El Salvador travel guide
About El Salvador
The smallest country in Central America, El Salvador is big on natural wonders. The word is out among more intrepid travellers that this is the region’s up-and-coming destination. Newcomers are bowled over by the stunning landscape, with smoking volcanoes, surf-pounded beaches, pristine cloud forests and crystalline lagoons. And those in the know are drawn back time and again by its warm-hearted and dynamic people.
This tiny tropical land, about the size of Wales or Massachusetts, is packed with highlights. Magnificent, crowd-free national parks include Cerro Verde, Montecristo and the irresistibly named El Imposible. You can shoot the rapids on whitewater rafts, or take a lazy boat ride across volcanic crater lakes Ilopango and Coatepeque. Surfers flock to the world-class Pacific breakers at Sonsonate, El Zonte and La Unión, only a short drive from the capital. The archaeological remains at Tazumal mark the furthest outpost of the Maya empire; the Ruta de Las Flores features colourful, flower-filled villages, with volcanic hot springs and indigenous craft markets; and Morazán province offers tours of civil war trenches led by former guerrillas turned guides.
El Salvador still has a bad reputation for violent crime, but the truth is that the locals have always suffered much more than tourists at the hands of criminals, most of whom are more concerned with the feuding of rival drug gangs.
The tourism industry is responding rapidly to the country’s rising popularity. Coffee plantations are inviting guests to visit, to eat and drink, to stay, to work. Beach resorts are becoming more boutique, spa hotels are multiplying and the eastern Gulf of Fonseca is being developed, with boat-and-bus routes connecting with neighbouring Nicaragua. El Salvador may not yet be the most comfortable place to visit in the region, but for the increasing number of people who are making the effort, the rewards are plentiful.
21,041 sq km (8,124 sq miles).
6,146,419 (UN estimate 2016).
291.9 per sq km.
President Nayib Bukele since 2019.
President Nayib Bukele since 2019.
Before you travel, check the ‘Entry requirements’ section for El Salvador’s current entry restrictions and requirements. These may change with little warning. Monitor this advice for the latest updates and stay in contact with your travel provider.
If you plan to pass through another country to return to the UK, check the travel advice for the country you’re transiting.
It is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it provides sufficient cover. See the FCDO’s guidance on foreign travel insurance.
Most visits to El Salvador are trouble free. El Salvador has until recently had one of the highest crime rates in Latin America. Despite recent progress made in security, the risks of both petty and violent crime remain. A State of Exception (Emergency) introduced in March 2022 in response to a sharp (and short lived) rise in the number of murders remains in place. See Safety and security
On 15 January 2023, Dirección General de Protección Civil issued a Red Alert in the municipalities of San Lorenzo and Ahuachapan, and a Green Alert in the rest of Ahuachapan and Santa Ana departments, after more than 200 small earth tremors where registered in less than 24 hours. For updated information, you should monitor local media and follow advice from authorities. See Natural disasters
The rainy season runs from June to November and extreme weather events can lead to loss of life, damage to roads, property and infrastructure, and disruption to supplies, services and utilities. You should exercise extra caution if travelling and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities. See Rainy season
Political tensions in El Salvador remain high; public rallies and demonstrations occasionally see violence or public disorder. The El Salvador Constitution prohibits political activities by foreign nationals, and participation in demonstrations may result in detention and/or deportation. You should avoid large gatherings or demonstrations and exercise caution in public areas.
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in El Salvador, attacks can’t be ruled out. See Terrorism
You can contact the emergency services by calling 911.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
If you would like to make the British Embassy in San Salvador aware of your presence in the country please email stay in contact El Salvador
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for El Salvador on the TravelHealthPro website
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You should contact local authorities for information on testing facilities (only available in Spanish).
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in El Salvador.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Travel in El Salvador
While the requirement to wear masks in public places has been dropped, mask usage remains considerably more widespread than in the UK, and may be expected in some contexts (for example in some meetings). Other measures could be introduced with little or no notice, in El Salvador and/or third countries you might transit through en route. You should familiarise yourself with any local measures or restrictions, and comply with these and any other emergency measures.
Please check that your planned accommodation is available and whether any COVID-19 restrictions are being applied before travelling.
