El Salvador Travel Advice
Security travel advice for El Salvador
Threat level: High
Despite the low threat from terrorism in the country, gang violence poses a serious security threat to El Salvador, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is estimated that around 70,000 gang members operate in the country belonging mostly to 2 dominant gangs: Mera Salvatruch (MS-13) and Calle 18. Violent deaths are a frequent occurrence in the country, with multiple incidents a day.
Travellers are strongly recommended to avoid areas in downtown San Salvador as this area is known to be extremely dangerous, particularly at night time.
Violent gang members usually target opposite rivals in their fighting rather than tourists visiting the country and are often located away from tourist destinations. Providing visitors exercise vigilant safety precautions and do not get involved in any suspicious activity, trips to El Salvador should be trouble free.
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Recent Security Risk Events
In April 2016, El Salvador’s government deployed a 1000-strong unit of soldiers on a mass operation intended to crackdown on the country’s gang issues. The soldiers are targeting gang leaders that have fled the cities to the countryside after this government crackdown.
El Salvador’s extortionately high murder rate makes it the deadliest nation per capital outside of the warzone. Kidnappings are frequent in the country.
Muggings, often coupled with violence, are common in the country, particularly downtown San Salvador. You should take extra precautions and do not have any valuables on display that might make you more attractive to target.
El Salvador is a member of the United Nations, World Trade Organisation and numerous Central American Organisations.
It enjoys bilateral relations with 12 countries including the United States of America who looks to promote the strengthening of the country’s democratic institutions, civilian police and economic growth amongst other long term goals. Further relations are enjoyed with Spain, Honduras and Taiwan.
It is highly advised that you avoid public transport at all costs as armed robberies often take place on buses. You should be particularly aware of the bus stops that are located on Alameda Roosevelt Street and tin the area around del Mundo Square in the capital city. Such areas are particularly dangerous and unless absolutely necessary, avoided altogether.
Local vehicles in El Salvador are not well maintained and drivers rarely follow traffic regulations. Between main tourist destinations, the roads are a generally acceptable standard but most streets and roads are narrow and in poor condition, with little light to guide them at night time. Rural roads may present hazards such as wandering livestock and pedestrians sharing the space. If you are driving a vehicle remain alert and drive defensively at all times as others on the road may be under the influence of drink or drugs.
Carjacking and robbery from your car may take place along poorly lit, rural roads. It is advised that you do not travel after dark and always aim to travel in convoy if possible. Keep your doors and windows locked at all times and put your personal belongings out of sight.
If you wish to travel by public transport you should do so through reputable tour operators, or a reliable taxi company that has been recommended to you by tour operators or hotel staff.
Religion: Christianity (Roman Catholic)
Currency: United States Dollar
Time now in San Salvador:
Most nationals including U.S., UK, EU and Canadian tourists are able to enter El Salvador by purchasing a tourist card, eliminating the need for a visa for a stay for up to 90 days. This costs $10 USD and can be purchased upon arrival. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your proposed stay.
It is advised that visitors to El Salvador are up-to-date with primary boosters such as MMR. You should ensure that you have been further vaccinated against diseases such as Tetanus which is usually administered when you are a young baby. You may also want to consider a Hepatitis A vaccination.
Although there is no direct risk of Yellow Fever in El Salvador, if you are coming from a country where there is a risk of the disease, or transiting for longer than 12 hours in an at risk country, you will be required to provide a vaccination certificate. Check with your local health professional prior to travel if you are unsure.
Other health risks
You should drink only bottled water which is widely available for little cost. If medical attention is required, be aware that state run hospitals are often understaffed and lacking in resources so wherever possible, you should seek private treatment. Not many medical staff speak English. You should ensure that your health insurance is comprehensive as many hospitals or clinics are reluctant to treat patients who do not provide evidence of insurance.
El Salvador has reported cases of the Zika Virus, Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Fever, all of which are transmitted via mosquito bites. It is extremely important, therefore, that travellers make every effort to prevent bites from mosquitoes, including using insect repellent and wearing appropriate clothing, exposing as little skin as possible.
For more information on the Zika virus, see: Zika virus facts
More information on Dengue Fever can be found here: Dengue Fever facts
Information on Chikungunya Fever can be found here: Chikungunya Fever facts
Extreme weather and natural disasters
El Salvador is located in an active seismic zone and as such, the country frequently experiences tremors. Major earthquakes are sporadic however they do occur so travellers are advised to familiarise themselves with the safety measures taken in the event of an earthquake.
The rainy season in El Salvador runs between June and November, during which landslides and flooding can devastate the country and cause severe damage to infrastructure. You should monitor the local news and weather as regularly as possible.
There are a number of active volcanoes in the country, such as the Chaparrastique volcano which erupted in 2013 and remains active today. If you are planning on climbing any volcanoes, seek local advice before embarking and observe any volcano warnings. You should only do this during daylight hours and with a tour guide.
U.S. Embassy San Salvador
Final Boulevard Santa Elena Sur,
Urbanizacion Santa Elena,
Antiguo Cuscatlan, La Libertad
Telephone: +503 250 129 99
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +503 250 129 99
British Embassy San Salvador
Telephone: +503 251 157 57
Other useful info
All emergency services: 911