El Salvador’s State of Exception Is Not Affecting Tourism. But, Should You Be Worried When Visiting?

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Jan 25th, 2024
San Salvador Historic DowntownSan Salvador Historic Downtown.

In late March 2022, in response to a spike in Homicides, the Salvadoran government enacted the State of Exception, restricting a few constitutional guarantees.

Since its implementation, the security measure has been extended over 20 times and will reach two years in effect on March 27, 2024.

The actions taken by the government during this time have caused condemnation by many local and international Human Rights organizations, as over 75,000 alleged gang members have been arrested during its existence.

So, is the state of exception affecting tourism and tourists? and should you be worried when visiting?

No, the emergency state of exception has not affected the Salvadoran tourism industry; in fact, both international and local tourism has increased as the country is more secure.

Although the emergency measure was in full force throughout the year, the country set a new record in arrivals in 2023 as more than 3.4 million people entered the country.

An incredible 2023 for the country! We exceeded all international visitor entry goals; more than 3.4 million people entered to enjoy the new El Salvador. Morena Valdez, the Minister of Tourism of El Salvador.

El Salvador Tourism
Sunset at El Tunco Beach in La Libertad El Salvador.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador Tourism: A Journey Through Pristine Beaches, Colorful Towns, and Enchanting Parks

The 2023 Salvadoran tourism industry benefited from renowned events such as the XXIV Central American and Caribbean Games, the Miss Universe pageant, and the five well-known surf tournaments held in the country.

Even during the controversial State of Exception, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) ranked El Salvador fourth on its list of the best-performing destinations worldwide for 2023.

“In 2023 we end with good data and many tourists who have arrived in the country. By 2024 we are planning to promote and position ourselves as an investment attraction and, thus, have better spaces for our visitors,” stated the Salvadoran Minister of Tourism, Morena Valdez.

The Salvadoran State of Exception did not discourage the international community from traveling to El Salvador in 2023.

None of the international event organizers (Central American and Caribbean Games – Miss Universe pageant -Surf tournaments) mentioned any concern regarding the State of Exception as a reason not to participate in the events or visit El Salvador.

Despite the State of Exception, the Salvadoran tourism industry is poised for a successful 2024, thanks to the growth in both international tourist arrivals and the rising trend in domestic tourism.

Furthermore, El Salvador was listed in position 33 of the New York Times newspaper “52 Places to Go in 2024,” which is good news for the tourism industry of the smallest country in Central America.

2024 began with the US soccer Inter Miami playing a friendly game against the Salvadoran squad. This event attracted visitors from the United States and Central America who wanted to see Lionel Messi and other international soccer stars play.

Tourism to El Salvador
Miss Universe contestant in downtown San Salvador. Image by @MissUniverso_sv

SEE ALSO: Exploring El Salvador Culture: Embracing Vibrant Customs and Traditions with Warm-hearted People

The State of Exception Is Helping the Salvadoran Tourism Industry

The State of Exception has not affected tourism because it has improved the country’s security; this is an undisputed fact! For example, the homicide rate in El Salvador is the lowest the country has experienced in over 30 years.

To put into context, in 2015, the homicide rate in El Salvador was 103 per 100,000 people; it reached 36 by 2019, and by 2023 it dropped to 2.4, an impressive homicide reduction. Today, El Salvador is one of the safest countries in Latin America.

Also, under the Bukele administration (2019-2023), the country has achieved the country has achieved over 475 days with zero homicides. The previous two administrations accomplished only four days with zero homicides in 10 years.

Media outlets and Human rights organizations that are critical of the Bukele administration claim that these security levels result from the government violating individuals’ human rights and a secret truce between the government and gangs, and they could be correct!

However, they also recognized that the State of Exception has improved security and that Salvadorans feel safer.

The emergency regime in El Salvador reduced gang violence at the expense of democracy. How can the intl community ensure the safety of Salvadorans and prevent further setbacks? Tamara Taraciuk, Human Rights Watch.

Unquestionably, El Salvador’s security has improved during the State of Exception; this is the principal reason it has not affected tourism! The Bukele administration media machine is making sure the world knows that!

Even though individuals and governments recommend not visiting El Salvador due to existing violence and undemocratic practices, more people that have never been to El Salvador are traveling to the small Central American nation.

These new visitors are sharing their opinions on the country via social media, most stating that El Salvador is safe to visit.

Let us emphasize that the State of Exception targets criminals and gang members! So, any visitor with no gang affiliation shouldn’t be concerned with this security measure.

SEE ALSO: Is El Salvador Safe to Visit? A Comprehensive Safety Guide for Travelers

Should you be worried when visiting during the state of exception?

The answer is an evident no! You should not be worried when visiting El Salvador during the state of exception. Tourist locations in El Salvador are safe. Also, the security measure focuses on areas of the country not frequented by tourists.

I can only see one reason visitors should worry! Which is if you have tattoos related to gangs or could resemble those used by gang members. Also, if you plan to visit non-tourist locations, you should take extra precautions.

SEE ALSO: Traveling to El Salvador with Tattoos, Should you be Worried?

El Majahual Beach El Salvador
Playa El Majahual in January 2024. Image by Diario El Salvador.

My point of view

The state of exception enacted by President Bukele was necessary and is producing good results. It is also clear that this emergency measure is not affecting tourism.

Yes, concerns over human rights violations during the State of Exception are valid, and we should be worried about it. But, when it comes to tourism, the State of Exception has not affected it at all; in fact, it has improved the tourism industry.