British-issued prescriptions cannot be used locally. To find a pharmacy (“farmacia”) look for one of the big national chains such as Farmacia San Nicolas, Farmacias UNO or Farmacias Economicas, among others; a quick search online should help you to identify the nearest open one. For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.
View Health for further details on healthcare in El Salvador.
See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
El Salvador has until recently had one of the highest crime rates in Latin America, and whilst progress has been made, risks from both petty crime and violent crime remain.
A State of Exception (Emergency) was introduced by the Government in March 2022 in response to a sharp rise in the number of murders. It has been repeatedly extended on a monthly basis and remains in force. Whilst the murder rate has fallen significantly, concerns remain that gangs could regroup. The state of exception (emergency) gives police additional powers. This has resulted in a much higher number of arrests, sometimes on flimsy evidence. It also allows people to be detained for much longer before trial. Many ordinary legal safeguards have also been weakened or removed (e.g. joint hearings of over 100 people are common). There are reports that some embassies have struggled to get consular access. If you are arrested, the British Embassy may not be given access to you to provide consular assistance, or to ensure you are able to receive legal representation. There are reports of mistreatment and human rights violations, sometimes resulting in death, in detention facilities.
While security operations have taken place across the country, both security operations and gang-related violence occur away from tourists and visitors. Security operations have taken place across the country, with a particular focus in Soyapango, Ilopango, Mejicanos, San Martin, and San Marcos.
On 1 August, President Bukele ordered the military siege of the Cabañas Department, deploying over 8,000 security forces to detain remaining alleged gang members in this area. Take particular care if travelling into this zone as there is risk of being caught up in any military action.
Most visits to El Salvador are trouble-free but there have been isolated attacks on tourists including robberies, car-jackings and violent assaults.
Take extra care in more run down areas of towns and cities and areas less frequented by tourists. Take local advice on where the safer areas are, but always take care. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery or displaying valuable items. Safeguard your passport, mobile phone and cash against pickpockets.
Within San Salvador the areas of Santa Elena, San Benito and Maquilishuat have better security, as do most of the larger shopping malls.
- take care when travelling alone; it may be safer to travel with others or take part in a tour with a reputable company; the same applies to walking on remote trails; there have been reports of opportunistic attacks on tourists walking alone
- if possible keep your valuables including your passport in a safe; carry a photocopy of your passport for identification purposes; take particular care of your personal belongings at bus stations, airports, tourist sites and on public transport
- avoid displaying items of value, particularly when arriving at the airport; foreigners have been targeted when leaving the airport; don’t wear expensive jewellery and only carry minimal amounts of cash
- it’s safer to withdraw money from ATMs in shopping centres or change money in hotels or banks; don’t withdraw too much money at one time; foreigners have been attacked after withdrawing money from ATMs; don’t use ATMs at night or in isolated or badly lit areas
- stick to main roads; avoid travelling on unsurfaced roads as you are at greater risk of attack in remote areas where there are fewer police patrols
- public buses (repainted old US school buses) are not safe; private inter-city buses are generally safer, although attacks can also occur on these; only use reputable coach companies; for shorter trips within towns and cities, take radio, pre-booked or hotel taxis operated by reputable companies; don’t use unofficial taxis there remains a small risk of kidnapping. The risk of kidnapping to foreigners or visitors is relatively low, despite an increase in kidnapping of Salvadorans. You might wish to share your location or plans with a trusted person, particularly if taking public transport or a taxi despite success by the national police in tackling the problem in recent years; kidnap gangs generally target rich Salvadorians rather than visitors
- if you’re driving, take extra care at junctions, where stationary traffic is often targeted by armed robbers.in the event of a robbery, do not attempt to resist attackers or take any action that puts you at greater risk.
Foreign visitors and residents can be targeted by scam artists. The scams come in many forms, and can cause great financial loss. If you, or your relatives/friends are asked to transfer money to El Salvador, make sure it is not part of a scam and that you have properly checked with the person receiving the money that they are requesting it.
Public spaces and services
On 20 May 2023, at least 12 people died and more than 500 were injured during a football match at the Cuscatlán Stadium. This was due to overcrowding. If attending events in crowded places and at large gatherings, follow the advice of the local authorities and maintain a high level of security awareness.
Should you have any questions on security or local travel; you can call the local tourist police - POLITUR on +503 2224-2705, email them at email@example.com or visit the POLITUR website for more info.
