El Salvador has long been on the list of most dangerous countries in the world. A few years ago things started to change for the smallest Central American country. A young Salvadoran politician by the name of Nayib Bukele became El Salvador’s 43rd president and turned things around. Let’s jump into the discussion on whether or not travelers have to worry about their safety in El Salvador.
About El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. It is bordered by Honduras to the Northeast and Guatemala to the Northwest. The Pacific Ocean sits to the west and south. It’s capital and largest city is San Salvador and there are around 6.6 million people who live in all of El Salvador.
Like most of Central America, El Salvador has a tropical climate and is warm and humid throughout the year. It has jungles, mountains, coffee plantations, and stunning beaches. El Salvador is renowned for it’s world-class surfing. Surfers from around the world visit El Salvador for the experience.
El Salvador sits along the Ring of Fire. Known as the Land of Volcanoes, this tiny country is home to twenty volcanoes. Several of them are still active. El Salvador has frequent earthquakes along with the volcanic activity.
Central America’s Reputation
Central America is a diverse region with varying levels of crime from pick pocketing to robberies to gang violence. Like many regions in the world, travel to Central America does have it’s safety concerns. It’s reputation varies depending on the specific country and each country has areas with high crime rates.
While some countries in Central America, such as Costa Rica and Panama, have a better safety reputation, El Salvador is not one of them. Crime in El Salvador had much higher levels than it’s neighbors.
El Salvador has experienced issues with gang violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime. In 2015 El Salvador had the unfortunate title of “murder capital of the world” with 6,656 homicides. According to World Bank Data, there were 107 murders per 100,000 people in El Salvador in 2015.
El Salvador’s New President
In 2019 El Salvador elected Nayib Bukele as it’s new president. Before that, he served as mayor of it’s capital San Salvador for three years. Bukele used social media to engage with voters and ran on the promise of cleaning up corruption and crime and making safety in El Salvador a priority. He won, becoming the youngest-ever president of the country.
Changes In El Salvador
Once Bukele came into office, he immediately got to work on his promise of cleaning up crime in El Salvador. During his first year in office the murder rate fell by 50 percent. Bukele has credited the decrease in murder to deploying thousands of police officers and the military throughout the country. He also increased prison security and arrested over 68,000 people affiliated with gangs.
President Bukele implemented various measures to address the issue of gangs. He has emphasized a “mano dura” or “iron fist” approach. This involved cracking down on gang activities through increased security measures and law enforcement efforts. Bukele has also deployed the military and police forces to target high-crime areas and dismantle gang networks.
Although crime in El Salvador has been greatly reduced and safety in El Salvador has improved, Nayib Bukele has not been immune from criticism. His government has been accused of human rights violations, however crime dropped significantly and he has high approval ratings. Bukele has also been accused of having authoritarian tendencies and has been under investigation for money laundering. He does remain popular with the people of El Salvador.
Is El Salvador Safe For Travelers?
The short answer is Yes! Crime in El Salvador has been significantly reduced. From the high of 6,656 murders in 2015 to just 496 in 2022. As of 2023, El Salvador has gone from the highest homicide rate in Central America to the lowest. It now has a rate of 1.8 homicides per 100,000.
Read my article Is El Salvador a good place for Travelers?
Other El Salvador Travel Info
Currency: El Salvador uses the US Dollar as their currency but they also use Bitcoin.
Weather: El Salvador has a tropical climate. It is hot and humid the majority of the year. It has a rainy season between May and October and a dry season between November and April.
Airports: El Salvador has one International Airport in San Salvador called Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport. It’s airport code is SAL.
Visas: U.S. citizen’s do not need a visa for stays of less than 90 days. There is a $10 USD fee upon arrival at the airport or border crossing. You can check the entry requirements of your country at iVisa.
What Is It Like To Travel In El Salvador?
No country is completely exempt from crime. Just like anywhere in the world, there are certain areas with higher levels of crime and violence than others. It’s always important to be cautious not only when you travel in El Salvador but to any country. When we traveled there, we saw armed police throughout the country. This was BEFORE the big roundup of gang members in the spring of 2022. Even so, we never felt concern for our safety in El Salvador the entire time we were there.
