Is El Salvador safe to visit for foreigners? Absolutely, YES! However, that doesn’t mean that you can ignore safety recommendations and avoid taking extra precautions. El Salvador’s safety is all about practicing common sense, making smart decisions, and following safety recommendations.
El Salvador’s safety, a question that needs to be asked.
Asking something like “is it safe to travel to El Salvador?” is a common question that appears to come up a lot when someone is contemplating a visit to El Salvador.
It is a fundamental question about safety that most travelers thinking about going to El Salvador should ask, and also plan ahead for it.
Safety in El Salvador or being safe when visiting is a big concern for anyone looking to travel to this nation, and it needs to be for obvious reasons.
El Salvador does not have a good reputation around the world as being safe; therefore, for a lot of people, safety in El Salvador is the main deciding factor in visiting or not.
El Salvador Safety and Crime.
Crime in this small nation is real and affects the lives of many Salvadoreans on a daily bases; this is a sad and upsetting fact about life in El Salvador.
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 touristic spots.
Crime statistics, the scary part!
El Salvador is the smallest country in the American Continent; yet, over the last 20+ years, it has had one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Some people refer to El Salvador as the murder capital of the world, or at least they did. A name that as a Salvadoran I definitely don’t like, but I can’t argue against it because of all the crime statistics.
The crime statistics.
Here are some scary statistics about crime in El Salvador, 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.
Now in 2020, it’s continuing to decline. I don’t have official numbers for the year 2020, but in June 2020, it had a daily average of 2.2 murders per day.
Yes, it’s upsetting that I feel good about the country only having 2.2 homicides per day in June 2020, but considering what we had in 2015, I will take it.
I hope this section about crime doesn’t discourage you from traveling to El Salvador. Nevertheless, if it did put some doubt in your mind, take a look at this article I wrote called, why visit El Salvador, it will give you more insights on why you should travel to this nation.
Furthermore, the new president and his administration are putting the safety of Salvadorans and foreigners as a top priority. Please read the following section about Nayib Bukele’s security plan for the nation and the results it has got so far.
Nayib Bukele’s security plan.
Nayib Bukele took office as president on June 1st, 2019. On that day, he promised that security for its citizens was going to be a top priority. I did believe his words; nonetheless, I remained skeptical as the previous four presidents all said the same, and all four failed to deliver.
Nevertheless, President Nayib 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 13 months in office, the average daily murder rate is 4.4. Furthermore, in the first six months of 2020, the average has lowered to 3.8. Those averages are incredible, considering that we had 10.8 in 2017 and 9.2 in 2018.
Another impressive thing that the Bukele administration has achieved, in the first 365 days in office, is 21 days with zero homicides. To give you content about how big the 21 days with no homicides are, El Salvador, since January 1st, 2000, has had at least one homicide. In 2015, there were days when the daily homicides were over 50, yes, over 50!
Visit our “President Nayib Bukele’s security plan” page to know more about the security plan.
Rogelio Rivas, the national security minister, and Rene Merino Monroy, the defense minister, are at the front lines executing Bukele’s plan. Undoubtedly, El Salvador is not as dangerous as it used to be. So take a chance and visit.
El Salvador is not as dangerous as it used to be.
IN 2020, things are improving in El Salvador. The improvement in the 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 been safer for tourists; well, at least the last 10 years.
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.As a matter of fact, the city has been a regular on the top 5.
In 2020, San Salvador is not listed on the top 50; therefore, San Salvador is no longer one of the most dangerous cities in the world. This is a significant accomplishment for the country.
So, is it safe to travel to El Salvador despite its crime rate and violence?
Yes, despite all the crime and violence, which doesn’t affect tourists, El Salvador is safe to visit. Generally, the vast number of these crimes happens in specific areas of the country. You, as a traveler, will never have a reason to be in those areas unless you get there by mistake!
Remember, a lot of countries in Central America and the world have areas that you need to be careful when going to, it’s not just El Salvador.
As a matter of fact, even the united states has many cities classified as dangerous and recommended that tourists travel with caution.
Obviously, El Salvador is no exception, many cities in the country have areas that tourists should avoid at all costs. Also, the country as a whole have areas recommended that tourist visit with caution as well.
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!
Reasons for traveling and safety.
How safe is El Salvador? Or Is El Salvador safe? These are two questions that are asked a lot. Now, as I have told many people who have asked me those questions about El Salvador’s safety. Your reason for traveling will ultimately determine what safety precautions you need to take.
For instance, if you are a government official visiting, your safety should already be ensured by the local government. On the other hand, if you are a reporter working on an in-depth assignment about gang areas or crime, you most definitely need to be more careful and plan ahead.
Is El Salvador safe for business traveling?
If you are traveling for an already existing business, most of your safety recommendations and preparations should already be in place. The company for whom you are working should have a safety plan for you to follow. Obviously, you probably are not the first one to do this traveling.
Now, if you are traveling looking to expand your own business or the ones of the company you work for. Some, if not all of the safety concerns will be addressed when setting up the meetings, you are planning to have.
Potential clients and/or business partners will be happy to give you an idea of safety recommendations and precautions to take.
El Salvador’s safety while vacationing.
If you are traveling on vacation, a lot of the safety concerns will be addressed when making plans and reservations. Unless if you are a backpacker or someone who doesn’t care much about safety.
If you are like most vacation travelers, you will need to make hotel reservations, arrange transportation, and plan what to do during the trip.
You, like many other travelers, will not just make reservations on the first hotel that you find, or book the first transportation company on the list. You will spend time comparing everything and reading reviews, therefore making sure your safety is a priority.
El Salvador’s safety while Visiting Friends or Family.
If you are visiting friends or family, I am sure they will have a safety plan laid out for you to follow. Also, since they live in the country, they will be able to answer any question or concern that you might have about safety.
Visiting people that you know, such as family or friends, is a great way to enjoy the country and worry less about safety.
As you can see, the reason for visiting the country will determine what type of precautions you will need to take. Safety in El Salvador is all about planning!
Travel advisories. Is El Salvador safe?
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.
If you are going to look at travel advisory sites, I recommend for you to look at the US and UK travel advisories websites. They are the ones who tend to have the most detailed information about safety in specific countries; in this case, 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.” This is great for the country, as it has been at level 3 for a long time. To view today’s current advisory, visit the US government advisory page.
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 UK, visit the UK government advisory page.
Misconceptions about safety in El Salvador. El Salvador Safety.
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, our reputation as a violent nation is justified.
Nevertheless, there are many misconceptions written about El Salvador that are just plain wrong, here are some of them!
Crime and violence is everywhere.
The following was written on a popular travel website about El Salvador.
Are they lying? No, they are not, all those things have happened in El Salvador in the last 30 years. However, the way is written, it makes it sound like these things happen every day and everywhere in the country.
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 areas that most travelers will never go to.
I have been living full time in El Salvador since 2010, 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.
This is absolutely false, I see foreigners in small towns and parts of the country that have nothing to do with tourism.
Don’t get me wrong, this 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.
10 safety tips to follow while visiting El Salvador. Is El Salvador safe?
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. Use them as a reminder on what to look out for.
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!
Is El Salvador safe to visit? Yes, it is! So go for it!
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!