Opinion: El Salvador’s state of exception is not affecting tourism. But, should you be worried when visiting?

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Mar 26th, 2023
El Salvador Tourism
El Salvador Tourism.

In late March 2022, in response to a spike in Homicides, the Salvadoran government enacted the State of Exception restricting a few constitutional guarantees. The security measure has been extended over 12 times and will reach one year in effect on March 27, 2023.

The actions taken by the government during this time have caused condemnation by many local and international Human Rights organizations, as over 66,000 alleged gang members have been arrested during its existence. However, surveys by reputable organizations have shown that Salvadorans approve of the Regime of Exception.

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 tourism to El Salvador. In fact, the Salvadoran tourism industry seems to be increasing as the country feels more secure.

For example, the number of international tourists the country received during the 2022 Holy Week celebrations was impressive. This catholic celebration is one of the most visited periods in El Salvador.

This emergency measure was in full force during the 2022 Easter celebrations; however, it didn’t discourage locals or foreigners from attending religious events or visiting tourist locations.

According to Morena Valdez, the Salvadoran Minister of Tourism, the number of visitors to the country increased during the 2022 Easter holidays. Also, according to the Ministry of Tourism, El Salvador broke its own internal tourism goal during the 2022 Holy Week.

The number of visitors to our country quadrupled. The majority opted for beaches and mountains. Also, hotel reservations and tourist transport during this holiday period have increased by 28%. Morena Valdez. Salvadoran Minister of Tourism.

“Hundreds of Salvadorans enjoy the waves at El Majahual beach, in La Libertad, on the last day of the Easter holidays.” Diario El Mundo.

Easter vacations El Salvador

Government officials expected 194,000 local tourists during the summer holidays. However, more than 400,000 Salvadorans visited beaches, lakes, rivers, volcanoes, and mountains.

For the 2023 holy week celebrations, Salvadoran authorities expect over 78,000 visitants, which will leave $94 million in income for the country. Also, they are expecting over 757,000 visitors to the country’s national parks.

Furthermore in 2022, right in the middle of the State of Exception, the country hosted the Surf City ISA World Junior Surfing Championship. This top-notch surfing event concluded on June 5, 2022, and brought over 400 athletes from 44 nations and numerous tourists.

International confidence has grown towards El Salvador. We have exceeded the participation of ISA Juniors compared to the Huntington Beach tournament in 2019; that year, there were 343 athletes from 44 countries. [This time] More than 400 athletes from 45 delegations.” Ministry of Tourism.

2022 Junior Surf Championship
2022 Junior Surf Championship in El Tunco.

The Salvadoran Estate of Exception is not discouraging the international surfing community; in 2023, the country will host 6 top-notch tournament competitions, starting with the ISA Surf City World Longboard Championship in early May.

None of these tournament organizers mention any concern regarding the State of Exception as a reason not to participate in the events or visit El Salvador.

Why isn’t the state of exception affecting tourism?

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 2022 dropped to 7.8. This is an impressive homicide reduction

Also, under the Bukele administration, the country has achieved over 325 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. Also, most Salvadorans don’t seem to agree that there is a gang truce; time after time, Salvadorans have given the state of exception a high approval.

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.

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.

El Salvador Beach
Crowded beach during the State of Exception. 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.