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

By Eddie Vasquez  | Updated on Jun 2nd, 2022
El Salvador Tourism
El Salvador Tourism.

In late March 2022, in response to a spike in Homicides, the Salvadoran Government enacted a State of Exception or Exception Regime that restricted a few constitutional guarantees.

The actions taken by the government during this time have caused condemnation by many local and international Human Rights organizations. Over 36,000 alleged gang members have been arrested during its existence.

However, all the surveys taken by reputable organizations have shown that Salvadorans approve of the Regime of Exception. CID Gallup, 91% approval; IDUCA survey, 7.99 score out of 10; and La Prensa Grafica, 74% support.

Is the state of exception affecting tourism and tourists? No, the emergency state of exception has not affected tourism to El Salvador. In fact, the Salvadoran tourism industry seems to be increasing as it feels more secure.

An important indicator that tourism has not been affected was the number of local and international tourists the country received during the Holy Week or Easter week.

The Holy Week is one of the most visited times in El Salvador; it landed during the state of exception.

This emergency measure was in full force during the Easter celebrations; however, it didn’t discourage people from attending religious events or heading to tourist locations.

According to Morena Valdez, the Salvadoran Minister of Tourism, the number of visitors to the country increased during the Easter holidays.

The number of visitors to our country quadrupled. The majority opted for beaches and mountains.” Morena Valdez. Salvadoran Minister of Tourism.

Also, according to the Ministry of Tourism, El Salvador broke its own internal tourism goal during Holy Week.

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

Holy Week in El Salvador
Holy Week in 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.

Furthermore, right in the middle of the State of Exception, the country is hosting the 2022 Surf City ISA World Junior Surfing Championship.

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.

This top-notch surfing event, set to conclude on June 5th, has brought over 400 athletes from 44 nations and numerous tourists.

This event proves that the State of Exception is not affecting tourism to El Salvador.

Why isn’t the state of exception affecting tourism?

There is no clear picture of why the state of exception is not affecting tourism. However, one popular hypothesis is that many people visiting El Salvador have been there before.

People that have been to the country before know that tourist locations have extra security and are considered safer; even before the security state of exception.

Those who have never been to El Salvador might be more worried or affected by what they see on the news.

It is essential to point out that the arrests and the images seen on television happen in specific areas. As a tourist, the chances of you getting into these areas are small.

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

The answer is no! you should not be worried when visiting during the state of exception. Tourist locations in El Salvador are safer than those affected by the state of exception.

Also, the focus of the security measure is on specific areas of the country not frequented by tourists.

However, if you have tattoos related to gangs or that it could resemble those used by gang members, then you should be worried.

If you plan to visit non-tourist locations considered gang territories, you should take extra precautions.

El Salvador Beach
Crowded beach during the State of Exception. Image by Diario El Salvador

The state of exception enacted by President Bukele was necessary and is producing good results. This emergency measure is not affecting tourism.