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Safety in San Salvador

busman7

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  • Added on: February 27th, 2011
As a traveler to El Salvador for the past couple years & now an X-pat resident I can not see where the country or it's capitol gets it's reputation for being so unsafe. Following some condescending comments, by a poster, on another forum on BNA, I went on a Google search for factual evidence to substantiate either point of view.

I found nothing to disprove my contention that San Salvador is any more dangerous for an aware traveler than a comparable sized US or Canadian city. It was hard to find current data, most being 2-3 yrs old.

http://www.wonders-world.com/2010/03/to ... ve-of.html

lists Ciudad Juarez & New Orleans

http://www.nationmaster.com/

1) Columbia
14) Thailand
19) Costa Rica
21) USA
44) Canada
57) Indonesia

http://urbantitan.com/10-most-dangerous ... ld-in-2010

2) Detroit
6) Ciudad Juarez
8) New Orleans

What I found especially interesting was there was no mention on any of the above sites of either El Salvador or San Salvador! Would lead one to believe they aren't all that bad.

Thailand is way up there on the unsafe list however it's a major stop on the "Gringo Trail" & Indonesia that still has travel advisories against it rates much safer than Canada or the US. Also one site at least must have taken into consideration Central America as the good old favorite Costa Rica shows not too good but still no mention of El Salvador.

It isn't until one gets to Wikipedia (a sit that anyone can edit) or a story from the Washington Post that the safety issue in EL Salvador/San Salvador comes to light. Kind of take with a grain of salt anything reported in the US/Canadian, politically controlled media!

It seems that the murders reported in El Salvador, 71/100,000 population are mostly due to drug traffic area control with the Maras, a Los Angles controlled gang that sprang up due to the decades of CIA intervention in Central America, but that's a subject for another topic.

Next I tried Googling tourist murders in San Salvador but came up dry. The closest I could come was
http://www.voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng.asp

Which gives El Salvador the exact same rating as all other CA countries; no official warning - exercise high degree of caution. Then rambles on in a typical civil servant CYA report that looks like it was written by a grade 5 student about how there have been reported cases of-----every crime under the sun but with no specific examples. The fact that it also says that ALL, US/Mexico land border crossings are unsafe doesn't do much for the credibility of these reports.

If anyone can find irrefutable, factual proof that San Salvador is any less safe, for the seasoned traveler, than an US/Canadian city, please post it.
http://blogs.bootsnall.com/busman7 | http://wwwlasbrisasplayasandiego.blogspot.com
"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

Wiskee

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  • Added on: February 27th, 2011
Hey Busman, I know how seriously you take this topic so thought I'd throw in my 2cents.

I was in San Salvador for several days in July and enjoyed the city. I'm not read or informed on the actual crime statistics, but I felt no less threatened in San Salvador than in other major cities. The people we met there were friendly and helpful; we were approached by locals on the bus and in the street who were simply curious about what we thought about El Salvador, we were given instructions on how to find the public bus by a taxi driver (when would that happen in any other CA Capitol?!), and the staff at the visa renewal office were professional, detailed, and helpful.

I also can sympathize with those who are uncomfortable to visit a city like San Salvador. The city has a bit of a rougher feel to it: it's not very cosmopolitan, there arent a lot of "sites" in the traditional sense of the word, and there is definitely considerable poverty as in all the Central American capitols and essentially any other major city in the world.

It can be a chaotic place particularly in the downtown area near the central market and in the areas near the bus stations. Some travelers are uncomfortable with these conditions and find it can be an intimidating place, especially if you're from a "developed" (not my favorite term) nation where the infrastructure is a bit more organized. This is especially true if you are not from a big city and aren't used to the bustle thereof.

Additionally, fairly or unfairly, San Salvador and El Salvador have a reputation. You're talking about a country that is "only" 18 years removed from a brutal civil war and isn't on the typical gringo trail in CA and therefore doesn't have a tourist infrastructure the likes of Guatemala. SS itself also doesn't have a truly iconic attraction or two to draw in tourists and churn out glowing reviews on Lonely Planet. Combined with the chaotic feel, the gritty-ness, El Salvador's recent civil war and some legitimate personal experiences and the reputation emerges.

Reputations suck, but they matter because people believe what they hear and most of what they hear about San Salvador is that it's dangerous. I had to listen to people at home warn me not to go to Mexico, even though the current violence is dramatically concentrated near the border and I was traveling in Chiapas and the Yucatan.

