Is El Salvador Safe to Visit in 2021? Safety in El Salvador

By Eddie Galdamez  |  Aug 23rd, 2021
Is El Salvador safe to visit
Is El Salvador safe to visit?

Is El Salvador safe to visit for tourists despite its crime rate and violence? Yes, despite all the crime and violence, which doesn’t affect tourists, El Salvador is safe for tourists to visit. However, visitors still need to be cautious, follow all safety recommendations, and take precautions. Tourists should stay and go to the recommended areas, which have extra security and are considered safer.

Questions about Safety and security are common when contemplating a visit to El Salvador. El Salvador does not have a good reputation around the world as being safe.

Despite having a high crime rate, El Salvador is not dangerous for tourists to visit. Crime in El Salvador has declined and is isolated to specific areas that tourists will never enter. These high crime zones are similar to others in Central America; they are linked directly to drugs smuggling and gangs activity.

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

Crime in El Salvador

Crime in this small nation affects the daily lives of many Salvadoreans; this is a sad and upsetting fact about life in El Salvador.

However, the good news is that crime doesn’t affect travelers or tourists. Generally, visitors and tourists stay in protected areas, don’t take public transportation, and only travel to secure tourist spots.

Crime Statistics, the Scary Part!

El Salvador is the smallest country on the American Continent; yet, over the last 10+ years, it has had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2016, El Salvador became known as the murder capital of the world.

In 2015, the daily average of homicides in the country was 17.6; by 2018, the percentage descended to 9.4. Yes, that is daily homicides, in a country, of 6 million people. In 2020, it declined to 3.7 per day. Now, as of August 17, 2021, it stands at 3.2 per day.

Homicides in El Salvador Since 2010

Year Total Daily
2021 (August) 760 3.2
2020 1322 3.7
2019 2390 6.6
2018 3340 9.15
2017 3954 10.83
2016 5289 14.49
2015 6666 18.26
2014 3912 10.71
2013 2499 6.84
2012 2594 7.10
2011 4371 11.97
2010 4004 10.96

Yes, it’s upsetting that Salvadorans feel good about the country only having 3.4 homicides per day in 2021; however, considering what the country had in 2015, they will take it.

Crime statistics discourage a lot of people from traveling to El Salvador. Nevertheless, if these numbers put some doubt in your mind, take a look at the reasons why visit El Salvador; they will give you more insights on why you should travel to this nation.

San Salvador Cathedral
San Salvador Cathedral. Photo by Edwin Ernesto

El Salvador is Not as Dangerous Anymore

By 2021, things have improved in El Salvador. The advance in overall safety is due to the work the current administration is doing.

Now, in all honesty, this improvement is helping the locals. El Salvador, for the most part, has always been safer for tourists.

Here is an example using San Salvador, the nation’s capital. This city, since 2010, has been in the top 50 most dangerous cities in the world; it has been a regular on the top 5.

In 2020, San Salvador is no longer one of the most dangerous cities in the world. In fact, it dropped out of the 50 most dangerous cities.

Nayib Bukele’s Security Plan

Nayib Bukele took office as president on June 1st, 2019. On that day, he promised that security for the country was going to be a top priority.

Bukele and his administration have delivered so far. For example, because of his security plan, the US Department of State downgraded the travel alert for El Salvador from Level 3, “reconsider travel,” to Level 2, “exercise increased caution.”

Also, during his first two years in office, the average daily murder rate has drooped significantly.

Another impressive thing that the Bukele administration has achieved are days with zero homicides. By May 12th, 2021, El Salvador has had 40 days with zero homicides, all of these during the Bukele administration.

How big of a deal are 40 days with no homicides? Well, since January 1st, 2000, the country has had at least one homicide per day. In 2015, there were days when the daily homicides were over 50, yes, over 50 murders per day!

Undoubtedly, El Salvador is not as dangerous as it used to be. A reason why is the security plan of the current administration. So, take a chance and visit El Salvador; it is safe for tourists.

El Salvador safety
City of San Vicente.

So, Is El Salvador Dangerous for Tourists?

No, El Salvador is not dangerous for tourists to visit. Considering the latest reduction in crime and the historical data of tourism safety, El Salvador is safe to visit for tourists. All the areas tourists could visit are in safer areas and have adequate security.

Remember, countries in Central America and the world have areas that tourists need to be careful when visiting; it’s not just El Salvador.

Even the united states has many cities classified as dangerous and recommended that tourists travel with caution. El Salvador is no exception; many cities in the country have areas that tourists should avoid.

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!

La Libertad pier
Port of La Libertad.

Reasons for Traveling and Safety

How safe is El Salvador? Or Is El Salvador safe to visit? These are two questions that get asked a lot. I have told many people who have asked me those questions that their reasons for traveling will ultimately determine what safety precautions they need to take.

For instance, any government official visiting will have their safety ensured by the local government. On the other hand, a visiting reporter working on an in-depth assignment about gang areas or crime will need to be more careful and take extra safety precautions.

The reason for visiting the country will determine what type of precautions need to be taken. Safety in El Salvador is all about planning!

Travel Advisories for El Salvador

Looking at travel advisories is a reliable way to get an idea of how safe a country is. However, governments will always look at the country as a whole and not to specific areas, in this case, touristic zones.

