The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens that
crime and violence levels in El Salvador remain high, and U.S.
citizens traveling to El Salvador should remain alert to their
surroundings. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning
dated November 21, 2014, and includes updated information on
crime and security in El Salvador.
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit El Salvador
each year for study, tourism, cruise ship visits, business, and
volunteer work. There is no information to suggest that U.S.
citizens are specifically targeted by criminals; however, crime
and violence are serious problems throughout the country.
Since January 2010, 34 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El
Salvador including a nine-year-old child in December 2013.
During the same time period, 419 U.S. citizens reported having
their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent
Typical crimes in El Salvador include extortion, mugging,
highway assault, home invasion, and car theft. There have also
been cases reported in which criminals observe and follow
customers making withdrawals at ATMs and banks, then rob them on
the road or at a residence. Some victims unwittingly wander
into gang-controlled territory and may be targeted, normally at
night. Assaults against police officers have risen, and public
shootouts are not uncommon. Armed robberies of climbers and
hikers in El Salvador’s national parks are known to occur, and
the Embassy strongly recommends engaging the services of a local
guide certified by the national or local tourist authority when
hiking in back country areas — even within the national parks.
The National Civilian Police (PNC) has a special tourist police
force (POLITUR) to provide security and assistance to visitors.
It has officers located in 19 tourist destinations.
A majority of serious crimes are never solved; only six of
the 34 murders of U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted
in convictions. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient
resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to
deter violent crime. While several of the PNC’s investigative
units have shown great promise, routine street-level patrol
techniques, anti-gang, and crime suppression efforts are
limited. Equipment shortages (particularly radios, vehicles,
and fuel) further limit their ability to deter or respond to
El Salvador, a country of roughly six million people, has,
according to Government of El Salvador statistics, thousands of
known gang members from several gangs including Mara Salvatrucha
(MS-13) and Eighteenth Street (M18). Gang members are quick to
engage in violence or use deadly force if resisted. These
“maras” concentrate on narcotics and arms trafficking, murder
for hire, carjacking, extortion, and violent street crime.
Authorities believe a significant number of disappearances are
related to gang activity, since many of the missing were in
gangs or were friends or family members of gang members. Police
sources claim that the families of gang members often face the
same risks of being killed or disappearing as the gang members
Extortion is a very common crime in El Salvador. Some
extortion attempts are no more than random cold calls that
originate from imprisoned gang members using cellular
telephones, and the subsequent threats against the victim are
made through social engineering and/or through information
obtained about the victim’s family. U.S. citizens who are
visiting El Salvador for extended periods are at higher risk for
extortion demands. Many extortions and other crimes are not
reported by victims for fear of reprisal and lack of faith in
the ability of the government to protect the victims.
U.S. citizens should remain alert to their surroundings,
especially when entering or exiting their homes or hotels, cars,
garages, schools, and workplaces. Whenever possible, travel in
groups. U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S.
government personnel not to walk, run, or cycle in unguarded
streets and parks, even in groups, and recommend exercising only
in gyms and fitness centers. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry,
and do not carry large sums of money or display cash, ATM/credit
cards, or other valuables. Avoid walking at night in most areas
of El Salvador. Incidents of crime along roads, including
carjacking, are common in El Salvador. Motorists should avoid
traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to
deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested
downtown streets. Travel on public transportation, especially
buses, both within and outside the capital, is risky and not
recommended. The Embassy advises official visitors and
personnel to avoid using mini-buses and regular buses and to use
only radio-dispatched taxis or those stationed in front of major
For more detailed information regarding personal security,
please see the State Department’s Country Specific Information
for El Salvador. U.S. citizens traveling abroad should
regularly monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, where
the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be
found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs
page on Facebook as well.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in El Salvador are strongly
encouraged to sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler
Enrollment Program (STEP) to obtain updated information on
travel and security within El Salvador. Travelers may also
obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling
888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States or on a regular toll
line at 202-501-4444.
The U.S. Embassy is located on Final Boulevard Santa Elena
Sur, Urbanización Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlán, La Libertad,
and can be reached at:
Fax: 503-2278-5522 / 503-2278-6020
For after-hours emergencies, please call 503-2501-2999.