Some special street art near the market in Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador

Is it safe to travel in El Salvador?

Many travelers avoid the country altogether, because they don't think it's safe to travel in El Salvador. But they're missing out on some amazing places to visit, and to meet the people who probably are the friendliest and most welcoming of anywhere I've been.

The first question most people asked me when I announced that I was off to El Salvador was if it really is safe to travel in El Salvador. And I can see why. With one day without a homicide every other year being worthy of newspaper headlines, and a murder rate of around a hundred per hundred thousand citizens, El Salvador has more than a bad rap going. It’s definitely dangerous to live in El Salvador, especially if you have any connection to gangs or drugs. But is it dangerous to travel in El Salvador? My short answer would be no. Stay away from the dudes with the face tattoos and you’ll be fine.

That being said, in San Salvador in particular, you will notice that this is not a safe place. I’m not used to armed guards from home, so for me they’re not necessarily associated with safety, but I do understand that in some places they are. In San Salvador, even the fast food restaurants have bars across the windows and an armed guard out front. In the smaller towns, however, you won’t notice a thing.

Street in colonial Suchitoto, El Salvador

The friendliest people in the world

You’d think that in a country where people kill each other to that extent, regular people would keep to themselves and be suspicious of strangers, but they’re the opposite. I’ve honestly never been to a friendlier place than El Salvador. As a tourist, you’ll need a lot of help from locals to understand how things work, as they don’t have much of a tourist infrastructure in place. There’s no marked bus stop, because everyone knows where the buses stop anyway, and so on. You’ll always have to ask the old ladies selling candy on the street corners or the guard watching the gas station entrance where to wait for the bus, and they will LOVE to help you. People really went out of their way to help and give advice, wherever we went.

You must, of course, exercise the same caution as you would anywhere else as a traveler. Don’t show off your money or electronics, don’t wear flashy jewelry, don’t carry your passport in your back pocket, don’t leave your stuff unattended, and always go with your instinct whenever you don’t feel safe. Don’t go for a random walk around San Salvador without reading up on which barrios to stay out of, and never walk alone at night, especially not if you’ve been drinking. But this is the same as everywhere, isn’t it?

Learn some Spanish before you go

I think it does help to speak Spanish. I do, so I don’t know what it’s like to navigate El Salvador in English, but I’m assuming it’s a bit tricky. It’s also so much easier to get closer to the locals if you can chat with them and understand what they’re saying. I’m guessing that El Salvador might not appear as extraordinarily friendly to an American who don’t speak a word of Spanish. I don’t know this, though.

All I know is that I’m not alone thinking that El Salvador is one of the friendliest countries on the planet, I’ve met so many others who said the same thing. I’ve also met a lot of other travelers in other parts of Central America saying that they would never go to El Salvador, instead they skip both El Salvador and Honduras on a shuttle because they don’t think it’s safe enough.

I think that’s a mistake. I cannot tell you that it is completely safe to travel in El Salvador, although I think it probably is. I can only tell you what I saw, and say that you should really go there and see for yourself what it’s like. El Salvador is not a scary place at all, quite the opposite. And you probably won’t get murdered.

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