Updated: Mar 27
You've made the decision to visit a country with a less than stellar reputation or to travel solo. Here is how to remain safe when traveling off the beaten path.
There's no denying it - a lot of travelers and adventurous backpackers avoid El Salvador. Government warnings, sensational journalism, and some shocking crime statistics have resulted in Central America's smallest country being side-stepped. But are the reports true?
I won't bore you with the statistics (partially because they are ever changing). However, it is worth noting that the vast majority of violence is gang-related and limited to certain neighborhoods between rivaling cliques. This is not to minimize what is occurring in the country but to simply highlight that a tourist's chances of becoming victim to this is highly unlikely.
That being said, in my opinion a few days or weeks in El Salvador is not going to land you a trip to a police station, the hospital, or the morgue. However, I made sure to stay aware of potential danger. I checked travel advisories and connected with people who had recently visited.
Also, I followed a few basic tips to stay safe in El Salvador. I find these strategies helpful wherever I go, and you can use them too when vacationing off the beaten path
Know the area you're traveling to (e.g., if there are certain neighborhoods notorious for crime). Reviews on Trip Advisor can help and you can ask your hotel to point out the safe and less-safe areas. (The hostel I stayed in, Hotel Casa Verde Santa Ana, did a great job of providing basic information, including safety, in a laminated binder. )
Stick to public, well-lit areas. (I rarely was out past nightfall because each day was filled with so many activities that I was too tired to consider the nightlife.)
Refrain from reckless behavior. ( No explanation needed.)
Don't be flashy with expensive items, jewelry, or gadgets. (I was backpacking for 2 months in Central America so I only had the necessities. My clothes were extra, I have to admit, but nothing was expensive.)
Give family and friends your itinerary and keep them updated during your trip. ( This was a little challenging because my cell phone was destroyed in Lake Atitlan Guatemala, but email and google voice made staying connected via my laptop an option.)
If you're traveling solo,consider staying at a bed-and-breakfast or hostel so that you can meet like minded travelers. ( As previously mentioned, I stayed at a hostel and met some of my favorite people there. We traveled together to explore another incredible part of the country. They also captured all of the beautiful photos you see here because I didn't have a camera...RIP iPhone 7.)
In El Salvador there weren't any red flags I needed to be alert to, however once on a trip to St. Croix I immediately felt uneasy when a group of local men offered to take me and two other female travelers to a secluded waterfall. One of my companions was from St. Croix and felt completely safe but I just couldn't shake the sense of impending danger I was getting. Our cell phone service was spotty, we would have to depend on them to get us in and out, and did I mention, no one else would be around. After some discussion we ultimately declined and, thankfully, I'm still alive today.
Ultimately, if something doesn't feel right trust your intuition. This is my final and most important tip.