It’s the smallest country in Central America with the best roads. You could ride through it in a few days. We visited El Salvador again in November 2006 (Blue line) and rode from La Libertad to La Palma and the border with Honduras. We returned the same way. In and out of San Salvador is very difficult.
In November 2005, (Red line) we went back and took some of the other roads. It’s mountainous and the roads were deteriorated in 1992. By 2005, the roads have been greatly improved with good wide shoulders. The mountains and volcanoes are dramatic and the short 80K ride along the Costa del Balsamo near La Libertad is excellent. There’s a level of sophistication here that allows you to live well.
How We Rate This Trip
In 2007, the route through San Miguel to the Honduras border was all on good roads with a wide shoulder.
(2006) Hwy 2 (the coast road) has 2 meter shoulders and is pretty quiet. Highway 4 from the coast, north up to San Salvador is too narrow and busy but Hwy 4 north of San Salvador again has a wide shoulder. From San Salvador, the autopista (legal for bikes) is wide with a shoulder but the city routes to get to the autopista have no shoulder and can be dangerous.
By November 2005, the roads had been up graded. Excellent roads with good shoulders. We revised our rating to a seven from a two. In 1992, the roads were rough by Central American standards. Anything off the Pan American Highway was very rough while on the Pan American the conditions varied. It’s mountainous, so there are step sections.
In 2006, the key is to avoid going to San Salvador. Hwy 2 is relatively quiet. Hwy 4 north of Apopa is quieter again. Trucks seem to go everywhere.
Even though this is the most densely populated Central American country, the roads are relatively tranquil. We revised our rating to a seven from an eight because of the many big trucks. Off CA1, it’s usually quiet. Into San Salvador, it’s congested. It would be best to find alternative routes as suggested in our route description.
Up north, toward Honduras (La Palma), it was cold in November. We needed more cloths.
The dry season runs from November to April. In fact, it can be quite dry and dusty. San Salvador is at 680 meters, so it has a more moderate climate. Along the coast, it’s warm.
In November 2007, winds were north or northeast.
In November 2006, the winds other than along the coast were strong and out of the north.
The winds were light most of the time in 2005. They blow from the southeast but seem to vary a bit through the day.
It’s just a great ride along the coast before La Libertad on Carretera del Litoral. Mountains, the sea and the tunnels. It’s a beautiful country with lots of agriculture but it also has high volcanoes as a back drop in the mountainous interior.
Even the book “Latin America by Bike” doesn’t list any information about El Salvador. I guess it’s just too small. The tourist office is helpful. Maps are available at the car rental offices and the gas stations. Because of its size, however, most Salvadorians have been around and are informed about their country
Road Safety: 5
Other than immediately around San Salvador, the roads are both very good and usually quiet.
Therefore, they are safe. In the capital, the city traffic moves very fast and erratically. They use their horns.
General Safety: 3
The economy had improved greatly by 2005 but the gang problem was cause for concern. However, the police were dealing with it and we were told that the gangs would not affect bicycle tourists. In December of 1992, the civil war was just ending but in the areas we traveled, we sensed little trouble. Thievery was common in the capital (like the rest of Central America).
El Salvador is a little more sophisticated than the rest of Central America so there is plenty of good food and accommodation. This comes at moderate prices. By 2005, prices had easily doubled from 1992 so our rating dropped from 7 to 5.
In 2006, bottled water is available everywhere.
In 2005, we drank the tap water in San Salvador but nowhere else. Better to buy purified water. The usual refrescos are available. They grow coffee, but the coffee served is poor and weak. The beer is good.
In the capital and the other major cities, there are varieties of restaurants and some are real good. Even the inexpensive food stands serve good food, especially the Pupusas, which is kind of their national food.
The accommodations are adequate. We found motels in some of the smaller towns. If you can find a local who knows about the hotels they will let you know the best ones.
Even after years of wrenching civil war, the people are still open and friendly. At times, they are almost aggressively friendly and also very direct.
Again, it’s a small country. Music is mostly foreign. However, the sophisticated Salvadorians have all the tastes of Europe. The Spanish colonial cores of the cities are okay but not like Guatemala or Mexico.
They have history, especially recent history, but the vestiges of it are mostly in old churches.
