turn (or three), get lost, find our way home and learn some new routes around the city.We can run out for frozen yogurt for dessert. We can drive ourselves to church. We can learn to navigate the crazy Salvadoran traffic circle rules (or lack thereof), where the center lane has the right-of-way and it’s totally acceptable to shoot across three lanes of traffic to make a sudden exit.I have to admit: I was mildly terrified of driving here before I got behind the wheel. While traffic is nothing compared to Washington, DC, drivers here are generally more aggressive, and there are also jaywalking pedestrians and stray dogs to contend with left and right.But it’s one thing to be a passenger in someone else’s vehicle and quite another to be in control of what’s going on. And so far (read: in the five days we’ve been driving ourselves), it hasn’t been that bad.Sure, rush-hour traffic can be hairy, and rush-hour traffic in the evening in the rain while trying to find parking in a busy commercial area can be downright anxiety-inducing, but we’re managing.Have you driven in a foreign country or in a new city? How do you manage?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

14 thoughts on “Driving in El Salvador

  1. I am so incredibly insanely jealous that you have your car and we don’t! Our car is sitting in the parking lot, just waiting for its tags. Today we learned that there can be only one owner per vehicle in Bosnia, so I rushed up to the embassy to sign over my ownership and now we wait some more. Crossing my fingers that we get it soon! This will be our first time driving in a foreign country, but just from the time we’ve spent in taxis, I don’t think it will be a big deal. I’m a little nervous to drive during rush hour and on the narrower roads and in the snow… but other than that (LOL!) I think it will be ok. Have fun exploring!


    1. Good luck! That’s a strange regulation about car ownership. I would think there could be an exception for diplomats, but maybe not. We don’t have our diplomatic plates yet but are allowed to drive with our temporary tags. I think it usually takes a couple months for the official plates to come through. Are you able to get around pretty easily on your own without a car (either via taxis, public transportation or walking)? That is the biggest adjustment by far here in San Salvador — very limited ability to just walk around outside.


      1. Yes, we’re fortunate that Sarajevo is a walking city and there are taxis everywhere. I can’t imagine how you must feel without those luxuries!


  2. In Suriname they drove in the opposite side, so at first I was terrified. I also had to drive a manual for the first time (which had the stick on the right side). It sounds worse than it was. Paramaribo is so small, and traffic was so dense, I never went too fast. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, seems more scary and very aggressive. I am happy to take the metro and the bus. We will buy a car here in January to start getting out of the city, but no need for it inside the city.


    1. Oh man — I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to drive on the opposite side of the road! And manual too. I’m impressed. You’re lucky you can take public transportation. And it sounds like everyone is very accommodating to mothers with babies!


  3. Victor says that if pedestrians in DC were pedestrians in San Salvador that they would be much smarter about when they walk across the street.In other news an ad at the bottom of your page is offering to find me my dream salvadoran girl in 15 minutes. you might want to check your ad words settings!


    1. True — you don’t see people walking and texting here, totally oblivious to their surroundings!Haha omg. I thought the ad settings served ads based on the individual’s browsing history, but I guess not! I need to take a look at those.


  4. Ohhh soo happy for you! Having mobility is everything! Our driver FINALLY gets to start tomorrow and I am so excited. Not just so we can go out exploring more but also so I can finally. go. buy. a. damn. ironing. board! 🙂 Way to go driver, you are a brave, brave chica!


    1. Ooh, a driver — fancy! I got a ride with a woman (not from the embassy) who has a driver here in San Salvador and I was awkward and didn’t know the proper “etiquette” (i.e. wait for the driver to come around and open your door). I guess one day we might live at a post where drivers are more common. Although I feel like I don’t pay attention to where I’m going unless I am actually driving — it’s definitely helped me learn my way around the city!


  5. We drove in Spain (read, Ed drove and I navigated), and it was a little crazy. It’s always tougher when the street signs are in a different place/configuration and not in English, but we managed.Do you have a good place to park near your home? Living in NYC now means that hardly anyone has a car (although the public transit is pretty efficient) and parking means either paying hundreds of dollars a month for a garage spot, or moving the car to another street spot (if you can find one!) every day. Needless to say, we sold our cars before moving here.Glad to see that you are enjoying San Salvador so far!


    1. Driving is definitely easier when you are with someone who can navigate (or when you are navigating and someone else is driving)! :)Yes, we have parking at our apartment and it’s gated and secure. Everywhere here (grocery stores, apartments/residential communities, restaurants, malls, etc.) has armed guards. It was kind of disconcerting at first to see men with huge guns posted outside storefronts, but now I’m more used to it.Parking at some restaurants and places is trickier because there aren’t a lot of large parking lots (with the exception of the malls) so you have to park on the street or navigate a tiny “lot” that’s really just a few spaces right off the street, meaning you have to back out into traffic when leaving. But the armed guards also function as parking attendants and can help you navigate!


  6. […] Now that we have our car, we’re getting out a lot more. One of these outings recently took us to La Hola Beto’s, a local chain of seafood restaurants. We’ve actually been twice in recent weeks: the first time with our friends who drove us, and the second time on our own with my friend Vanessa who was in town from DC for work. […]


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