What Areas Is Safety in El Salvador Still A Concern?
El Salvador’s level of crime and violence has been dramatically reduced, however, there are still areas that have higher crime than others. These areas are generally in certain neighborhoods in more populated cities. The country’s capital of San Salvador has the highest incidence of crime and violence.
It’s always important to exercise caution when traveling to places you aren’t really familiar with. While the overall security situation has improved in recent years, there are still some areas that are considered more dangerous.
- San Salvador: The capital city of El Salvador can be particularly risky, especially in neighborhoods such as Soyapango, Ilopango, Mejicanos, Apopa, and Cuscatancingo.
- Santa Ana: While it has tourist attractions such as the Santa Ana Volcano, certain neighborhoods in Santa Ana can be dangerous. Pay attention to areas like Colonia San Antonio, Colonia Altavista, and Colonia Alameda.
- San Miguel: This city, located in the eastern part of the country, has also seen significant gang activity and violence. Be cautious when visiting neighborhoods like Ciudad Barrios, San Carlos, and Chinameca.
- La Libertad: While the coastal area of La Libertad is popular with tourists for its surf spots, there have been instances of robberies and assaults reported. Take precautions and avoid displaying valuable items openly.
It’s essential to stay informed about the current security situation if you travel to El Salvador. Follow the advice of local authorities, your embassy, or consulate. If you plan to visit consider seeking guidance from trustworthy sources to make informed decisions regarding your safety.
There’s so much to do and see in El Salvador! Read my article 19 things to do in Santa Ana El Salvador.
Anytime you plan on traveling to a new country that you aren’t familiar with, it’s a good idea to look at your own country’s State Department website to see what they recommend. If anything, just to have a better understanding of what you should be aware of.
You might even want to look at multiple countries websites as well. As of June 2023, the United States Government considers El Salvador a high security risk at a Level 3. The United Kingdom Government has advice on how to stay safe while traveling to El Salvador but doesn’t actually advise against travel there. The Canadian Government resembles the United States and they consider El Salvador a high risk area. They do have tips for staying safe.
Other Safety Concerns In El Salvador
Besides the threats of crime, there are other safety concerns in El Salvador to be aware of.
El Salvador is a country known for its volcanoes. It is located in a region called the Ring of Fire, which is characterized by volcanic and seismic activity. El Salvador has several volcanoes within its borders.
One of the most prominent volcanoes in El Salvador is the Santa Ana Volcano, also known as Ilamatepec. It is the highest volcano in the country and has had numerous eruptions throughout history.
Read all about the Santa Ana Volcano Hike.
Other significant volcanoes in El Salvador include the San Miguel Volcano (Chaparrastique) and the Izalco Volcano. The Izalco Volcano is known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” due to its frequent eruptions in the past.
These volcanoes contribute to the natural beauty and geological diversity of El Salvador. However, it’s important to note that volcanic activity can pose risks. Authorities closely monitor the volcanoes to ensure the safety of local residents and visitors.
El Salvador’s active volcanoes
- Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec): This volcano has had several eruptions in the past, with the most recent one occurring in 2005. The Santa Ana Volcano is considered one of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador.
- San Miguel Volcano (Chaparrastique): It is also an active volcano, and its most recent eruption took place in December 2013. It is one of the most active and monitored volcanoes in the country.
- Izalco Volcano: Dormant since 1966, it was historically known for its frequent eruptions and was sometimes referred to as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific.”
El Salvador is located in a seismically active region and experiences earthquakes. It is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for its tectonic activity and volcanic eruptions.
El Salvador is specifically located along the boundary of the Cocos Plate and the Caribbean Plate. The interaction between these plates can result in significant seismic activity. Over the years, the country has experienced numerous earthquakes, ranging from small tremors to larger, more destructive events.
It’s important to note that earthquakes can vary in magnitude and impact. The frequency and intensity of earthquakes can vary over time. El Salvador, like other countries in the region, has measures in place to monitor seismic activity. They take steps to mitigate risks and respond to earthquakes when they occur.
