Vacation in today’s fast-paced world is essential to help us recharge and relieve stress. You must be wondering what that power vacation looks like and how it can have a stress-releasing impact on you. A good break should include R’s – rest, relaxation, and recharge. However, safety and security are also essential considerations during any trip.
Most importantly, if you, your friends, or your family have decided to visit El Salvador, one of Central America’s most notorious yet majestic countries, you might wonder if it’s safe to travel there. Undoubtedly, this place is filled with volcanic vibes, mesmerizing hiking places, and breathtaking landscapes. Still, it raises a significant question: Is it safe to visit El Salvador?
The tourist’s safety in El Salvador is a crucial matter that needs attention while planning your trip. Let’s find out how safe El Salvador is for vacation and how you can have a safe and promising trip without any unnecessary hassle.
Where is El Salvador Located?
El Salvador is a small country located in Central America, being the only one without a Caribbean coastline, with a population of 6.314 million (2021). While planning a trip to El Salvador, other than safety concerns, your curiosity may pop up more questions, such as what El Salvador is known for and why it is an unsafe country.
Unquestionably, it is a fascinating mountainous country, and known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a land of volcanoes. However, the most charismatic and safe city of El Salvador is its capital, San Salvador.
The dark side of this densely populated country is its connectivity with various countries through its unguarded borders. El Salvador is bordered in the following manner:
Since El Salvador is heavily dependent upon coffee exports, the chances of smuggling and terrorism are pretty high, especially near the border area. These factors compromise the safety matters of El Salvador and increase the crime rate in the country.
Why do Tourists Go to El Salvador?
El Salvador stands out from the top seven Central American countries due to its natural landscape, pristine beaches, and countless volcanoes. Despite some safety concerns, many tourists are attracted to El Salvador to see the famous Maya ruins.
The remaining excellent astronomical knowledge and hieroglyphic script are the main attractions for tourists in El Salvador. The leftover art of the Maya civilization has made El Salvador and other countries like Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras desirable to visit.
The art of the Maya civilization can be seen in the temple pyramids, which have endured the passage of time. However, tourism in El Salvador has suffered recently due to high crime rates and security issues. Incidents of violence and misconduct against tourists have made many hesitant to visit these historical marvels.
Despite multiple armed robberies against tourists, tourism is growing steadily in El Salvador. Here are the statistics of how many tourists visited El Salvador from 2018 to 2022.
Tourism in El Salvador is affected by a multitude of reasons. These factors include terrorism, petty crimes, homicide, and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in 2022, the tourist spaces entertained and welcomed almost 6.5 million visitors.
Crimes in El Salvador
El Salvador is considered unsafe for tourists due to uncertain economic conditions and ineffective government decisions in the past. It is mainly because citizens become rebellious when deprived of their legal rights.
A famous quote by Nelson Mandela is fitting here to describe the uncontrollable crime conditions in El Salvador:
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
El Salvador is also facing similar situations, which have ignited the ordinary folks to stand against the unjust government conditions and take matters into their own hands.
Let’s take a closer look at the crimes committed in El Salvador. Below are the crime rates reported in 2022:
As of 2022, the government of El Salvador took some practical actions to protect the tourists. Some of these actions were:
- Massive and rapid arrests of suspected criminals
- Eliminating the gang movements
- Deployment of military and security forces
- Classified projects to evaluate the alleged crime spots
Unfortunately, tourists have reported facing crimes such as theft, armed robbery, gang violence, and scams in recent months.
El Salvador is still facing the negative economic impacts of the civil war. Privation is one of those heinous effects.
Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime. Some do it for the necessity of life, and some have made it a habit. It has led most citizens to move towards illegal ways of earning. Petty crimes have increased since poverty struck this country.
Petty crimes are common in almost all the cities of El Salvador. You have to be alert for the following indiscretions such as:
- Pickpocketing and snatching
- Assault with no deadly weapon
- Trespassing on property
Mostly, these thefts are armed and dangerous. The naive tourists become the victims of these crimes. Visitors with family or solo are advised not to get into a scuffle if they encounter such a horrific incident.
Gangs and Violent Crime
Another safety concern during a trip to El Salvador is gang-related violence. These extortionists can easily target the tourists to get involved in twisted drug sales.
According to the military chief, the retail sale of drugs has become the most spread and profitable business in El Salvador. In terms of gang involvement, even the authorities usually can’t help the visitors.
What colors are not to wear in El Salvador?
