El Salvador has a bad reputation due to the civil war of the 80s. The Consular sheet from the US State Department indicates that El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Crime is an issue, most of it is attributed to street gangs, though statistics from official sources do not support that claim. You must use common sense and avoid entering into a zone that does not appear safe, just like you do in any country of the world. Avoid carrying fancy items such as jewelry, expensive cameras, and watches if you are walking on the public streets. Females should avoid traveling alone as they may catch the occasional cat-calling and perhaps get felt up on tightly packed buses. As a foreigner the kind of response you might get from the police is "hit or miss." If you have been pick-pocketed or otherwise robbed without harm to your person, a visit to the police station will almost certainly be an exercise in frustration. Police officers have also been known to harass or to be inappropriate to female travelers.
Many Salvadorans are armed, and shootouts are not uncommon. Foreigners, however, may not carry guns even for their own protection without first obtaining firearms licenses from the Salvadoran government. Extortion tactics have included indiscriminate grenade attacks on buses, businesses and restaurants, resulting in the death or injury of dozens of people, including children. These types of attacks are unpredictable and the U.S. Embassy advises its personnel to remain alert to their surroundings and to minimize risk to themselves.
It is a good idea for any person visiting El Salvador to keep only necessary forms of identification, such as a driver's license, when exploring the city or tourist locales. If you must keep your passport on you at all times, a traveler's pouch would allow you to have it safely with you. Police officers routinely ask tourists to present their passports, most can be convinced that a copy of the passport and another form of id is sufficient. Others will insist on accompanying back to your hotel to retrieve your actual document. Most tourists prefer to stay within the safe areas of El Salvador such as La Zona Rosa where there is relatively no crime. In case you are not staying at one of the country's 5 star hotels, remember to ask if the city or town you are visiting has a high level of gang activity.
In 1996 San Salvador was considered the second most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere, according to statistics. Since the end of the civil war in 1992 El Salvador has not seen a reduction in crime rates. Today San Salvador, and El Salvador in general, experience some of the highest homicide rates in the world, it is also considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. The homicides reported in 2006 reached up to 3,906, in 2005 3,779 were reported; 57.2 violent deaths per every 100,000 people. Crime rates in general have been steadily growing throughout the years, from 2005-2006 crime rose 7.5%.El Salvador is the most dangerous and violent country in Central America. The government tried controlling the gangs with a tactic called "Super Mano Dura" which means "Super Strong Hand", however it has not been successful and crime rates have continued to rise.
If you are not accustomed to food sold by street vendors, you might want to stay away from food sold on the streets until you acclimate. If you want to try a pupusa, you should try to find a restaurant to taste this popular dish rather than buying them from street vendors. That said, street food that you see cooked can sometimes be safer than restaurant food that you do not see cooked.
'Agua en bolsa' water in a plastic bag is very commonly sold in the streets and corner stores of El Salvador.
Pharmacies are easily found all over the country. Be sure to have a first-aid kit if you travel to the countryside and to archaeological sites. Mosquito repellent comes in handy.
Immigration requires that visitors entering El Salvador have their passport and one of the following documents: visa or tourist card. Visas are issued by the Consulate of El Salvador accredited in the countries where these type of diplomatic missions exist; and the tourist card is generally issued for 90 days and can be purchased for US$10 at the port of entry. (http://www.rree.gob.sv/in...) Passports of certain countries might need to obtain a visa before entering El Salvador such as Malaysia. Visa for U.S. citizens is free. Some countries pay a fee for the issuance of the visa.
Salvadorans are known for their great hospitality. They are among the nicest people in the world. They are friendly, industrious people always willing to help anyone. That is what has earned El Salvador the nickname of "the country with a smile". When speaking with people you don't know, it is customary to address them in a formal manner, using seÃ±or, seÃ±ora and/or usted.