Is El Salvador Safe to Visit in 2023? Safety in El Salvador

By Eddie Galdamez  | Updated on Feb 16th, 2023
Is El Salvador Safe to visit
Safety in El Salvador

Yes, despite all the historical crime and violence, which don’t affect tourists, El Salvador is safe to visit in 2023. El Salvador used to have a high crime rate, but that is not the case anymore. El Salvador is not dangerous for travelers as violence has declined to its lowest level in over 30 years.

Is el salvador dangerous? No, it is not! Recent data shows that violent crimes in El Salvador, such as homicides, were reduced by 56.8% going into 2023. El Salvador still has a reputation for having one of the world’s highest rates of violence; however, that is misleading. Today, El Salvador has one of the lowest levels of violence in Latin America.

Is El Salvador safe to visit for tourists
Surfers at El Tunco beach. Photo by Edwin Nuñes

Crime in El Salvador today

Over the years, crime and violence have affected the number of people visiting El Salvador; this is a sad and upsetting fact about the country. However, in 2023, security in El Salvador has improved to its best levels in over 30 years.

Historically, crime and violence didn’t affect travelers or tourists. Generally, visitors and tourists have always stayed in protected areas; most don’t take public transportation and only travel to secure tourist spots.

Crime statistics, the scary part

Before 2020, El Salvador had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2015, El Salvador became known as the murder capital of the world.

In 2015, El Salvador had an average of 18.2 daily murders for a rate of 103 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. By the end of 2022, the murders have dropped to 1.7 per day for a rate of 9.7 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

El Salvador Homicide Rate from 2010 to 2022
Year Total Homicides Daily Homicide Rate Homicides per 100,000 Inhabitants
2022 495 1.4 7.8
2021 1147 3.1 18.1
2020 1341 3.7 20
2019 2398 6.6 36
2018 3346 9.2 50
2017 3962 10.9 60
2016 5280 14.5 81
2015 6656 18.2 103
2014 3921 10.7 61
2013 2499 6.8 40
2012 2594 7.1 41
2011 4371 12.0 70
2010 4004 11.0 64

It’s upsetting that many people and publication list El Salvador as a dangerous country using stats from before 2019. However, considering what the country’s stats wore in 2015, I understand why that happens.

It is understandable why crime statistics discourage some people from traveling to El Salvador. Nevertheless, El Salvador has made safety strides and is not as dangerous as it used to be. In fact, the Salvadoran homicide rate for 2022 was lower than Costa Rica's.

El Salvador is not as dangerous anymore

Safety has improved in El Salvador going into 2023. Now, in all honesty, this improvement has helped mainly the locals. El Salvador has almost always been considered safer for tourists.

Here is an example of safety improvements using San Salvador, the nation’s capital. This city, since 2010, has been in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world; in fact, it has been a regular in the top 10. The country reached 3rd place in 2015.

But, by 2020, San Salvador was no longer one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It completely dropped out of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world.

In 2023, San Salvador, a city that ranked 3rd among the most dangerous cities in the world, is not even in the top 10 most dangerous places in El Salvador.

San Salvador Cathedral
San Salvador Cathedral. Photo by Edwin Ernesto

So, Is El Salvador dangerous for tourists?

Considering the latest reduction in crime statistics and the historical data on tourism safety, El Salvador is not dangerous for tourists. All the areas tourists visit are in safer locations with adequate security.

Keep in mind that countries in Central America and the world have areas tourists need to be careful when visiting; it’s not just El Salvador. Even the united states has many cities classified as dangerous, with recommendations that tourists travel there with caution.

The point that I am trying to make and emphasize is that not the entire country of El Salvador is dangerous. If you follow safety recommendations, stick to safe areas, and use common sense. I am sure you will enjoy your trip and will keep coming back!

Travel advisories for El Salvador

Looking at travel advisories is a reliable way to assess how safe a country is. However, governments will always look at the country as a whole and not at specific areas.

The US and UK travel advisory websites are the most popular and have reliable travel information. They are the ones who tend to have the most detailed information about safety in specific countries, in this case, El Salvador.

United States Travel Advisory to El Salvador

On October 1st, 2019, the US government moved the travel advisory to El Salvador from 3 “Reconsider travel” to 2 “Exercise Increased Caution.” In 2022, it increased back to level 3. To view today’s current advisory, visit the US government advisory page.

United Kingdom Travel Advisory to El Salvador

The UK is another trustworthy travel advisory source. As of today, they write the following about travel to El Salvador. To view today’s current advisory from the United Kingdom, visit the UK government advisory page.

Most visits to El Salvador are trouble-free. However, El Salvador has one of the highest crime rates in Latin America so you should take extra care. Take particular care in downtown San Salvador and on roads outside major towns and cities, especially at night.”UK Government

Misconceptions about safety in El Salvador

Let me start by saying that, as a Salvadoran, I can see why there are so many misconceptions about El Salvador and safety.

Since the 1980s, El Salvador has had plenty of violence; therefore, it is understood why the country has the reputation of being a violent nation. However, many misconceptions about El Salvador are plain wrong; here are some of them.

Crime and violence are everywhere

The following is on a popular travel website about El Salvador. [In El Salvador] “There have been grenade attacks on buses, restaurants, and businesses, which have killed dozens of people, including children. Foreigners have also been killed in these kinds of attacks. Buses are often sprayed with bullets, due to gangs demanding protection money from bus companies.” www.worldnomads.com.

Are they lying? No, they are not! All those things have happened in El Salvador, but not in the last twenty or more years. However, the article makes it sound like these things happen now and everywhere.

There were violent crimes in El Salvador in 2022; however, they don’t happen all the time and everywhere. Furthermore, most of those acts of violence and crime occurred in non-tourist areas. Visitors will never have a reason to be in those areas.