You can use your UK Driving Licence to drive in El Salvador for visits of under three months. However, an International Driving Permit is recommended.
Driving standards are variable and you should expect the unexpected. Lane discipline is poor. Car insurance is essential. If you are involved in an accident, contact the national police or the fire brigade by dialling 911. If you are involved in an accident, you should normally wait for the police to arrive.
Always lock doors and keep windows closed.
Roads between the main tourist locations in El Salvador are of a good or acceptable standard. Sometimes manhole covers are stolen, leaving large holes in the road. In more isolated locations, roads are unsurfaced and four-wheel drive vehicles are advisable.
Take particular care when travelling to/from the border with Guatemala. There have been reports of violent attacks on vehicles, particularly on the Guatemalan side of the border. Vehicles with El Salvador number plates are often targeted. It’s better to cross borders in the morning, giving you time to reach your destination before dark. Borders sometimes close in the early evening. Private bus companies are considered safer than public buses for crossing borders.
There may be a small risk of unexploded ordnance (e.g. landmines) in remote areas. If you are going off-road take local advice and avoid travel to such areas if advised.
Swimming on the Pacific coast can be dangerous due to strong undertows. The currents around La Bocana de San Diego are particularly treacherous. Several people have drowned in recent years. There are very few or no lifeguards. You should avoid swimming on isolated beaches, especially after consuming alcohol.
Political tensions in El Salvador remain high and can be expected to increase in the run up to Presidential, Assembly, Municipal, and Central American Parliament elections in February/March 2024.
The El Salvador Constitution prohibits political activities by foreign nationals, and participation in demonstrations may result in detention and/or deportation. You should avoid large gatherings or demonstrations and exercise caution in public areas.
On 15 September 2021, San Salvador saw significant public protests over political issues; although the protests were peaceful and there were no injuries there was significant damage to property. On 31 January 2021 in San Salvador gunmen opened fire on activists from one of El Salvador’s main opposition parties, killing two people, and injuring five other people.
The British Embassy in El Salvador reopened in May 2012, but the Embassy doesn’t have a dedicated consular section. For consular assistance during and outside office hours, weekends or holidays, dial (503) 2511 5757 and follow instructions to be transferred to a consular officer. For non urgent assistance email enquiries you can contact: Guatemala.Consulate@fcdo.gov.uk.
Although there is no recent history of terrorism in El Salvador, attacks can’t be ruled out.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.
On 30 March the Legislative Assembly designated gang members as terrorists and established harsher penalties for them. Government communications and social media posts now sometimes refer to (suspected) gang members as terrorists.
This page has information on travelling to El Salvador.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in El Salvador set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how El Salvador’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
If you’re fully vaccinated
You do not need proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter El Salvador.
You should, however, bring proof of vaccination with you, in case requirements change at short notice either in El Salvador or in countries you transit en route
You should contact the Embassy of El Salvador in London for information on other migration requirements and documentation that you may need prior to travelling.
If you’re not fully vaccinated
You do not need proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter El Salvador.
Children and young people
Children aged 17 and under do not need proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter El Salvador.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
If you are visiting El Salvador, your passport should be valid for 6 months from the date you arrive.
If you are a resident in El Salvador, your passport must be valid for 6 months from the date you arrive.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British passport holders can enter El Salvador for tourism or business for up to 180 days without a visa (subject to COVID restrictions referenced above). This can be extended on application to the Salvadoran immigration department, Centro de Gobierno, San Salvador; Telephone: (503) 2213 7700. For other types of travel, contact the Embassy of El Salvador in London.
If you overstay your visa then you should expect to pay a fine before leaving the country. For information you should contact the Salvadoran immigration department.
Central America Border Control Agreement
El Salvador is party to the Central America Border Control Agreement (CA-4). Under the terms of this agreement, British tourists can travel within any of the CA-4 countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua) for a period of up to 90 days which starts at the first point of entry of any of the CA-4 countries. They will be subject to immigration checks at the border (which does not interrupt or restart the 90 day count). Fines are applied for travellers who exceed the 90-day limit, although you can apply for an extension of up to 30 days by paying a fee before the 90 days limit expires. If you’re expelled from any of the 4 countries you are also excluded from the entire CA-4 region.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
There are severe penalties for drug trafficking and drug use in El Salvador. Prisons are overcrowded and violent.
