San Salvador: Central America’s Murder Capital
San Salvador is one the world’s top murder cities. Why would anyone decide to travel to such a dangerous city?
The city has some beautiful places to see and is often essential when visiting El Salvador since it is an easy access point to most destinations around the country.
El Salvador is such a small country, but it is so rich culturally. Most visitors try to stay away from the dodgy capital, but there is a lot to see in and around this lively city.
San Salvador Volcano
The National Park El Boqueron is where you will find the San Salvador volcano crater. The view is beautiful and it is just a short 15 min walk from the entrance to get to the viewpoint. If you’re looking for hiking, this is quite a short walk. It’s an easy place to visit with kids.
La Puerta del Diablo
Meaning the devil’s door, La Puerta del Diablo offers the best view of San Salvador.
From the parking lot, you hike uphill for about 20 minutes to get to the top.
From there you can enjoy a view of the San Salvador volcano, the city and even lake Ilopango far in the distance.
There are several hostels all around the city, but the areas of San Benito and Santa Rosa are considered the safest. I stayed three weeks at La Zona Hostel and produced a short video for them during that time. The hostel is well located in Santa Rosa and I would definitely recommend it.
Less than two hours North of San Salvador is located the charming town of Suchitoto. Perfect for a short stay or a day-trip from the capital. For my visit, I left San Salvador early in the morning with some friends and we had all day to explore Suchitoto.
In the morning we headed to the waterfall Cascada de los Tercios which is about 2 km from the town center. Then, we had lunch by the lake and spent part of the afternoon strolling around the old city center. We left around 4pm to make sure we would be back in the city before sundown.
For the best typical Salvadorian food, head on to the little pueblos. In the city, you will find every big American Fast Food chain available and more. To find cheap food in the city, you have to look around. The most typical food of El Salvador are the pupusas. This corn paste is usually mixed with cheese and beans or meat, topped with salad. All around the country you’ll find pupusas stands on the street at every few corners. Although they are a little harder to find in the city, ask locals and they will gladly tell you where to find them.
Danger & Safety
I would never deny that San Salvador can be dangerous, but during my experience I never came close to being in danger. I did take many precautions and the only times that I went out at night I took taxis. Actually, I was using a lot of taxis or transport with friends if I was going somewhere during the day as well. I do know a lot of people who walked around without troubles, but since I was carrying my drone with me most of the time, I was being ultra careful. Still, I visited the central square and several different other locations where I filmed with my drone and never had any troubles. The parts of the city that are dangerous are specific neighbourhoods that are outside of the tourist attractions. And the danger is almost only at night.
It should also be noted that the police in El Salvador tend to be more trustworthy than in other Central American countries since they are so helpful and not really corrupted. The danger here is split between the two rival street gangs MS-13 and MARA-18. These gangs operate all over the capital and target mostly shop owners for money. Locals are very at risk, but foreigners are almost never targeted.
Many locals feel that their country is unsafe and in consequence are quite scared to explore it. As a foreigner, that means that you will always find someone to help you. I can’t even count how many times locals asked me if I needed help. Most of all they would ask me: “Why are you here?”
I found myself many times praising the beauties of the country to locals and urging them to discover more of their motherland. I have visited more than 35 countries and El Salvador is by far the most misunderstood. Not just among the travel community, but also among locals.
I am absolutely not saying that there are no dangers and that locals are wrong to feel this way, but I am saying that there is a safe way to travel the country. I traveled in public buses – often referred to as Chicken Buses – and the bus was always full of Salvadorans. They always put as many people as possible in those buses which end up jam-packed with people. I once found myself squeezed on a small bench with a father and his two kids. While his little boy was sleeping on my lap he questioned me about why I was traveling in the country and asked me why I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t scared because I was surrounded by helpful locals, traveling with them on the public buses and I felt so grateful to be filming and promoting such a beautiful underrated country.
Where to Next?
El Salvador is quite a small country and within a few hours of bus you can travel all around the country. There’s so many fantastic touristic destinations to visit. The popular beach town of El Tunco is less than an hour from the capital and all the amazing pueblos along the Flower Route – La Ruta de Las Flores – are extremely worth visiting. The country has impressive nature and I fell in love with all the waterfalls!
This video takes you to many of the most popular tourist destinations of El Salvador. It was filmed during my three month stay around the country.