The US and UK travel advisories websites are the most popular when it comes to 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 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it increased 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.

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.

To view today’s current advisory from the United Kingdom, visit the UK government advisory page.

Santa Tecla
City of Santa Tecla El Salvador.

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.

El Salvador, since the 1980s, has had plenty of violence; therefore, it is understood why the country has the reputation of a violent nation. However, many misconceptions about El Salvador are just 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.” Source: www.worldnomads.com.

Are they lying? No, they are not! All those things have happened in El Salvador; But, not in the last ten years. However, the article makes it sound like these things happen every day and everywhere in the country.

In 2021, there are violent crimes in El Salvador. However, they don’t happen all the time and everywhere. Furthermore, these acts of violence and crime occur in non-touristic areas of the country. Visitors will never have a reason to be in these areas.

Gang Shootouts are a Common Occurrence

Gang-related murders and shootouts are a common occurrence in various parts of El Salvador. Well, gang-related murders do happen, but not as often as many people tend to believe.

However, shootouts are not a common occurrence. Also, when they transpire, they occur in local areas not visited by tourists.

I have been living full-time in El Salvador since 2014, and I have traveled all over the country. I don’t remember any news on violence involving tourists.

Only the Tourist Spots Are Safe for Foreigners

That is false. I see foreigners in small towns and 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 just pick up and go to any part of the country. Even though not touristic areas are safe, 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,” by Mar.

Is El Salvador Safe to Visit? 10 tips to Follow

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when traveling or planning to go to 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 that you want to travel to. Questions such as the following need to answered before visiting. Is the area safe? How am I going to get there? What should I do?

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

Even though the country is small, every part has different things for different people. If you are a backpacker, your needs will be different than if you are a regular traveler.

2- Talk to People Who Have Traveled to El Salvador

There are quite a few blogs or posts about individuals or families who have ventured into El Salvador. Luckily, they are sharing their experiences online. I see these travelers as one of the best sources of information about what to expect when visiting El Salvador.

By all means, you need to pay attention to travel warnings and advisory from your governments. But remember, you will always get a better picture of El Salvador from people who have actually 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. Safety in El Salvador for travelers starts with the location you are staying at.

Before deciding on a particular area or hotel, look at reviews. Find out what the previous guest have commented about the hotel and the area that you are thinking about staying.

These reviews will give you a better idea of where to stay and how much 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 go 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 for you will depend heavily on what you want to do at night.

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 drinking and clubbing, then you need to be more careful. Remember, nightlife in El Salvador is just like nightlife in any other country.

6- Be More Careful When Taking Public Transportation

If, at some point on your vacation, you need or want to take public transportation, be more careful. Public transportation is good as it’s cheap and convenient.

However, public transportation can also be unsafe for the following reasons. To begin with, 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 a route that is often targeted by criminals.

To ensure safety, before taking the bus, find out if the bus is in a safe route and if it goes directly to your destination. The best way to get this information is from the hotel or hostel that you are staying at.

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

If you want to venture into different areas of the country; but don’t want to deal with the hustle of getting there, planning the trip, driving, worry about safety, and coming back, you should take a guided tour.

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 on group tours or private tours. A lot of these tour companies in El Salvador will even set up a trip exclusive to you and will include the things you want to do or visit.

8- Keep Local Emergency Numbers Handy

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

In case you have an emergency, you will get faster attention if you call the local branch of the police, red cross, or Comandos. Remember, this is a developing country, so the emergency services are not up to standards of developed countries.

9- Avoid Displaying the Number 13 and 18.

The violence in El Salvador is due to two gangs fighting each other for control of the drug trade and the territory. They are recognized worldwide for the number 13 and 18.

Just for precautionary reasons, you should not wear anything with these two numbers, hats, shirts, t-shirts, etc. This is an extra safety precaution.

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

This is a common-sense safety tip. If you are staying in the upscale areas of San Salvador or Santa Tecla, then 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 staying in underdeveloped areas or taking the public bus, use common sense, and hide your valuables. I am not saying that you will get robbed by flashing them, but why get the extra attention. Use common sense, it is that simple!

El Salvador safety
Cerro Verde National Park.

Is El Salvador Safe to Visit for Tourists?

Even with all the issues, visiting El Salvador is quite safe. Just remember to practice common sense, make smart decisions, and follow recommendations.

Also, keep in mind that Salvadorans are friendly! Locals will go out of the way to help foreigners feel welcome and safe while in the country.

Over the years, I have seen many foreigners visit the country for the first time, one thing that I have noticed a lot is what they say about the country after their visit; many of them felt surprised about how things are, and how friendly Salvadorans are. Visit El Salvador, I am sure at the end of your trip you will be saying that El Salvador is safe and that the people are just amazing!


1 thought on “Is El Salvador Safe to Visit in 2021? Safety in El Salvador”

  1. El Salvador is safe if you use common sense and don’t stupid things ton put yourself in harm’s way. I have been visiting El Salvador since 2007, there it has been years when the crime has spiked. However, I have always used common sense on what I do when visiting, thus far, I haven’t had any problems. I will continue taking my yearly trips to El Salvador!

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