It is an unofficial rule of criminal gangs, which states that girls with blond hair or those wearing yellow or red clothes are in danger. They can be shot dead if they are not the girlfriends of any mafia or gang leaders. Avoid packing yellow or red dresses and keep them for other occasions.
Young Thief Gang
As a newbie in El Salvador, you may not know that the gangster lifestyle has deeply influenced youngsters.
You may not be aware, but a common encounter with these young thief gangs is inevitable. They might engage you in their innocence and empty your pockets. Watch out when kids with beggar-style come close to you and ask for a favor. They are primarily up to no good.
It is unfortunately quite common for tourists, whether sophisticated or naive, to fall victim to scams and rip-offs.
During your visit to El Salvador, you must remain alert and aware of your surroundings. Keep yourself well-informed about the subtle ways in which you can be scammed while exploring the intricate streets and markets of El Salvador.
Here are some of the common scams tourists fall victim to while visiting El Salvador:
The Friendship Bracelet
This trick is quite common during tours in El Salvador; it’s more like a guilt trip.
Suppose you are strolling through the markets of El Salvador, and suddenly, a vendor approaches you. They ask you for assistance in displaying their tricks.
The vendor proceeds with making a friendship bracelet in the name of giving you a unique trip experience.
Later on, they ask you to pay for that unique bracelet out of fear of embarrassment you are bound to pay. Vola! You just got punked.
Disguise in the land of Volcanoes
Whether visiting El Salvador with kids or traveling solo, you may encounter this common scam on every street. The cons can be of various variations, such as:
A scam artist approaches naive tourists and engages them in fun conversation. They may tell you exciting stories and, in return, ask you to pay for their tour guide service.
Refuse any helping hand while visiting El Salvador. Any local or pretend tour guide comes up to you and advises you to secure your wallet. Fight the urge to re-check your purse in front of them. These thieves just need to identify where you kept your money so their task of pickpocketing becomes easy.
Thieves can track down your location and movements. With the assistance of your driver, they can ambush you conveniently through the alibi to change tires.
Scams like these are common in El Salvador; you must practice caution while traveling with family or solo.
El Salvador Gang Rapes
The pristine beaches and natural beauty of El Salvador cannot hide the brutal facts of this country. Women, especially young girls, are kidnapped, gang-raped, tortured, and used as toys in the hoods.
The following statistics of violations against girls are shocking:
|Homicide rate||18.2 cases|
|Assault rate||58.6 cases|
|Kidnapping rate||0.2 cases|
|Robbery rate||59.4 cases|
|Burglary rate||50.6 cases|
|Private car theft rate||10.7 cases|
In the words of civilians, the gangs play the god in El Salvador.
The youth are theirs, the streets are theirs, the walls are theirs, and the people are theirs. These facts make El Salvador an unsafe country for women to travel to.
The risks of pickpocketing in El Salvador are pretty high. It does not matter if you are in a crowded or deserted area. The chances of you getting mugged are rather extreme. You will be shocked to know that usually, the pickpockets wander around in the street openly. You must be very aware of such gangs as they might sometimes dodge you by looking like tourists.
If you are traveling alone or with a group of your friends – staying alert is always essential! You may encounter pickpockets behaving like room inspectors, strippers, or the group collecting charity.
What Makes Visiting El Salvador Dangerous for U.S. Tourists?
U.S. tourists are considered high-value visitors among other nationalities, mainly because of their strong support from the government.
Some national gangs, such as Mara 18 and MS-13, have a hidden agenda against U.S. tourists. These visitors are prone to becoming victims of human trafficking, kidnapping, and homicide.
Is El Salvador Safe for Solo Female Travelers?
El Salvador is not a safe place for solo female travelers to visit. However, through exercising caution, it can turn into a rejuvenating trip. However, there are multiple mesmerizing places to visit as a solo traveler. However, the high crime rate in El Salvador has declared this country to be an unsafe place for solo female travelers.
Is it Safe to Visit El Salvador with Family?
When planning a family trip, comfort and safety come first. It is natural for you to have concerns like, is El Salvador a family-friendly destination?
This country has so much to offer, yet El Salvador is not the safest country to travel with family due to the high crime rate. No doubt, there are better destinations than El Salvador for family getaways. However, if you are determined to give your kids a cultural experience, exercise caution during your stay and the entire visit.
However, the unresolved disappearance cases have exceeded 6,443 points in El Salvador, making it unsafe to visit with family.