TOTAL SCORE 76
Route Descriptions and Maps
In Novemver 2007 San Salvador Airport south to the Honduras border
San Salvador airport to Usulutan 74Ks
From the airport to the junction CA2, 5 Ks. Then south on CA2, 2- lanes, some traffic, some trucks with a 3 meter shoulder. Very good. Gradual rolling. OK scenery with views of Volcanos to the north. 25Ks to Zacatecoluca. In November, 2007, road construction for 30Ks. More traffic. Into Usulutan at 73Ks. Winds mostly cross (North).
Usulutan to San Miguel 50Ks
Hwy 2 (CA2) east 2-lanes with wide (2 meter) shoulder. Rolling. Mostly east wind (head). Nice scenery, views of Volcanos and mountains. Moderate traffic. Beautiful wide road then older rougher road being repaired (11-07) Some traffic and trucks. A little hillier to junction at 30Ks. Left (north) 2-lanes with wide shoulder. Good again. Rolling hills. At 43Ks, 4-lane highway with no shoulder. Moderate traffic but getting more urban. At 45Ks, Hwy 1. Left (west). 4-lanes and busy, becomes Roosevelt Avenue. Central at 50Ks.
(Hwy 1 (Pan American Highway) west of San Miguel is 2-lanes and busy with a rough shoulder.)
San Miguel to Santa Rosa de Lima 42Ks
At the Esso Station right on CA7. Some traffic and some trucks. Moderate rolling hills. Good wide shoulder. Good scenery. Small lush mountains. Winds north east (head).
Santa Rosa de Lima to Honduras border 18Ks
11Ks to the Pan American Hwy (#1) easy rolling hills. Nice scenery, less traffic, wide shoulder. Left on Hwy #1. The same to border at 18Ks.
November 2006 La Libertad to La Palma and the Honduras border El Poy
La Libertad to San Salvador 40Ks
Hwy 4 to Capital direct. 2-lanes. No shoulder but sometimes there is an extra climbing lane. Moderate traffic on a Friday. Some trucks. Climb 6-8% grades. Sometimes a broken shoulder on the up hill side till Zaragosa at 15Ks. More traffic as the day goes on. So-so scenery. 22Ks to the highest point. Then right at 24Ks on main road into San Salvador on 6-lanes, going down. Busy. 6-lanes, no shoulder. Dangerous! It seems that all through streets are 6-lanes with no shoulder. It’s another hairy 15Ks into the center. At least it’s a gradual descent all the way into the capital.
San Salvador to La Palma 86Ks (Altitude 1000 meters)
Leave town on Blvd. Constitution to Ring road (straight) a short climb then a 4K descent on 4-lanes with a good shoulder, good views. Moderate traffic. At 9Ks, traffic circle then toward Apopa. Into Apopa is busy and no shoulder but 4-lanes. Down all the way into the city of Apopo,16Ks. Out on Hwy 4, 2-lanes with shoulder. Excellent road. Traffic. Rolling 5% hills, so-so scenery then almost flat. At 50Ks, Colima. Older road but good with shoulder. Generally climbing, mild hills then bigger hills. Less traffic. At 65Ks, start climb. 6-7% grades. Good views back. Top at 74Ks (road marker 72Ks) Steeper toward the top. Down 1K then climb (steep) again to 80Ks (road marker 78) then down and up to LaPalma at 86Ks (road marker 84) Narrow into town. North winds (head) in November.
LaPalma to El Poy (Honduras border) 10Ks
Down through town then 2-lanes with shoulder. Quiet. Down and up to San Ignacio then down 8% to border. (road marker 94)
We rode back to San Salvador the same way.
San Salvador to La Libertad 70Ks
This is not recommended for the first 14Ks out on the freeway to road for airport. 6-lanes. No shoulder, climb first. Traffic fast moving. Dangerous. Top at 12Ks, rolling. At 14Ks, 4-lanes with a shoulder (Phew!) Gradual or moderate descent. North wind (tail). From 14Ks, it’s all down for 24Ks. Junction at 40Ks (from here its 4Ks, straight to the airport). To La Libertad right 2Ks to Hwy 2 (Ruta Canero) then 28Ks. 2-lanes with wide shoulder. Hwy 2, almost flat, light traffic but some trucks including sugar cane trucks. Light winds. So-so scenery. Easy.
La Liberdad to San Salvador Airport 41Ks
East on Hwy 2 for 36Ks. Moderate traffic, wide shoulder. OK scenery. NE (head) winds. Mostly flat. At 36Ks, right on airport spur road. 4-lanes and flat. Quiet to airport at 41Ks.
