Central America, Ecotravel, Off the beaten path, save money on travel, Travel

Is it safe to visit El Salvador? 5 tips for safety

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The sunsets are spectacular in El Salvador. By Elana Nichols 2019

If you base your travel on the news alone, El Salvador may not make the top of your travel list. However, there are hidden treasures there that are just waiting to be explored! When faced with the question of visiting El Salvador, especially with recent travel warnings from government agencies, it can be easy to pass right by and not explore. However, many flights getting to and from surrounding areas connect in the city of San Salvador, and create a great base from which to explore this small Central American country. There are inherent dangers with any type of travel, from mosquito-borne illnesses to violence. However, my opinion is that with a good head on your shoulders and a level of respect, you can safely enjoy your time visiting El Salvador. Here are a few tips that can enable you to add another country to your passport without the worry of the danger. After going to El Salvador safely, I recommend a few tips when making your decision about visiting:

  1. Don’t flaunt it.

Many destinations have fancy dining or hotels that may make you want to wear your best designer garb and jewelry. This is NOT the destination to do that. In fact, leave your fanciness at home. Instead, wear reasonable clothing and limit the sparkle. For one thing, wearing fancy clothes only draws attention to you, in any destination really. Rather than giving the opportunity, enter El Salvador with respect and travel with modest means. It is better for you, in the rare case that someone is looking for such a situation to take advantage of.

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On the Ruta de las Flores you can find the most colorful places! By Elana Nichols 2019
  1. Wander in the daylight hours.

El Salvador blogs are littered with stories of robbery, random tax stands from criminals, and other unusual happenings. While the risk of this happening to you is low, it is more likely to happen once the sun goes down. We actually rented a car and drove a total of just over five hours around the country and had no problems at all (despite a police stop that went quickly and smoothly). I have heard stories of other travelers being stopped in the middle of the road to pay a “tax” to some random person, and then getting things stolen. While I did not experience this myself, I took it to heart to err on the safer side and drive around in daylight hours. You will most likely not find confrontations. What we did find were extremely friendly locals who were really happy to meet us!

Tip for driving: The roads in El Salvador are VERY hazardous with giant potholes, animals in the road, and trash. Be prepared to drive slower due to hazards. You may also see men with AK-47’s as you drive. The one’s we encountered appeared to be security for certain residences and businesses. However, being prepared to see them will make your journey a bit less scary. Avoid the buses if you can.

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While our hotel was not the best, it did have some cool Mayan Relics! By Elana Nichols 2019
  1. Get a hotel or resort with security.

Again, the likelihood that you will have issues at a hotel or resort are very slim to none. But…just in case, it is good to find a larger hotel or resort that does have security. We ended up in the Royal Decameron Salinitas on the beach. While I would not recommend this hotel to anyone for reasons other than safety,  we felt very safe there as there was ample security. You can always check with the hotel if in doubt, and you admittedly probably don’t need extra security, but it does give you peace of mind, especially after reading about things that do happen.

Tip for checking in: If you are staying outside of the main city of San Salvador, it really helps to know and try to speak some Spanish. Many employees at our hotel did not speak any English at all, so having some Spanish knowledge was really helpful.

 

  1. Be prepared.

Know before you go. What do you want to see? Where do you want to stay? Have an itinerary planned out and stick to it. You can have an amazing time with so much to do in El Salvador, but if you are more of a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of traveler, it would not hurt to have a plan ahead of time.

Tip: Add the Ruta De Las Flores to your trip if you are driving. It gets its name from the ample blooms along the journey. It takes you next to an active volcano and the cutest little mountain towns you have ever seen, untouched by the “tourist” trap aspects.

  1. Stay away from “Maras” areas.

There are definitely hotspots for the Maras, or criminal gangs. These groups are causing a real humanitarian crisis in El Salvador. While it may seem insensitive to visit an area people are fleeing, the truth is responsible tourism can definitely help El Salvador. However, you want to steer clear of the areas where Maras exist. Basically, families are targeted by these groups, and many of the violent crimes that happen are drug and gang related. One area where they are very concentrated is Barrio-18. MS-13 and MS-18 are the most dangerous and do inhabit around 262 of the municipalities in San Salvador. You can find more information here.

All in all, if you ask me if you should go to El Salvador, my answer is yes! While there are definitely precautions that should be taken, I do not think they are that much more than going anywhere else. From Mayan ruins to waterfalls and volcanoes, there is a lot to see and experience in El Salvador. El Salvador can greatly benefit from tourism and the people there love to get visitors. My favorite experience was the friendly locals, they were so fun to talk to! While you should definitely take precautions when visiting as things can go wrong, as long as you are careful, I think you will enjoy the treasures in this small Central American country!

Questions about visiting El Salvador? Email us @abroadwithabrain@gmail.com!

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