Gang shootouts are a common occurrence

“Gang-related murders and shootouts are a common occurrence in various parts of El Salvador.” It is just not true; it is another damaging misconception about El Salvador.

Gang-related murders do happen, but not as often as many people and some travel sites tend to inform. Additionally, shootouts are not common occurrences in El Salvador.

I have been living full-time in El Salvador since 2014 and have traveled all over the country. I can assure you that Gang-related shootouts are not common occurrences.

Santa Tecla
City of Santa Tecla El Salvador.

Only the tourist spots are safe for foreigners

That is a false statement; foreigners visit small towns and other parts of the country that have nothing to do with tourism. Don’t get me wrong, El Salvador is not Japan or Switzerland, where you can pick up and go to any part of the country. Non-tourist areas are safe, but use common sense when deciding where to go.

El Salvador was a country that exceeded my expectations and broke all the misconceptions I had, especially on the safety front.” Mar, solo female traveler.

10 Safety Tips to Follow

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when traveling or planning to visit El Salvador. Some of them might seem simplistic and obvious; however, in El Salvador, they should be taken more seriously.

1. Do your research, plan ahead

Before venturing into the country, find out everything you can about the specific areas you want to visit. Ask and answer the following questions before traveling to El Salvador. Is the area safe? How am I going to get there? What should I do there?

Knowing the answers to those questions will ensure your safety even more. Undeniably, doing research and planning is the way to go.

Even though the country is small, every area offers different things for different people. For instance, backpacker safety needs are distinct from regular travelers.

2. Talk to people who have traveled to El Salvador

Talking to people who have visited El Salvador is a good option. Many individuals or families that have ventured into El Salvador are happy to share their experiences. These previous travelers are one of the best sources of information about what to expect when visiting El Salvador.

By all means, pay attention to travel warnings and advisories from your governments. But remember, you will always get a better picture of El Salvador from people who have been there.

3. Stay at safe places

One of the most crucial research tasks travelers thinking about going to El Salvador needs to do is deciding where to stay.

Before deciding on a particular area or hotel, look at their reviews. Find out what the previous guest have commented about the hotel and the location. These reviews will give you a better idea of where to stay and if extra safety precautions are needed.

4. Don’t go where you are not supposed to go

A sure way to put yourself or your family in an unsafe situation is to venture into areas classified as dangerous. They do exist, and not only in this nation. Avoid drug areas, gang areas, and red districts areas; unless that is what you are looking for.

Also, remember, If a local tells you, “Don’t go there, it’s not safe!” Take that advice. Locals know the area and are protective of travelers. They don’t want you to put yourself or your family in an unsafe situation.

5. Be more careful at night

Nightlife in El Salvador is just like nightlife in any other country; there are bars, dance clubs, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. The safety recommendations needed when visiting these establishments will depend heavily on what you want to do at night.

For instance, if you’re going to have a nice quiet dinner in a family atmosphere zone, your safety concerns will be minimal. However, if you want to venture out at night to drink or to a club, you need to be more careful.

Remember, nightlife in El Salvador is similar to nightlife in any other country; you get the good with the bad.

6. Be more careful when taking public transportation

If you need or want to take public transportation, be more careful. Public transportation is good as it’s cheap and convenient. However, public transport can also be unsafe for the following reasons.

If you take the wrong bus route, you can end up in a bad area and put yourself in an unsafe situation. Also, the bus could be on a path often targeted by criminals.

To ensure safety, before taking the bus, find out if the bus is on a safe route and if it goes directly to your destination. The best way to get this information is from the hotel or hostel where you are staying. If they say yes, it’s safe, go for it; if they say that you shouldn’t take that bus route, follow their advice.

7. Take guided tours

Taking guided tours is the best option if you want to venture into different parts of the country. These guided tours are for the day or even a few days; they will pick you up from your hotel, take you to your destination and drop you off right back at your hotel.

There are quite a few options available for group tours or private tours. Also, these Salvadoran tour companies will set up a trip exclusive to you and include the things you want to do or visit.

8. Keep local emergency numbers handy

El Salvador has its 911 emergency system; However, it is best to keep the phone numbers for the local police branch and emergency numbers near you.

In case of an emergency, you will get faster attention if you call the local branch of the police, red cross, or Comandos de Salvamento.

Remember, this is a developing country, so the emergency services are not up to the standards of developed countries.

9. Avoid displaying the numbers 13 and 18

Most of the violence in El Salvador is due to two main gangs fighting each other for control of the drug trade and the territory. They are the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. These two gangs are associated with the numbers 13 and 18, respectively.

For precautionary reasons, visitors should not wear anything with these two numbers, hats, shirts, t-shirts, etc. Also, any tattoos that resemble these numbers should be covered. It is an extra safety precaution.

10. Don’t be Flashy With Your Valuables or Wear Expensive Jewelry

If you are staying in the upscale areas of San Salvador or Santa Tecla, then you might flash your jewelry or valuables as much as you want to. In this area, wearing or flashing expensive things is normal.

On the other hand, if you are in underdeveloped areas of the country, use common sense, and avoid flashing expensive things.

I am not saying that you will get robbed by flashing them in these areas, but why get extra attention to you? Use common sense; it is that simple. It is a common-sense safety tip.

San Salvador
the city of San Salvador.

Is El Salvador safe to visit for tourists?

Even with all the issues, visiting El Salvador is safe, but remember to practice common sense, make wise decisions, and follow safety recommendations.

Also, keep in mind that Salvadorans are friendly. Locals will go out of their way to help foreigners and make them feel welcome and safe. Therefore, if you need assistance and can communicate in Spanish, get help from locals.