With news of fires and violence, people may be wondering if El Salvador is safe to visit or travel to. Despite mainstream media’s depiction of the country, El Salvador is a very safe place to visit. Much like all places around the world, bad people exist and crime can happen on occasion. Despite a few bad apples, El Salvador is a very beautiful and safe country that is definitely worth exploring.
Misconceptions Of El Salvador
A lot of times, numbers and statistics can be rather misleading. Like most places, El Salvador can be a dangerous city. In reality, most of the crime committed is usually gun or drug-related. It’s no secret cocaine in South America has been at the root of a lot of problems plaguing the region. Not to mention years of civil war back in the 80s and 90s.
The biggest issues that involve crimes in El Salvador usually revolve around illegal drugs and weapons smuggling. This is mainly due to the country’s location along a large corridor of illegal activity for various types of smugglers. With well over 60,000 gang members in the country, they are the targets and victims of most crimes committed. From an outside perspective, often when people think of El Salvador, they image gang violence and extreme poverty. Due to this, many people assume that El Salvador is not a safe place to visit.
However, since the civil wars end back in 1992, there have been large advances in the region. Safety has been improved and the country’s infrastructure has been restored for the most part. As you explore the beautiful culture and friendly people, you may not ever find yourself exposed to danger. However, travel warnings still exist and shouldn’t be ignored. Even in the face of warnings, El Salvador is still a fairly safe place to visit for tourist and visitors.
Preventing Crime and What To Be Aware of in El Salvador
The sad truth is there are 267 municipalities in El Salvador and 242 of them are controlled by gangs. However, you can sleep easy knowing that gangs are not out looking for you or other tourists. The fear of being in the middle of a gang shootout is a real fear, however, it’s extremely rare to happen to tourists.
The easiest way to avoid any potential problems is by not involving yourself into any illegal activities. This may seem obvious to some people, however, it’s worth noting. The next easiest way to avoid being a victim of crime is by being aware of the area and your surroundings. There a number of things that you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones while traveling in El Salvador.
1) Check for Travel Warnings And Advisories
It’s always a good idea to check government websites from the US or UK regarding travel warnings. Besides a general heads up warning about your travel destination, it’s a great reliable source of detailed information about events in the area. It’s crucial to check this kind of information prior to booking and confirming your trip.
2) Be Aware
The best way to protect yourself is by looking after yourself. Being aware of your surroundings, people around you, building exits, etc. are important things to keep in consideration. This is especially true when traveling to areas that you aren’t too familiar with. While there are only two major Maras or armed gangs, don’t forget about pick-pocketers. Not all crimes are violent and some are just petty crimes so keep this in mind as you explore touristy areas.
3) Avoid Nighttime Walking
Much like many places, crime activity increases as it gets later in the day. Not all crimes are committed at night, however, a significant amount of crime does take place in the night and evening hours. Crimes such as robbery are most likely what would be encountered and the best way to avoid this is by avoiding nighttime walking or driving. Even if you have a driver, it’s much safer to travel during the day then the night, largely due to visibility concerns. Part of the process of staying safe involves not making yourself such an easy target for would-be perpetrators.
This is not to say that you cannot enjoy a nice dinner out on the town. You just want to make sure that you have either a guide or hotel recommend a safe place. They can also arrange for a safe taxi as well. You can arrange with the driver to pick you up at a specified time or they may even be able to wait for you in some cases. In either case, just make sure not to pay them all the money until you are back safe at your hotel at the end of the night. This way, they have an incentive to return and won’t leave you high and dry.
4) Always Keep Your Bags in View
A lot of times, people bring backpacks and other types of personal bags or purses along when they are traveling. You should always remember to make sure to keep your eye on your bags. You’ll want to make sure not to leave them or any other personal items unattended.
If you choose to take a purse with you, make sure to carry this in the front and not towards your back which is easier for a pick-pocketer. Similarly, with backpacks, consider picking a security and travel backpack, which is more secure. If possible, avoid putting things in your back pockets like wallets, ids, or money. Keep those in your front pockets or safely secured elsewhere like a security backpack.
5) Don’t Draw Attention
When exploring areas that you are not familiar with, especially places of high crime, you should try to blend in. Avoid wearing flashy clothing or jewelry that may draw unwanted attention to yourself. Potential gang members or any other criminals won’t know if you are local or a tourist if you are not flashing your money or jewelry around. You could be potentially be putting yourself and others at risk simply by showing off too much.
Also, always be considerate of where and how you handle your money while out in the public. You should avoid handling money in public, or opening your wallet in the public. Try to keep no more than the money that you need for the day or your planned activities on you.
6) Use Tours or Guides To Explore
It can be very exciting to visit a new and you want to go out and explore everything. For those for are not intimately familiar with El Salvador the safest way to really explore El Salvador is by getting the help from a guide.
From city tours to daily drivers, a local guide is essential when traveling in El Salvador. They can help you to get where you need to be safely and keep you from ending up in places you shouldn’t be. Another great perk of having a local guide for help is that you will have someone available to translate for you if you don’t understand the language.
From seeing the beautiful landscapes like volcanoes to just getting around in El Salvador, there are a number of professional tours and guides available to help you explore El Salvador safely. With tons of great places and museums to visit, a guide can help show you around or point you in the right direction if you really want to do some solo exploring.
7) Stay at Safe Places
When deciding where to stay for your visit to El Salvador, you should choose locations that provide adequate safety. Although it might seem cool to book your own private condo or apartment, like an Airbnb, hotels are much safer. Staying in an Airbnb in an area that you are not familiar with is a bad decision. Book large or major hotels while you are staying in El Salvador.
These places often have security on-site as well as other services that you may need if a situation arises. They can also advise you on safe places of interest and can even help to set you up with a local guide. It may cost you more money to stay at the hotels, however, it’s hard to put a price on the safety in places that can sometimes be uncertain.
8) Don’t Explore Alone
Although there are plenty of places that are perfectly safe to go alone, there are a number of other places that you shouldn’t explore. There are some parts of some cities that you should avoid if you are traveling solo. Also, even though there are a number of hiking treks that are available for fun, you avoid hiking alone. With all the popular treks to see the many volcanoes in El Salvador, the country has recommended that guides only visit certain hiking areas accompanied by the tourism police. There haven’t been any problems in a number of years, however, they want to ensure safety for both visitors and guides.
While traveling to El Salvador in Central America can present some dangers, by taking the proper precautions and using guides, you can have a truly safe and amazing time exploring the history and culture of El Salvador.