SAFETY TIPS

SAFETY AND SECURITY

CRIME

Violent crime is a serious problem throughout the country. It includes:

  • homicide
  • assault, including rape
  • armed robbery and carjacking
  • kidnapping

Criminal activity can occur in any area of the country. It is not restricted to gang activity.

Carjackings occur. Armed criminals follow travellers from the airport to private residences or secluded stretches of road, where they carry out assaults or robberies. Criminals can become violent and shoot if victims do not cooperate immediately.

Some neighbourhoods are safer than others. Avoid crossing a neighbourhood that is a known criminal stronghold, even if to reach a safer neighbourhood. Always maintain heightened vigilance and be on the alert. Hotels in the following San Salvador neighbourhoods are usually safe options:

  • Escalón (Crowne Plaza)
  • San Benito (Barceló and Sheraton)
  • Santa Elena (Holiday Inn)

Avoid taking any form of public transportation.

If you are threatened by armed criminals, stay calm and cooperate with them. Do not resist, as gang members are quick to engage in violence. Avoid eye contact with the perpetrator.

If you are robbed, go to a police station. Do not expect assistance in your preferred language, as most Salvadorans do not speak English or French.

HOMICIDES

Homicides frequently occur on public buses, roads and private residences. This includes murder for hire or individuals specifically targeted by gang members.

The 10 municipalities most affected by violence are:

  • San Salvador, Ciudad Delgado, Mejicanos, Panchimalco, San Martin, Apopa and Soyapango
  • San Miguel
  • Santa Ana and Ahuachapán

THEFT

Armed robberies (involving the use of guns, knives and other dangerous weapons) often occur on public transportation and in tourist areas, including national parks and scenic spots. Armed robbery poses the greatest threat to foreigners.

Bus passengers are frequently robbed en route, at roadblocks and at bus stops. The bus stops located on Alameda Roosevelt Street and in the area surrounding Plaza Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador are considered dangerous, especially on weekdays between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. Petty crime, including bag snatching and pickpocketing, is common.

  • Avoid displaying signs of affluence in public, particularly when landing at El Salvador International Airport, where wealthy-looking tourists are more likely to be targeted by criminals
  • Ensure that your personal belongings, including your passport and other travel documents, are secure at all times
  • Carry only a copy of the identification page of your passport and sufficient funds for the day
  • Avoid walking after dark, including in San Salvador
  • Travel in groups if possible
  • Remain extremely vigilant and exercise caution at all times

Thieves break into cars parked in public places. When leaving a vehicle parked, ensure you don’t leave your valuables unattended.

STREET GANGS

The majority of crimes are committed by organized street gangs (maras).

Gang culture has spread throughout much of the country and is gradually migrating to rural areas. The government’s counter measures have focussed on urban areas most visited by tourists, such as the metropolitan area of San Salvador. Typical crimes carried out by gangs include extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion and car theft.

While gang violence rarely targets foreigners, incidents of violent assault against tourists occur.

  • Maintain a high level of vigilance and personal security awareness at all times
  • Be discreet and avoid travelling alone, especially if you are female

Gangs often threaten individuals and businesses with extortion, and use deadly force if the extortion money is not paid. Attacks have occurred in open-air markets, restaurants, police stations, public buses and clinics. The attacks are unpredictable and often harm or kill innocent bystanders.

ON THE ROAD

Criminals may assault travellers on rural roads. Avoid driving after dark.

  • Travel in a convoy rather than alone on rural roads because there are fewer police in rural areas and roadside assistance is rarely available
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and windows closed at all times
  • Safely store personal belongings, including handbags, out of sight
  • Avoid stopping at scenic points

SEXUAL ASSAULT

Incidents of sexual assault against foreigners at beach areas and border regions have occurred.

  • Be cautious with new acquaintances offering friendship, hospitality or assistance
  • Do not accept drinks from strangers as incidents of sexual assault sometimes involve the use of sedative drugs
  • Avoid leaving your drinks or food unattended in bars and nightclubs. Refrain from excessive drinking

If you are a victim of sexual assault, report it to police and contact the Embassy of Canada to El Salvador in San Salvador.

  • Emergency assistance
  • Safe travel guide for women

KIDNAPPING

Express kidnappings by armed motorcyclists (moto ratas) can occur day or night. Victims, generally selected on the basis of perceived wealth (including driving late-model cars), are identified at such places as shopping centres, gas stations, restaurants, night clubs, banks and parking lots. One or two robbers, riding on motorcycles and wearing helmets, follow their victims and stop them at gunpoint. In most cases, victims are taken to ATMs and forced to withdraw funds.

ATM FRAUD

Be particularly discreet when using ATMs. Criminals observe, follow and then rob victims who have made withdrawals. On and around paydays (the 15th and the 30th day of each month), many victims have been assaulted when withdrawing money from banks or while travelling home, with their pay, on public transportation.

