The Most Dangerous Country in the World

Published: December 11th 2008
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Pupuseria en Concepcion de AtacoPupuseria en Concepcion de AtacoPupuseria en Concepcion de Ataco

Pupusas. El Salvador's finest contribution to the gastronomic world.
For a fourth and final visa run of 2008 I wanted to get a bit further away. There are wonderful places in both Nicaragua and Panama that are close and convenient but I have sampled both. Given the monotonous rainy season, I also felt that the greater the distance the better between myself and Costa Rica's central valley.

Having a TACA pilot as a private student has a few advantages. As well as informing me about some of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica, that escape the guidebooks but don't escape a bird's eye view, he can also tell me about the cheapest times and days to get a ticket, (but unfortunately can't give me discounts or let me have a crack at flying). I decided on El Salvador, for entirely ridiculous reasons.

The reasons were, in order of ridiculousness/ridiculousity/whatever:

1. I have never been to a country beginning with E. (England doesn't count. At the risk of offending the Scots and Welsh, the country is the UK)

2. It is the only country in Central America that I hadn't visited. It's not like I have visited every last centimetre of the other seven but it's
Volcan IzalcoVolcan IzalcoVolcan Izalco

During a rare moment when the clouds parted.
nice to go somewhere new.

3. Tourists tend to avoid it (see title).

I appreciate that it is hypocritical to dislike places with a lot of tourists when I myself am a tourist. However, when you travel in the more popular places you tend to meet only other foreigners and miss out on meeting locals who often provide the most memorable experiences of any trip. For people with a similar attitude to myself, I heartily recommend El Salvador. You will be the only foreigner on the buses, the only foreigner in the hotel and will probably also share entire national parks with only local people. Mega.

The title of this blog mirrors the general reputation of El Salvador. And that reputation is not only passed on by Fox News fearing Americans, speak of El Salvador to the majority of Latin Americans and after a sharp intake of breath they will shake their heads and change the subject.

The dangerous reputation in part comes from the memory of the particularly nasty, even by Central American standards, civil war. It officially occurred from 1980 to 1992 and left anything from 60,000 to 200,000 dead depending on what you
La Iglesia en JuayuaLa Iglesia en JuayuaLa Iglesia en Juayua

Probably the prettiest town on the very agreeable Ruta de las Flores.

Admittedly the war ended sixteen years ago but according to a report published last week by a Brazilian research group, El Salvador still has the highest murder rate in the world. In fact, in the 15 to 24 age bracket, the murder rate stands at a staggering 92.3 per 100,000. Compare that to an average of 1.2 per 100,000 for Europe and you can see that the dangerous reputation is not completely unfounded.

However, and it is a big however, the vast majority of the perpetrators and victims of the killings, are the notorious maras. These gangs are numerous and powerful in this part of the world and have a reputation for settling matters rather aggressively. But stay out of their way and you won't be bothered. The capital San Salvador is the hotspot of the violent crime. I avoided it but I have two friends who lived and worked there for three months who never had any problems.

So why include this little country on your Central American tour? Surfers know the answer; miles of deserted beaches with great breaks. For me it was the scenery inland that attracted me. The parts of the country
Cerro El PitalCerro El PitalCerro El Pital

El Salvador's highest mountain. Complete with enormous TV mast and the most evil looking perros bravos I have ever winced away from.
that I visited (the north and the west) were mountainous and full of national parks. It was difficult to appreciate that this is the most densely populated country in Central America; 7.1 million people squeezed into an area about the size of Wales. Maybe they all live in San Salvador.

I was constantly surprised at the beautiful scenery of El Salvador, particularly around Lago Coatepeque. Unfortunately most of the wonderful views I encountered were through bus windows so I have no photos to back up my claims. You’ll just have to come and see for yourself.

A principal reason for visiting this country is the people. They are incredibly welcoming and polite. They also cook fantastic food. It will never win any awards on a global scale but compared to the majority of Central America, El Salvador gets all the Michelin stars.