One of the biggest safety concerns in El Salvador is the water. You do not want to drink the tap water in El Salvador. The country’s water supply infrastructure and treatment processes may not meet international standards. The tap water may be contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or other impurities that can cause illnesses.
To ensure safe drinking water, it is advisable to drink bottled water. You can also use water purification methods such as boiling, filtering, or using water purification tablets. These precautions also apply to brushing teeth and consuming ice in drinks.
Malaria And Other Viruses
Like any country, El Salvador is not immune to the presence of viruses. Viruses are a common part of the global ecosystem and can affect human populations in various ways. El Salvador, like other countries, can experience outbreaks of viral diseases from time to time. Some examples of viral diseases that have been reported in El Salvador include dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika virus, and respiratory viruses.
It is essential to stay informed about current health advisories and recommendations from local health authorities. Follow good hygiene practices such as regular handwashing and maintaining proper vaccination schedules. Follow any specific guidelines from health authorities to help minimize the risk of viral infections.
For the most up-to-date information on specific viruses and their prevalence in El Salvador, consult reliable sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Ministry of Health of El Salvador.
El Salvador has a beautiful coastline and warm waters. It’s ideal for swimming, surfing, and other water activities. However, it’s essential to prioritize safety and be aware of local conditions. Pay attention to any warning flags or signs. If you are not a strong swimmer you should stay close to the shore or swim in areas with lifeguards. There are rip tides and strong currents in the area and there aren’t always lifeguards. Check local conditions and don’t go out to swim alone.
How To Stay Safe when you travel in El Salvador
Staying safe in a foreign country requires taking certain precautions and being aware of your surroundings. Here are some general tips to help enhance your safety when you travel in El Salvador.
Research and Plan
Before traveling, research your destination thoroughly. Familiarize yourself with local customs, laws, and potential risks or safety concerns. Stay updated on travel advisories or warnings issued by your government.
Share Your Itinerary
Inform a trusted friend or family member about your travel plans. Share details of your itinerary, accommodation, and contact information. Stay in touch with them regularly and notify them of any changes to your plans.
Secure Your Belongings
Keep your belongings secure at all times. Use a reliable lock for your luggage and consider using a money belt or hidden pouch to keep important documents and valuables close to your body. Be cautious of pickpockets and keep an eye on your belongings in crowded places.
Ensure you have a reliable means of communication, such as a working mobile phone or internet access. Save emergency contact numbers for local authorities and your country’s embassy or consulate in the destination country.
Blend In And Be Aware
Try to blend in with the local culture. Dress appropriately to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Avoid wearing expensive items. Stay aware of your surroundings and be vigilant in crowded places, tourist areas, and public transportation. Trust your instincts and avoid risky situations. Stay away from protests or demonstrations.
Choose reputable transportation options and be cautious while using public transportation. Research safe taxi services or ridesharing options, if available. If using a taxi, consider noting the license plate number and sharing it with someone you trust.
Health And Hygiene
Take necessary health precautions by checking if any vaccinations are required for your destination. Carry necessary medications, travel insurance, and a basic first-aid kit. Follow proper hygiene practices, including handwashing, to minimize the risk of illness.
Respect Local Laws And Customs
Familiarize yourself with the local laws and cultural customs of the country you are visiting. Respect local traditions, dress codes, and etiquette to avoid inadvertently offending or attracting unwanted attention.
Choose reputable and secure accommodations, such as established hotels or guesthouses. Ensure that your accommodation has proper security measures and lock your room when you leave.
Stay updated on local news and developments during your stay. Pay attention to any safety alerts, demonstrations, or protests that may be occurring in the area. Adjust your plans accordingly.
Final Thoughts On Safety In El Salvador
Remember, every destination has its own unique safety considerations. Experiences can vary and it’s important to adapt these tips to your specific circumstances. Consulting with official government travel advisories can provide further guidance on staying safe in a particular country or region. By staying informed, exercising caution, and making informed decisions when traveling, your safety in El Salvador should be just fine.