Credit card skimming occurs. Ensure you monitor the way your credit card is handled when making a purchase. Most credit terminals are not set in a way that makes the payment process easy.

Be cautious when using debit or credit cards:

  • pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others
  • use ATMs located in well-lit public areas or inside a bank or business
  • avoid using card readers with an irregular or unusual feature
  • cover the keypad with one hand when entering your PIN
  • check for any unauthorized transactions on your account statements

More about overseas fraud

BORDER WITH GUATEMALA

There are four El Salvador–Guatemala border crossings:

  • two in the department of Ahuachapán, at La Hachadura and Las Chinamas
  • San Cristobal in Cuscatlán
  • Anguiatú in Santa Ana

The regions bordering Guatemala can be dangerous because of drug turf wars. While Canadians are not specifically targeted, you risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time if you travel in areas near the border.

Attacks and robberies have occurred at border crossings, particularly on the Guatemala side. The crossing at Las Chinamas is particularly hazardous, with many reports of highway robberies and carjackings, especially targeting vehicles with licence plates issued by a country other than Guatemala.

Armed robbers dress as Guatemalan police and erect roadblocks to stop vehicles with Salvadoran licence plates heading into Guatemala.

When crossing the border into Guatemala:

  • drive with your car doors locked
  • avoid travelling after dark
  • drive in convoys, if possible
  • do not stop for street or roadside vendors

The other three border crossings (La Hachadura, San Cristóbal and Anguiatú) are options to consider and have not been subject to similar crime. They are, however, on more secluded strips of road.

Avoid exchanging currency at the border, counting your money in public and/or displaying valuable jewelry and electronic equipment.

BORDER WITH HONDURAS

The El Salvador–Honduras border crossings are:

  • El Poy in Chalatenango
  • Perquín in Morazán
    • El Amatillo in La Unión

Gang activity is increasing along El Salvador’s northern and eastern borders with Honduras, with gang members taking advantage of porous borders to move back and forth with ease to conduct illicit activities on both sides of the border.

To enter Honduras, you should use the border crossing at El Amatillo during daylight hours and as early as possible.

AREAS NEAR THE EMBASSY

The Canadian embassy is located near the Plaza Salvador del Mundo monument in San Salvador. The area to the east of this monument is high-risk and includes San Salvador’s historic downtown.

Local authorities have made efforts to secure the downtown area to attract more tourists, but there are areas that remain dangerous. The most-affected areas are:

  • from Parque Simón Bolivar to Plaza El Zurita and
  • from Alameda Juan Pablo II to Boulevard Venezuela.

Gangs and individuals who specialize in mugging, extortion and murder operate in these areas.

DEMONSTRATIONS

Demonstrations, sit-ins and protest marches may occur at any time, especially on San Salvador’s main access roads and around the Plaza Salvador del Mundo, where most protests and marches begin and end. The Canadian embassy is located very close to this plaza.

Criminality is involved in protests, and many protestors are often inebriated.

  • Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities
  • Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations

More about mass gatherings (large-scale events)

ROAD SAFETY

Driving in El Salvador can be hazardous because local vehicles are often overloaded and poorly maintained. Local drivers often ignore traffic rules.

Streets tend to be narrow, with poor signage and inadequately lit. Minor roads are not lit at all. Urban streets are crowded with vendors. Rural roads are hazardous because of wandering livestock and pedestrians. Big potholes or missing manhole covers are frequent hazards and represent important risks while driving.

Always drive defensively, because other drivers may be impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Some rural areas are accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Most land border crossings remain open 24 hours a day, but some have been known to close without warning. Plan to cross the border early enough so you arrive at your destination before dark.

Police traffic checkpoints (retenes) are common, especially on the streets outside of San Salvador.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Use only reputable tour operators. Do not use local or intercity public buses, which are often mechanically unreliable and their passengers are frequently robbed, often at knife or gunpoint.

Taxis are widely available. Use a reliable company, recommended by a major hotel chain, and negotiate fares in advance. Most hotels work with executive transport companies. These vehicles usually have no brand or distinguishing marks. At the El Salvador International Airport, Acacya taxi is a safe option. Do not board taxis at taxi stands, and do not flag taxis in the street.

HIKING

Tourists have been robbed while climbing volcanoes and hiking in remote locations. Travel only with reputable tourist organizations or persons familiar with local conditions. Never walk alone on remote trails. Ensure personal belongings and travel documents are secure at all times.

SWIMMING

Swimming in the Pacific Ocean is risky because of strong currents and undertows. Few, if any, lifeguards are on duty on the beaches, which increases the risk. Avoid isolated beaches.

Monitor weather reports, especially during the rainy season, as prolonged periods of rain can cause the height of waves to increase along beaches, as well as flooding and landslides.

AIR TRAVEL

We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.

General information about foreign domestic airlines