This is a question on a lot of solo travelers’ – especially solo female travelers’ – minds. It’s not to do with COVID, which has made most international travel unsafe, but rather with the gang violence and crime rate. San Salvador, a city bustling with history and culture, has become a city that people avoid due to fear. But it’s not just the capital city: the entire country has a travel warning against it.
The US Travel Advisory has rated El Salvador a 3, meaning that travelers should strongly consider their trip. They state that violent crime, gang activity and a lack of police interference is the reason for this rating. (Note: due to COVID, El Salvador is actually a 4, the highest warning the US Travel Advisory can give.) I am not trying to discredit this rating nor argue against the Travel Advisory; I am simply stating that there is a way to enjoy El Salvador, even as a solo female traveler, in a safe and exciting way.
You might ask yourself: why even travel to El Salvador? It’s just another impoverished country with people begging for money and a run-down infrastructure, right? Wrong. El Salvador boasts a rich history, colonized by Spain in 1524 (but, of course, having a bustling indigenous population and a variety of cultures before then) and also had a long-standing civil war lasting from 1979-1992. The people there are proud of their country, they’re proud of the progress they are making and their buildings are colorful and fascinating. This is not a country that wants your pity – it is a country that deserves your respect.
I stayed in El Salvador a little over a week, although I wish I could’ve stayed longer. For full transparency, I did book a solo travel agency called Gringo Tours(which I cannot recommend enough – Robert is a literal angel!) and was shown the beauty and wonder of the country. We visited four cities and I was stationed in Suchitoto, which is in northern El Salvador and is completely safe. We went to the mountains and I walked on the ground where the civil war took place. I spoke to someone who fought in that war. And I learned some hard truths about the US and their role in it.
The people of El Salvador want to keep you safe. They are happy to have tourists (respectful tourists) who are willing to add to their economy by purchasing food and mementos there. I was able to create my own shawl in indigo and all proceeds went to an all-female run initiative. Do your research before you travel anywhere to make sure your dollar goes to the economy and not into the pockets of those on top.
Because they want to keep tourists safe, they are quick to lend a helping hand. They will guide you out of anywhere dangerous should you wander there. Although I never experienced this as I was with Gringo Tours, I heard many stories about locals who would guide travelers out of the danger zone (mostly in San Salvador). Actually, should you want to, you can take Gringo Tours to the historic parts of San Salvador. I did not choose to do this, but it is perfectly safe.
So, to summarize: Is El Salvador safe to visit?
My answer? A resounding YES!
As always, be safe and do your research. Most travelers make their main location Suchitoto, as I did, and you will not find a more peaceful location to stay at. I truly hope you will consider El Salvador as one of your future destinations.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating for international travel during COVID. I am simply stating my experience in El Salvador that happened before COVID hit. Please take the proper safety precautions when it comes to traveling both for your safety and for your health.