Traveling to El Salvador While Pregnant – Do’s and Don’ts
It’s critical to uncover the central question: is visiting El Salvador during pregnancy safe? Traveling while pregnant is a hectic journey. You are already dealing with mood swings and are traveling to a relatively hazardous country. Go through the following checklist so you can avoid any inconvenience.
- Get a prenatal check-up before booking your flight or getting tickets.
- Plan your safe trip to El Salvador during mid-pregnancy. Preferably, between 4 and 6 months is the perfect time. Avoid traveling to El Salvador during the first three months or the last month of pregnancy. The risk of miscarriage can increase in any shamble.
- Take breaks while traveling or sit in a completely comfortable position. Sitting for more than 4 hours can elevate the risks of DVT.
Is Transport Safe for Tourists in El Salvador?
There are no hard-core rules for you to move around in El Salvador. You need to be sure about your route and stay put together.
Keep a keen eye on your toddlers; don’t let them run around or talk to strangers in public transport. As a female, rely on something other than locals for directions and share your location with your family or friends back home.
Moving around in this culturally enriched country is easy, but always lock away your car doors and windows due to safety concerns.
Wear your seat belts because most of the roads in El Salvador are not well-maintained. Look out for the following factors before hitting the streets in El Salvador.
Car Insurance: It is mandatory to have car insurance for any vehicle you are using during your trip.
Accidents: The best way to have a safe driving experience in El Salvador is to drive safely. God forbid if any accident happens, don’t get involved in a scuffle. Mainly because you are not fluent in Spanish, and secondly, let the police handle it. Call 911 straight away if the police do not arrive on time.
El Salvador is notorious for having the most unsafe travel experience for tourists. Tourists, especially with families and female solo travelers, have faced isolated attacks, robberies, carjacking, and violent assaults against female travelers.
Contact Policía de Turismo de El Salvador, C. A. (POLITUR) immediately if you encounter any inconvenience.
Local Tourist Police: +503 2224-2705
When is the Best Time to Visit El Salvador?
You may not be prone to wet seasons as a tourist, especially if you are visiting El Salvador from the U.S. The perfect season for tourists visiting El Salvador is November and April. El Salvador mostly has a tropical climate, but you will enjoy the dry and warm season during these months.
Where to Avoid in El Salvador?
The world views El Salvador as an unsafe and dangerous country. This reputation is mainly because of the effects of civil wars, gang disruption, and extremely high crime rates. There has always been some confusion among tourists about safety concerns in El Salvador.
In recent years, some visitors had a remarkable tour experience in El Salvador, and a few had tormenting exposure to this country.
However, we can’t help but state the facts here because your safety comes first. To have a safe journey to El Salvador, tourists, especially solo female travelers, must avoid the below-mentioned areas in El Salvador.
Border with Guatemala
Suitable Time: Before the evening
Crime Risk: High
Women Travelers Risk: High
Whatever your mean of travel is, whether with your family, friends, or riding solo, the rules are simple. Exercise caution, especially if you have rented a vehicle with an El Salvador number plate. We highly suggest taking private bus companies for a safe travel experience in El Salvador.
Crime Risk: High
Women Travelers Risk: High
Mejicanos is a suburb in the capital city of El Salvador. This place is a tourist attraction due to its vibrant street markets and historical landmarks. However, the crime rate is primarily high to moderate, making mejicanos the least safe place in El Salvador for travelers.
Crime Risk: High
Women Travelers Risk: High
Gang rivalry is customary in Soyapango, moreover, bloodshed and unrest situations are usual. Due to these reasons, this place is declared to be the most dangerous place in the world. Its current crime ranking is 87.50 out of 100. Soyapango is not a safe place for any traveler; this place in El Salvador is like walking towards death.
Crime Risk: High
Women Travelers Risk: Moderate
Loopango, known for its extinct volcano and Lake Lopango, is not a secure and safe place for foreigners. Other than natural hazards due to volcanic eruptions, crimes like robberies, car thefts, and pickpocketing are common in most areas.
Crime Risk: Low to moderate
Women Travelers Risk: High
San Marcos is famous for petty crimes, and this hill land is just five miles away from the capital city of San Salvador. Although the homicide cases are pretty low in San Marcos, in 2022, there were approximately 4.97 homicide cases. Solo female travelers are the primary target; there have been reported cases of purse snatching and armed robbery. ( I can mention a few more, suggest Miss)
How to Travel Safely in El Salvador with Family?
