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El Salvador

Health & safety

Dangers & annoyances

Crime shouldn't deter travelers from El Salvador any more than it does from Guatemala, Honduras or the rest of Central America. Despite a reputation for violence, attacks on tourists are rare. Take commonsense precautions: carry as little as possible on day trips, avoid carrying flashy cameras, expensive watches and jewelry, and make copies of your credit cards and important documents. Take taxis after dark, especially if the streets are deserted. This is particularly important in San Salvador, San Miguel, Sonsonate, La Unión and La Libertad. Most volcano climbs are best done with a police escort, partly for safety and partly so you don't get lost on unmarked and intersecting trails. The service is free, but you must request it by telephone or in person at least a day in advance (and preferably more) Officers are friendly and trustworthy.

Of course, violence does occur. Two major maras (gangs) operate in the country: Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. El Salvador has a disturbingly high murder rate, but the vast majority of victims and perpetrators are affiliated with a gang. Travelers are unlikely to encounter any gang members as they are concentrated in neighborhoods with no outside appeal, and because the police patrol most tourist areas. Still, travelers should avoid traveling at night and should never resist a robbery - it's not worth it.