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


Hotel in La PalmaHotel in La Palma
Hotel in La Palma

The town makes a living from art in a style created by Fernando Llort. Delicately painted childlike images in bright colours, decorate the town.
The Slopes of Volcan Santa AnaThe Slopes of Volcan Santa Ana
The Slopes of Volcan Santa Ana

The clouds would part for meer seconds to give a glimpse of what I'm sure is an ace view, before turning the world grey again.
Inside The Crater of Volcan IzalcoInside The Crater of Volcan Izalco
Inside The Crater of Volcan Izalco

Just one of El Salvador's twenty-two active volcanoes.
Tooled Up Guards in Parque Nacional Los VolcanesTooled Up Guards in Parque Nacional Los Volcanes
Tooled Up Guards in Parque Nacional Los Volcanes

Unfortunately it is still deemed necessary to be accompanied by gun toting tourist police while climbing the volcanoes.

They usually don't stay still long enough to photograph so I had to include this one.
Concepcion de AtacoConcepcion de Ataco
Concepcion de Ataco

Demonstrating the essentials of an El Salvadorean town: Pretty central square with pine trees, ornate fountain (dry), cute colonial church, cobbled street, volcano in the background, old man in cowboy hat in the foreground.
Concepcion de AtacoConcepcion de Ataco
Concepcion de Ataco

I've changed my mind. This is the prettiest town on the Ruta de las Flores. Purely because it is much quieter.
Santa AnaSanta Ana
Santa Ana

The two sides of El Savador. Pretty town and mountains combined with an undertone of danger. I found it nothing but safe and friendly.

20th May 2010

Thank you
I found your entry "fair and balanced" (and I am not comparing you with FNC) especially when you describe this beautiful country and its people. I'm Salvadoran, I live in El Salvador (actually I have lived in San Salvador all of my life, sharing this "honor" with about 2 million people more). I am not sure if my country is the most dangerous in the world as it is depicted (I will not argue about it, it's a nonsense for me). I know there are zones in the metropolitan area that I would never visit unless I decide to have some kind of Dr. Kevorkian assistance for suicide. However this is true f for many others cities in Latin America and around the world (NYC before Giuliani?). As I said, I don't know if it is the most dangerous, but I do know it's beautiful, and I agree with David that it's worth to visit. We have a very small area, meaning that you can visit beaches, arqueological places, lakes, mountains, colonial towns, traveling distances <= 100 miles in all directions. I'm glad you enjoy your visit, hope you come back some day.
27th May 2010

Getting to know the "real" country
"However, when you travel in the more popular places you tend to meet only other foreigners and miss out on meeting locals who often provide the most memorable experiences of any trip. " Yes, indeedy!!!
26th June 2011

I have been to El Salvador 4 times over the past fifteen years and have not been in danger. I have heard from Salvadoreans that the danger has increased. What happens is gangsters requiring daily money from store owners and bus drivers and threatening those who don't comply. In El Salvador it is a good idea to bring baseball hats, jeans and other gifts for people to make yourself extra welcome. Food is great.
3rd December 2011

thank u for breaking the myth
awesome that u went despite all the odds, propoganda and news to my mothers country. i am dying to go!!!
27th February 2012

Salvadore Gets a bad rap.
Since 1992 my wife has traveled to E.S. at least a dozen times. I have been 3 times. The purpose was mostly to see what could be done to help rebuild the country after the horrible civil war, and to support projects. We spent time in a variety of communities includinG San Salvadore, the capital. Never did we fear for our safety. Never were we robbed, assaulted, or even uncomfortable. No matter where one ends up on this planet there are risks and one has to be smart...It is wise to avoid problem areas at niGht...ANYWHERE. I have been warned often about New Orleans, but I loved it and had no problems. El Salvadore is a beautiful, underappreciated, country. The people are extremely hospitable, friendly and Generous even with the little they have. There are wonderful Guest houses where you can stay inexpensively, have home-cooked meals, and you can always arranGe to have Guides drive you places and they will watch out for you. As in many countries, drink only bottled water, and be very careful what you eat. Fresh fruits and veGGies are a no no unless you peel them your self. If you start worryinG every time you see an article like this bloG, you won't Go anywhere and soon you will be stayinG at home with your shades down. Good luck. Vive El Salvador!
6th March 2012

Please Read All the Blog
Dear last person who commented I assume you have commented on my blog after only reading the title. If you read the whole blog you'll see that I'm actually promoting El Salvador and encouraging people to visit. D

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