Your trip with family to El Salvador can be interrupted at any time by official authorities to ensure the safety of you, your family, and your kids. Safety concerns, especially regarding kids, are still a critical topic for the sources of El Salvador due to the high kidnapping rates.
Here is how you can travel safely in El Salvador with family:
- Teach your toddlers to stay close to you.
- Avoid jaywalking and violating traffic signals while your family runs around the cities.
- Do not drive under the influence.
- As a foreigner, you can be subject to searches by security forces while lurking in public places.
- Your exploration is more likely to be interrupted by the random presence of security personnel and local police. Let your kids know it’s ordinary in El Salvador to avoid panic due to military fact.
- Always carry your I.D. with you when you are out in the streets of El Salvador, especially with kids.
- No such adventure awaits you in the dark. It is better to stay in your accommodations during the nighttime.
- Stay in constant contact with your family and friends back at home.
- Get updated with the news and what the locals are mumbling about, and stay vigilant. Do not let strangers get close to your kids, not even for a while.
- Be informed about the local rules and laws.
Avoid grabbing food from strangers. Remember you are here to make unforgettable good memories with your family, not to get some traumatic experiences.
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in El Salvador
El Salvador only has specific and limited safe places for solo folks to visit freely. However, the answer will only be satisfactory if your concern is whether El Salvador is safe for foreign females or males to travel. Unfortunately, the residential female citizens are not safe even in the presence of their male family members. The racketeers target the females of any family if they are up to something and have any hidden agenda against them.
If you are backpacking as a solo traveler to El Salvador, make sure you exercise extra precautions. Follow the instructions below to increase the chances of a safe trip to El Salvador as a solo traveler:
El Salvador is dangerous in the dark: Solo tourists should avoid traveling alone at night. It’s not only about walking on the streets but traveling in cars can also be risky. Keep your doors locked if you have an emergency to travel at night.
Dress modestly: Blend in and get an idea about the city’s dress code. You must know what colors not to wear in El Salvador and which outfit is more appropriate.
Deep religious affiliations: El Salvador has deep religious affiliations that indicate no tank tops, shorts, hats, or bikinis. Salvadorans are friendly and hospitable but do not compromise on their traditions.
Modesty is promoted: In El Salvador, modesty is appreciated and respected in women’s or men’s dress codes. On a side note, the blonde and redhead girls can be in danger.
Trust no one: Don’t expect the residents to help you in distress. Ensure you carry something to protect you while hiking, walking on the streets, and through markets.
Dodge verbal abuse: Avoid getting into any scuffle if you become a victim of verbal abuse. Exercise caution, and avoid grabbing attention from the crowd.
Stay alert: Leave the area immediately if you get a wrong gut feeling about anything.
Ride from strangers: You got yourself in a situation where your car broke down and thought about getting a ride from a stranger. Hold that thought and opt for public transport.
Quality accommodations: Always go for accommodations with good ratings. It must be around a well-lit place and should have a digital presence.
Baby steps on native language: Learn a few common phrases of the local language.
Avoid bragging: Avoid showing off your accessories, devices, and money. There are better places to brag about what you have got.
Be a foreigner: Don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself. Being a foreigner will already make you stand out of the crowd. You do not need more attention from the public.
Spiked food and drinks: Since the safety in El Salvador is underworking, your security is in your hands. Sexual assault and harassment are common in El Salvador; learn self-defending moves to stay safe. Other than that, avoid leaving your food unattended. Trusting strangers can be a risky business in El Salvador.
Wrap Up – Is It Really Safe to Travel to El Salvador?
This remarkable country offers wonderful experiences with its spectacular landscapes, but its safety conditions are not under control. You must only travel to El Salvador with proper travel insurance and guarding methods. You are not recommended to visit El Salvador due to its high crime rate and reputation of injustice regarding crimes.
Safety doesn’t happen accidentally, so it’s better to think through. There is no surety that you will have a safe trip in El Salvador, whether traveling with family or solo. It’s better to check the facts before you wreck yourself. Be safe because accidents hurt; safety doesn’t!
Diana was an active fitness model in the past. She has had numerous shoots done at different locations and found out that her true interest was in exploring the world! Later on, this passion motivated her to write multiple tarvel blogs about whatever place she visited and discovered, and here it is! Enjoy reading a variety of blogs by Diana to get a lively experience of several places.