There are no legal provisions for same-sex marriage or adoption in El Salvador. (The Family Code establishes that marriage should happen between a man and a woman, although the Constitution does not make this specific point.) Due to prevailing conservative attitudes and the risk of harassment to same-sex couples public displays of affection are not recommended. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Carry a photocopy of the personal details page of your passport for identification purposes.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
Other health risks
Water is not generally safe to drink, but bottled water is widely and cheaply available. Rivers tend to be contaminated and unsafe to swim or bathe in. Cases of typhoid and hepatitis A have increased in recent years, largely due to contaminated water.
UK health authorities have classified El Salvador as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For more information and advice, visit the website of the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
Cases of Chikungunya virus and dengue fever have also been confirmed in El Salvador.
Local medical care
Medical facilities outside the capital San Salvador are generally basic. State-run hospitals are on the whole under-staffed, under-funded and ill-equipped. Use private clinics and hospitals whenever possible, but be aware that some hospitals may be reluctant to treat you until they are satisfied you have medical insurance.
Not all hospitals will accept patients with COVID-19 symptoms. Those that do often have specific areas set aside for possible COVID-19 patients. You should check before travelling to a hospital. You should contact 132 if you suspect you have COVID-19. This health help line will give you options on how to address your COVID-19 related medical concern, In case of emergencies COVID-19 related public hospitals will refer you to the new COVID-19 hospital, Hospital El Salvador
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. Carry a copy of your insurance cover at all times. Most medical staff speak only a little English.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
El Salvador has several active volcanoes, at least six of which are monitored.
The alert and suspension of activities around the Chaparrastique Volcano, also known as San Miguel Volcano, on 17 November following a series of small eruptions of gas and ash clouds has now been lifted, though authorities continue to monitor the situation. For updated information, you should monitor local media and follow advice from the authorities.
Seek local advice before climbing any volcanoes in El Salvador and monitor local media for any updates on increased volcanic activity. You can find volcano warnings on the website of the Directorate General of Civil Protection (in Spanish). When climbing volcanoes or walking in remote areas, it is safer do so in daylight hours and with a tour guide.
The rainy season normally runs from June to November, coinciding with the hurricane season in the Caribbean. During the rainy season you can expect frequent heavy rain, thunder storms and possible tropical depressions. Roads can be affected by landslides and flooding. Mountain areas are particularly vulnerable to landslides.
Monitor local and international weather updates from the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), the World Meteorological Organisation and the US National Hurricane Centre. See our Tropical Cyclones page for advice about what to do if you are caught up in a hurricane.
El Salvador is subject to frequent minor earth tremors and occasional earthquakes. Local information can be found (in Spanish) on the MARN website or their Twitter feed @MedioAmbienteSV
On 15 January 2023, Dirección General de Protección Civil issued a Red Alert in the municipalities of San Lorenzo and Ahuachapan, and a Green Alert in the rest of Ahuachapan and Santa Ana departments, after more than 200 small earth tremors where registered in less than 24 hours; 60 of them were 4.4 or higher in the Richter scale. For updated information, you should monitor local media and follow advice from authorities.
Make sure you know what action to take should an earthquake occur. If you are staying in a hotel read their earthquake instructions. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency website has advice about what to do before, during and after an earthquake or tsunami.
Fires can increase during the dry season; particularly in San Salvador. You can contact the fire brigade by calling 911.
The Government of El Salvador has announced that the country is operating two official currencies: the US dollar and Bitcoin. Bitcoin became legal tender in September 2021, but may not yet be accepted everywhere. British Nationals considering using Bitcoin should ensure that they understand the processes and risks involved, and that they have access to US dollars if they need them.
It is almost impossible to change pounds sterling anywhere in El Salvador, so you should bring a mixture of cash and travellers’ cheques in US dollars. US$50 and US$100 notes are generally not accepted in many smaller restaurants, bars and shops. US$100 and US$50 notes may be exchanged in banks on arrival, but it is advisable to bring smaller denominations with you.
Regular ATMs and Bitcoin ATMs are widely available particularly in San Salvador and La Libertad. You should inform your bank of your travel plans before you travel to avoid your card being blocked.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the FCDO in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
‘If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.’