Stay Safe in El Salvador
El Salvador has a bad reputation because of the civil war in the 1980s. According to the U.S. State Department, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Crime is a problem largely attributed to street gangs, although statistics from official sources do not support this claim. You should use common sense and avoid entering an area that does not seem safe, as you would in any country in the world. Avoid wearing luxury items such as jewellery, expensive cameras and watches when travelling on public roads. Women should avoid travelling alone as they can occasionally be insulted and groped on crowded buses. As a foreigner, the kind of answer you may get from the police is “take it or leave it”. If you have been the victim of pickpocketing or any other kind of theft without anything happening to you, a visit to the police station will almost certainly be an exercise in frustration. Police officers have also been known to harass or behave inappropriately towards female travellers.
Many Salvadorans are armed and shootings are not uncommon. However, foreigners are not allowed to carry weapons, even for their own protection, without first obtaining a permit to carry from the Salvadoran government. Extortion tactics include indiscriminate grenade attacks on buses, shops and restaurants, which have killed or injured dozens of people, including children. These types of attacks are unpredictable, and the US Embassy advises its staff to remain aware of their surroundings and minimise the risk to themselves.
Anyone visiting El Salvador is advised to carry only the necessary identification, such as a driver’s licence, when exploring the city or tourist areas. If you need to carry your passport with you at all times, a travel bag will allow you to carry it safely. Police officers regularly ask tourists to show their passports. Most police officers are likely to be convinced that a copy of your passport and another piece of identification will suffice. Others will insist that you return to your hotel to collect your actual document. Most tourists prefer to stay in safe areas of El Salvador, such as the Zona Rosa, where crime is relatively low. If you are not staying in one of the country’s five-star hotels, be sure to check if the town or village you are visiting has a high level of gang activity.
In 1996, San Salvador was considered the second most dangerous city in the western hemisphere according to statistics. Since the end of the civil war in 1992, the crime rate in El Salvador has not decreased. Today San Salvador, and El Salvador in general, has one of the highest murder rates in the world, it is also considered the epicentre of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. In 2006, 3,906 homicides were reported; in 2005, there were 3,779, which equates to 57.2 violent deaths per 100,000 people. The crime rate in general has risen steadily over the years, increasing by 7.5% from 2005 to 2006.El Salvador is the most dangerous and violent country in Central America. The government has tried to control the gangs with a tactic called “Super Mano Dura”, which means “Super Strong Hand”, but this has not been successful and the crime rate has continued to rise.
Stay Healthy in El Salvador
If you are not used to the food sold by street vendors, it is best to stay away from it until you get used to it. If you want to try a pupusa, try to find a restaurant to try this popular dish instead of buying it from street vendors. That is, street food that you see cooked can sometimes be safer than restaurant food that you don’t see cooked.
Agua en bolsa” (water in a plastic bag) is very often sold on the street and in local shops in El Salvador.
Pharmacies are available throughout the country. Make sure you have a first aid kit with you when travelling in the countryside and to archaeological sites. Mosquito repellents are very useful.