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The 7 Most Dangerous Places In El Salvador

El Salvador
Photo by Rodrigo De Mendoza via Unsplash

El Salvador has a checkered and complicated history. It’s the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America and despite having little level land it was traditionally an agricultural country that was heavily dependent on coffee exports. However, by the 20th century, the service sector had come to dominate the economy. 

Efforts were made to help democratize El Salvador but after two devastating natural disasters, their crime rates began to skyrocket, which has led to faltering economic growth and persistent social inequality, leaving El Salvadors post-civil war reconstruction hampered. While its reputation as a dangerous place has stuck around more many years there’s actually a lot of good on offer in El Salvador.

From a tropical climate to stunning landscapes with rivers and mighty volcanoes, you’ll be sad to miss out on such a spectacular place. Our article contains a list of the seven most dangerous places in El Salvador and explains why they may not be as dangerous as you’re led to believe. 

San Salvador

San Salvador
Photo by Mauricio Cuellar via Unsplash

El Salvador’s capital city is located on the Ace Chaute River and was once considered to be one of the most dangerous places in El Salvador and in fact the world. However, that’s no longer true. For many years it had been listed in the top 50 most dangerous cities but in 2020 dropped out of this due to Nayib Bukele’s security plan. Despite having a relatively high crime rate San Salvador is relatively safe for tourists. You do however need to exercise caution as with any holiday destination. 

The city itself has an abundance of activities for tourists from sampling a diverse range of cuisines to shopping as well as visiting various museums, historic churches, well-known plazas, and famous buildings. Its the country’s financial, educational, cultural, and political center. Another unique and fascinating quirk to San Salvador is that it’s actually moved location several times before settling in its current location. So if you’re wondering whether you should go to San Salvador the answer is 100% yes. 

It’s perfectly safe as long as you stick to well-populated areas and you keep all personal belongings hidden and out of sight because as with most tourist areas, pickpockets are always watching.

Apopa

El Salvador landscape
Photo by Oswold Martinz via Unsplash

Apopa is a small 51 square kilometer suburb, 12 kilometers north of San Salvador. It’s an area that’s been dominated by two gangs – MS13 and Barrio 18 – for over two decades. Its location has made it an important production and commercial hub as well as a crossing point for a large part of goods that pass through San Salvador. While Apopa is fairly safe for tourists it does have a significant gang presence leaving many feeling a little less safe than in San Salvador itself. 

Although crime levels are still fairly high this tends to relate more to gang vs gang violence than violence towards tourists. According to InsightCrime, a truce was established in 2013 between the two prominent gangs leaders, however, the truce consisted of the imprisoned leaders ordering their subordinates to lower homicide rates in exchange for economic benefits as well as the freedom to reestablish control over their subordinates. But not a lot of people were too happy with this truce and as a result, crime has continued to remain high.

Relative Risk Out of 100
Crime IndexHigh (68)
Safety IndexVery Low (27)
Level of CrimeVery High (85)
Car TheftVery High (71)
Theft of Items Left In CarVery High (76)
Threat of Drug-Related CrimeHigh (60)
Aggressive Crimes (Assault, Armed Robbery)Very High (83)
Unprovoked Attack (due to skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation)Very Low (22)
Corruption & BriberyVery High (86)
Table created by author **

While there aren’t many parks or green spaces in Apopa there are still rivers that run through the municipality as well as a few tourist attractions such as Central Park. As with all tourist attractions though there is still some form of crime whether that’s through pickpockets, robbery, or even car theft. It’s worth making sure you stick to areas where there are lots of people, you keep any personal belongings out of sight, and make sure you are aware of your surroundings.

Soyapango

El Salvador
Photo by Jose Rosales via Unsplash

Soyapango may not be a very popular tourist destination in El Salvador as it has been known for many years as the most dangerous city of the Central American Region. It was once an area ripe with gang members but has since undergone a huge amount of work to make it a beautiful up-and-coming tourist destination. Although gang members are still present in Soyapango, namely because it’s the first place gang members go when they are deported to El Salvador from Los Angeles, there are still plenty of things to do. 

For those tourists who like to go a little bit of the beaten track and fancy giving this little city a visit, you’ll find that walking alone, especially as a female, during the day or night is relatively safe but if you want to make sure you feel even safer having the right bag can also help minimize the risk of losing your belongings. Even with high crime rates, most of this is gang violence which tends to happen away from the tourist’s eyes.

Relative Risk Out of 100
Crime IndexHigh (69)
Safety IndexLow (31)
Level of CrimeVery High (85)
Car TheftVery High (71)
Theft of Items Left In CarVery High (76)
Threat of Drug-Related CrimeHigh (60)
Aggressive Crimes (Assault, Armed Robbery)Very High (83)
Unprovoked Attack (due to skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation)Very Low (21)
Corruption & BriberyVery High (87)
Table created by author **

To this day Soyapango is undergoing major renovation works to improve their roads and access around the city to make it more appealing and welcoming to tourists. Tourist attractions include a nature preserve and an art and cultural museum.