November 2005 Guatemala border to La Liberdad
Guatemala Border (from Chiquimulilla) to Sonsonate, El Salvador 63Ks
Excellent 2-lane Highway with a good wide shoulder. Gradual rolling hills then almost flat. Nice scenery. Light traffic but it increases as you go. At 46Ks. Junction – left. Then 3 Ks on a busy 4-lane highway to Junction for La Liberdad. Continue straight toward Sonsonate. Slightly climbing. There is a good shoulder but lots of trucks. At 61Ks get off highway on the main road into Sonsonate. Centro at 63Ks.
Sonsonate to Ahuachapan 43Ks
Start climbing. At 5Ks, pass the road into Nahuizalco and continue climbing. 2-Lane road with a broken-up shoulder. Light traffic, almost no big trucks. Light winds. Through coffee farms. Occasional vistas. Very good scenery. Climb to 16Ks, turn off for Juayua (5 hilly Ks in and out) Still climbing to 25Ks at Apaneca then down. At 28Ks, pass the junction with the paved road to Jujutla and Highway 2. Stair step down to Ataco at 32Ks then down except for a 1/2 K and 1 K climb into Ahuachapan at 43Ks.
Ahuachapan to Santa Ana 35Ks
Down for 5Ks and pass the junction with road to Guatemala Border (Las Chinamas). Two-lanes with good shoulder, excellent road, rolling hills, moderate traffic, some trucks, fast moving. Good Scenery. At 13Ks, at Atiquizaya, its now a 4-lane road with shoulder. So so scenery, slightly climbing to K19. Light head (east) winds. At 20Ks, turn off for Chalachuapa. (Altermative: stay on the highway) City streets east. Back to 4-lane highway at 24Ks. At 32Ks, cross the main highway to San Salvador. Into Santa Ana, it becomes 2-lanes with no shoulder for 1 dangerous K then a 2-lane one-way road and finally city streets to the center, 35Ks.
Santa Ana to Sonsonate 42Ks – direct
56Ks – via Juayua
Up on city streets to road to Sonsonate. 2-lanes but wider, safer and quieter. At 4Ks, cross the Pan American Highway (it’s 4-lanes busy with a shoulder). Two-lanes with rough on and off shoulder. Stair step moderate climbing to 14Ks then steeper. Coffee farms. Very nice scenery. Light but often fast traffic. Now excellent views. After 18Ks, more gradual. The top at 21Ks then a gradual down but then its steeper down with curves, vistas and light head winds. At 26Ks, the junction with the road to Juayua. (From this junction, straight into Sonsonate 17Ks). Into Juayua it’s rougher and 14Ks longer. Up and down hills to Juayua at 38Ks. Then up to Highway. Then all down to Sonsonate at 56Ks.
Sononate to La Liberdad 92Ks
Back toward Acajutla on 4-lane with shoulder to 13Ks. Left toward La Liberdad on 2-lane Highway with a good wide shoulder. Almost flat. Light traffic. Some trucks including sugar-cane trucks. At 38Ks, you reach the coast. Now the hills start. Cross to tail winds. Beautiful. At 48Ks, a 300 Meter tunnel. At 58Ks, another 300 Meter tunnel. At 62Ks a 100 Meter tunnel. Constant 1 to 2K climbs and descents through here. At 65Ks, a long and dark 500 Meter tunnel (through all these tunnels, we were able to avoid any encounters with trucks). At 72Ks, the last tunnel of 300 Meters. At 77Ks El Zonte. Now hills are more gradual. More traffic. Road narrows just before town. No sign that says “La Liberdad” at 92Ks.
Day-by-Day Itinerary El Salvador 1992
Guatemala border to Santa Ana 57Ks
Up from border on a rough narrow road with little traffic. A 15K climb then rolling hills to Ahuachapan. Then toward Santa Ana. The road is still narrow and rough but there is much more traffic. Trucks and buses are going fast, making it unsafe.
Santa Ana to La Libertad 110Ks
Climb for 18Ks to the pass on Highway CA2. The grade is relatively steep, 8-10%, through Coffee Fincas. The views are not spectacular. Light traffic on an okay surface. (Good for El Salvador). Then down at an ever diminishing grade, initially about 10%, then gradually to 4% into Sonsonate. Then another 8Ks down at about 2% to junction. Left on CA2. 77Ks to La Libertad, okay surface. Very light traffic. After 20 more Ks, down slightly but with some hills to ocean. Now 57Ks of beautiful views with inland thrusts to cross rivers, 7 tunnels from 100 to 600 meters. These are no problem to negotiate but watch for potholes in the dark (no light necessary). Some climbs of a couple Ks. A great ride.
