If you're going to El Salvador, don't go. You will die if you do. A family member made this abundantly clear when they found out I was planning my two-month stay in the country of El Salvador. Why do El Salvador Travel?
Central America's violent past is all too familiar to its inhabitants. From the late-20th century civil wars and bloody gang-controlled drug trades that characterize the region, El Salvador emerges as a stand-out in its notoriety for being one of the world's most dangerous spots – more so than any other country in Central America has ever been known for.
El Salvador's reputation for being one of the most violent countries in the world, is well-deserved. Its homicide rate has consistently been among the highest on record; peaking at its all-time high in mid-decade during an era when it was known as ‘El Salvador de Amor' (El Salvador of Love). Gang violence and clandestine groups like Las Pandillas wreak havoc on their respective communities while also affecting nationwide stability. However, should this be considered all there is to El Salvador's identity?
My curiosity was piqued, and I embarked on a mission to investigate the recent improvements in El Salvador's murder and poverty statistics during Nayib Bukele‘s presidency. Despite my apprehension about travelling there – and yes, for an American citizen who has yet to experience any real danger in this country – I was nevertheless confident that some way-out opportunity must exist!
While journeying through western El Salvador for the past few weeks, I experienced absolute safety throughout my stay. Contrasted with other more tourist-crowded Central American countries like Mexico and Guatemala where I've had a few issues – El Salvador came into our sight as an utter surprise! That being said, it's become apparent to me that perceptions of this seemingly insignificant nation were based entirely on media reports which tend to only highlight one side of its complex existence. As such; I've felt somewhat guilty for harbouring those expectations in the first place…
The reality of the matter is that gang violence is, by and large, exclusively directed against law enforcement personnel and other gangs. This holds true in both American cities and Canadian metropolises alike; as well as in Salvadoran localities throughout Central America. For a sobering reference, the St Louis homicide rate in 2021 surpassed any recorded figures from El Salvador – an indication that its citizens do not face any war-torn hellhole or place to be wary of when visiting their country.
As you journey to El Salvador, be sure to anticipate more than what meets the eye – indeed, your stay there may prove invaluable!
Central America is renowned for a select few things; paradisiacal beaches, kaleidoscopic rainforests dotting the countryside…endless volcanoes that loom majestically over landscapes and ancient ruins erected by various pre-Colombian societies such as those of the Mayans or Aztecs. One could say that El Salvador boasts all of these features in abundance! From awe-inspiring and captivating sites like Tazumal and Ceren Joya de to eerily looming volcanoes situated just outside each city (each having an eponymous name).
On a bustling day, the difference between El Salvador and its neighboring countries is clear. You'll find far fewer tourists in this Central American country than you will in Costa Rica, Belize or southern Mexico – an advantage that if harnessed could benefit those places immensely! All of the culture here combined with fewer difficulties ordinarily associated with over-commercialization makes it an ideal destination for visitors seeking a memorable experience while travelling across Central America.
Is El Salvador a paragon of perfection? Not quite. You will encounter poverty and wilful environmental degradation in some areas – if you set foot upon its soil. But beyond this, locals are just as eager to demonstrate that theirs is a pacifistic nation which strives for amity as they can be! My entire journey was punctuated with generous hospitality, sound advice and recommendations from Santa Ana to San Salvador up until La Palma; one encounters an exquisite food culture whose cost-effectiveness rivals any other place in the world… And despite all this, their country continues striving towards greater recognition through fostering peace rather than simply affixing an imposing image beforehand!