Sonsonate

Volcano in El Salvador
Photo by Oswold Martinez via Unsplash

Sonsonate is considered to be the most dangerous place in El Salvador, but for no other reason than the fact it has the highest murder rate in the country according to insight crime. The province is filled with local gangs and is a strategic drug route to Guatemala. Violence in Sonsonate is widely associated with gang members fighting with rival gangs.

So, for the most part, tourists visiting this region of El Salvador can feel pretty safe during the day. At night, however, make sure you stick to the more popular streets and do not get caught alone, as this could be where you face trouble. Just like many other regions in El Salvador make sure you aren’t alone in a rough-looking area, you stick to places with lots of people, and you keep your belongings safe.

Relative Risk Out of 100
Crime IndexHigh (69)
Safety IndexVery Low (28)
Level of CrimeVery High (86)
Car TheftVery High (71)
Theft of Items Left In CarVery High (77)
Threat of Drug-Related CrimeHigh (60)
Aggressive Crimes (Assault, Armed Robbery)Very High (83)
Unprovoked Attack (due to skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation)Very Low (21)
Corruption & BriberyVery High (87)
Table created by author **

Other figures and data show that the risk of insults including those that are sexually suggestive are fairly low. Volcanoes close to Sonsonate also make this area a high risk as an eruption could have a devastating effect, but the likelihood of this erupting while you’re on holiday there is very low and should not be a reason for not going.

Ilopango

Lake Ilopango
Photo by Eduardo Moreno Flamenco via Unsplash

On the borders of San Salvador, La Paz, and Cuscatlan is Lake Ilopango. It’s a crater lake that fills an 8 by 11km volcanic caldera. The caldera, which contains the country’s second-largest lake has a scalloped 100m to 500m high rim. In 1880 when water levels rose, a natural channel was formed and as a result, it left a volcanic island in the center of the lake. This island is known as Ilopango Volcano. 

The lake has become a popular tourist resort in recent years and has been a good place to go swimming, free diving, snorkeling, and fishing. As the water is inside an active volcano the water is fairly warm at around 86 Fahrenheit. But as this area is considered an active volcano is does come with some risks. According to a 2017 report by wired.com, Ilopango is the 4th most dangerous volcano in the world. This alone makes Ilopango one of the most dangerous places in El Salvador. 

But the likelihood of this erupting is fairly slim. Being a tourist resort, it also comes with the risk of robbery, car theft, and pickpockets. If you have valuables in your car be sure to not leave them on display as they can be very tempting for an opportunistic thief, the same goes for any valuables you have on your person. Although anywhere you go has a safety risk, most of Ilopango is safe for tourists. There are also tons of things to see and do including an incredible air show where several international pilots from all backgrounds fly over the lake for eager onlookers.

Mejicanos

Monument in San Salvador
Photo by Ricado Ardon via Unsplash

Mejicanos is a suburb in the capital city of San Salvador. It’s known for its food and has a municipal market that locals frequently use to buy groceries, vegetables, dairy products, meats, and more. Most of the products available at the market are locally sourced from the surrounding villages. Like many downtown areas across El Salvador, they attract criminal activity and are generally not the safest places to go. 

There’s aren’t many things to do or attractions to see in Mejicanos and being a small town, there aren’t a lot of options for accommodation. Many reports say that you should avoid areas like Mejicanos because gang violence and criminal activity are fairly high in these areas. Most of the street gangs here aren’t your typical pocketknife carrying gangs, they are a lot scarier. Many have been known to carry military-style weapons and have been known to use them. Although it’s fairly unlikely you will be killed it has been known to happen. 

Most crime here is normally aimed at other gang members and therefore you should be fairly safe, but you unfortunately never know.

Izalco

Santa Ana Volcano
Photo by Galyna Andrushco via Envato Elements

Izalco is a stratovolcano located in western El Salvador.  It’s situated on the southern flank of the Santa Ana Volcano and had erupted continuously from 1770 to 1958 giving it the nickname of “Lighthouse of the Pacific”. The volcano is frequently visited and climbed by tourists making it a good spot for opportunistic thieves. Although Izalco isn’t the most dangerous place in El Salvador, the fact that it has the potential to erupt again makes it worth noting. 

Hiking up Izalco and Santa Ana brings its own challenges and dangers. It was once considered to be very dangerous and hiking alone is not advised. But in recent years security and the infrastructure have improved with car parking and toilet facilities now available and there is also a ranger who patrols the area. 

You will be surprised to know that when hiking here you will need to hike with an armed guard. This alone makes you realize how dangerous the area is but it will also give you peace of mind that if anything were to happen you would be looked after. Depending on your hiking abilities it can be a pretty long and tough hike.

** Charts used in the article are for illustration purposes only. The results have been generated based on the opinions and reports of residents and travelers. We are not responsible for any inaccurate information.