La Libertad to San Salvador 34Ks
Climb on a good road for 24Ks when you meet the turnoff for San Salvador just before Santa Tecla. We rode on a Sunday. Heavy traffic toward the beach but light traffic toward San Salvador. Two lanes. During the week, traffic would be lighter. Grades 5-10% up. Often there’s a shoulder. Then down 3Ks from turnoff to another turnoff on the main (Pan Am) highway. Then 7Ks down into San Salvador on six lane road. Heavy traffic. Nothing special. San Salvador is at 680 meters altitude. Alternative: go east from La Libertad about 10Ks, then take the minor road to San Salvador. This is a steep climb. Then drop down again and another climb to outskirts of San Salvador. This is a rough area so take care. About the same distance.
San Salvador to San Miguel 136Ks
On CA1 (the Pan American Highway), traffic through the city. The highway is narrow, hilly, rough with traffic for 40Ks. Then another 17Ks with much less traffic. Still narrow, hilly and rough. Then all of a sudden four lanes with a wide shoulder for 15Ks. Then a mixture of good and bad to San Miguel.
San Miguel to El Amatillo (Honduras border) 60Ks
Off of the Pan American Highway on Highway CA7 toward Santa Rosa. Little traffic. Mostly climbing on a rough road. 42Ks to Santa Rosa, then 12Ks (estimate) on a rough lightly traveled road to the junction with the Pan American Highway. Then 6Ks to border on a little better but rough road to the border. Little traffic.
We started our trip in Guatemala City in ¨Zona Viva¨. Arriving at 10P we headed for La Cantinista where we know Cbert ¨Rasta man¨ Johnson, a Jamaican Troubadour entertains with Bob Marley songs – since 1980 – a fixture. The next day in Antigua, the workers at the hotel where we left our bikes a year ago stonewalled us. They said you must see La Duena. We had to see La Duena because, her words ¨Your bikes are fine -BUT- my mother says you must pay $200 for storage.¨ Peter negotiated it to $50. From Antigua, it’s a beautiful ride down to the coast via coffee plantations with volcano backdrops. Then on to El Salvador, where in Sonsonate I fell off…….my feet while walking home from dinner. My arms crossed so I was not able to break my fall. I took a full frontal and was bruises from nose to knees. Therefore, I took the bus for the next 3 days while Peter rode mountains. Then we both rode to La Liberdad which is on the coast and near the airport. This was a rollercoaster ride on an excellent road with dramatic ocean views. We have met our usual caste of characters. Some real stand outs are: Sheldon – a sweet old guy who is an ex wild horse rodeo rider and now retired, is a horse whisper in New Mexico. Then there was 27 year old, tall, dark and handsome Todd, a hedge fund trader from SFO. Todd and his 5 friends think there is too much certainty in their lives so they try and create uncertainty. They play ¨Last flight out¨ at SFO airport with rules like flight must be minimum 2 states away. Random Zip Code – numbers from 0 to 9 in a hat and the zip code they pick is where they go. He regaled us with the ultimate rip-off story. Todd was in Santiago Chile and need to change money. He went early in the morning to The Bank of Boston (he’s originally from Boston). There was a man smoking next to the front door wearing a suite and tie. Todd wasn’t sure the bank was open so he peered in the glass door. The man spoke perfect English “It’s open.¨ He tossed his cigarette and opened the door for Todd. They walked in together. In the bank the man said ¨How can we help you today?¨ Todd told him and he replied Ï can do that for you.¨ They walked into a dark office, ¨the man turned the lights on, introduced himself and invited Todd to have a seat. He sat at the desk and asked ¨How much do you need to change?¨ Todd handed over $300 Cash. The man took an envelope out of the desk, placed the money inside, stoop up and said ¨wait here, I’ll be right back with your money.¨ Todd waited, and waited and finally a new man came in the office, smiling ¨How may I help you today?¨ The bank of Boston in Chile is only commercial, they don’t change money.
Santa Ana, El Salvador
La Oficina de Fredy- a crowded, friendly after work pub.