Traveling to El Salvador in 2024 – safety speculation

I’ll be honest: before Chris booked this trip, I knew very little about El Salvador. I knew the name of its capital city (San Salvador), I knew it was located in Central America, and I knew its national (and most famous) dish is pupusas (well, of course, because my world revolves around food). I also knew it was known for its coffee and beaches, but that’s pretty much it in a quick summary.

Historically, crime in El Salvador has been high due to various gangs, many multinational, that reigned over the country. But since just before 2019, it appears that crime has actually been going down. The new president Niyab Bukele instituted a zero-tolerance crack down on gangs, which led to the highest incarceration rate in the world, with an estimated 1.6% of the country’s total population supposedly imprisoned. In addition to that, Bukele has been working with business people from outside of the country to encourage them to invest in El Salvador to help grow tourism, with more hotel infrastructure. Bukele is aiming to position El Salvador as the top tourism spot in all of Latin America. He obviously has large groups of supporters and detractors, but at the end of the day, he’s attempting to make the country safer for both its citizens as well as international travelers such as ourselves.

It should come as no surprise that the U.S. State Department has labeled El Salvador with a Level 3 Warning: Reconsider Travel, due to gang-related activity and the country’s homicide rate. So given this, a number of friends have given us funny looks when we said we were going here for an extended Memorial Day weekend. One of my friends asked if El Salvador would be safe for us, especially with Pookster in tow. The response was a bit reminiscent of what I remember people saying to us back in May 2019 when we went to Colombia — we got questions about safety and violence, and I had friends checking in with us while we were there to ensure we were safe. I remember our time in Colombia with great gusto and love: the food really surprised and impressed me; I left the country feeling like Colombia truly doesn’t get enough recognition for its delicious food, as it’s constantly overshadowed by more popular (with Western crowds, at least) cuisines like Peruvian or Argentinian. I loved how hospitable people were everywhere we went in Colombia. The tropical fruit was especially astounding and memorable given its unique proximity to the Amazon. And never once did I feel like we were actually unsafe… except for the couple of times when our Uber drivers freaked out on our behalf and told us not to get out of the car yet, especially in Medellin. And now, fast forward five years later, and it seems like every other time I hear about a bachelor/bachelorette party weekend or a guys’ trip (usually amongst my white male sales colleagues), it seems to be in Bogota, Medellin, or Cartegena. That’s when you know for sure that a place has become mainstream amongst my fellow Americans.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect for this trip. It was a bit challenging to plan what we were going to do given so few travel bloggers have written about the country as a whole. So I made a rough list of places to see, including the Tin Marin Children’s Museum, which from the photos, looked like it could be one of the most extensive children’s museums in the world; I added a few food places that I could find in English and decided we’d just wing whatever other meals based on how things looked or what neighborhood we’d be in. And Chris decided that we’d rent a car for ease of getting around.

Once we arrived in the afternoon after two quick flights (about 2.5 hours to Miami, and another 2-ish hours to San Salvador), we went out for some lunch. We tried to have our first lunch at restaurant that overlooked the city from high up, but to our dismay, a thick blanket of fog wrapped over us, and we couldn’t see a single thing from our open-air restaurant. So we decided to focus on the food: we ordered a few pupusas: black beans with cheese, cheese with loroco (a local green flower herb that’s very popular here), chicharron con queso (chicharron, in this part of the world, does not actually refer to crispy pork skin as it does in Mexico, but rather just ground pork), plus an order of empanadas. I was surprised when the empanadas came because I was expecting something different: in El Salvador, the default empanadas are actually sweet, with the outside being made of fried sweet plantains and the inside usually filled with a sweet cheese, custard, and occasionally fried black beans. It was still tasty, and we learned something new in the process. Lastly, we also had freshly blended papaya juice (I LOVE papaya when not in the continental U.S.!!) and local horchata, which is different than Mexican horchata (usually rice and cinnamon based). Salvadoran horchata has morro seeds, which are said to have an earthy flavor. In addition, the drink also contains cocoa beans, sesame seeds, peanuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar; the mix is steeped either with milk or with water to create a thick, frothy, refreshing drink. We loved our drinks and marveled over how large the servings were.

Pookster had a lot of fun en route to San Salvador. While exiting the plane in Miami during our layover, she kept waving back to the plane as we were on the ramp and saying over and over, “Bye bye, airplane! Bye bye!” She certainly brought amusement to other passengers with this. She sang and babbled happily during our car rides around the city. Though, she unfortunately did not care for the pupusas or the empanadas.

On the road on our first day, Chris took the wrong route, and he yelled, “Fucking hell!” loudly a few times as we were getting re-routed by Google Maps. Kaia took audible pleasure in every time Chris yelled or shouted, and she repeated him and also added, “Fucking hell! Fucking nuts!” While the first part can clearly be noted as a parroting of what Chris previously had said, it was obvious that the second part… was something that she had clearly heard said by someone else before. And that someone else was definitely not me…

My baby is definitely becoming a tiny human with distinct quirks, opinions, and sayings, all over the world.

When we parked the car for the night in the hotel parking lot, just to be safe, we decided to completely empty the car of everything other than the car seat. This really meant we were taking the stroller in and out, even when we didn’t need it. Because my other thought was: okay, if we have something of ours stolen, it is what it is… but if we get my friend’s stroller stolen, that means we’ll need to explain that and also get it replaced, which would suck. In these cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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