It doesn't help that most backpackers never bother to leave the bus station, often the most shady-feeling areas of any major city in Central America. I feel the same way about Guat-city (and I'm familiar with your sentiments about Guate as well).

As far as statistics go, they can be manipulated in any number of ways by any clueless journalist, governing body, or researcher with a purpose. Draw a box around the right neighborhood in Chicago (where I live) and gun violence rate is higher than in Baghdad. Control for the right variables and you can make any city look safe or unsafe depending on the conditions being examined.

In that sense, you're probably right to say that most violent crime in SS is usually concentrated in the interrelated drug-trade and street gang communities, which is usually true anywhere in the world. It's so in Chicago, in Mexico, Colombia, etc.

In another sense, it also means that if there aren't statistics to "prove you wrong," it doesn't prove you right. There's not a comprehensive enough volume of research to make solid conclusions on this topic for either side IMO, and the statistics that are out there are painted with the brush of those who collect and present them. You yourself recognize the stats you present are both dated and hit and miss, so no real conclusions should be drawn from them either way.

As a tourist, the actual odds that you'll be violently assaulted anywhere are quite low, but it does happen and the threat is real. In the end the bad stories certainly float to the surface and reputations become what they are.

There are real dangers in San Salvador like any major city and tourists should take real care when visiting and heed normal big-city-warnings. Whether those dangers are statistically more or less than in other major cities depends on how you define and report violent crime, but in general I can see that the poverty levels and gang activity might push the numbers up. I can also understand the sentiment that some travelers feel that they are seen as a target because foreign travelers are known to have money.

What would be most interesting to me, if it were available, would be to see the statistics of violent crime specifically against or targeted towards foreign tourists including robberies and kidnappings. I'm not sure that info is available in enough volume to make reasonable generalizations. The info you posted certainly isn't enough to conclude anything specific

I say all this not to argue for or against your statistical information but to maybe shed some light on why people are uncomfortable to visit SS, on how both statistics and reputations can be misleading, and to say that I understand if some travelers are reluctant to visit.

I personally spent a month in El Salvador and found it to be amiable and friendly and safe. Others may have had different experiences. As far as the numbers go, have a ball trying to convince some people that they won't certainly be robbed the second they step foot off the bus, but don't be disillusioned either to think that SS is an inherently safe place either.

I generally agree with your sentiment that if you're careful, you should be fine in SS.
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busman7

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  • Added on: February 27th, 2011
Thanks for the detailed & insightful reply. I had the same good experience renewing my visa, the nice lady I dealt with actually gave me 120 days instead of the 90. Also have had favorable experiences with the police in getting directions on a couple occasions as I did at customs upon entry with a minibus load of possessions.

Your point about using statistics to prove whatever you want coincides with mine, which I feel is the reason for the bad publicity.

Not trying to make SS out to be Disneyland but just saying it's the same as any other big city, you have to know where to stay away from at night & just follow the rules of a prudent traveler. However like I said if anyone has any pertinent data as to crime against travelers, please post it as I couldn't find any.

I may be wrong & just lucky but I am not going to take the Canadian government seriously when they sat there have been reported----but don't back it up especially when they warn about all US/Mexico land border crossings being unsafe, when I crossed at Douglas AZ then paralleled the border for the best part of a`hundred miles in a safer feeling environment than crossing from Windsor ON to Detroit MI.
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"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

EMH

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  • Added on: February 27th, 2011
When I was traveling in Central America late last year, I only met one traveler who set foot in Guatemala City (other than the airport). But I met several people who went to or were going to San Salvador. So I decided to give it a second look and read through what my guidebook (lonely planet) said. And it actually made San Salvador sound like a half-way decent place. Still, I probably wouldn't have gone if I hadn't met a local in Suchitoto who was willing to show me around.

I ended up spending 5 days in San Salvador. Never once did I feel unsafe. Which surprised me. Yes, I had someone to show me around, but if I hadn't I still think I would have been okay. Except I wouldn't have wanted to figure out the local buses on my own. Even with a local to show me around, we sometimes got on the wrong bus.

Anyway,I do agree that San Salvador is probably like most big cities....learn where the bad areas are and avoid them. That being said, there are no must see sights in San Salvador, so it's not like you're missing anything if you don't go.

And the rest of the country was fine as well. Spent maybe 2 weeks there and overall had a good time and never felt the least bit unsafe. I actually met a woman from France who said she felt safer in El Salvador then she does in some parts of Paris.

That's all. Not sure I've really added much to the discussion other than to generally agree with Busman and Wiskee.
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busman7

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  • Added on: February 28th, 2011
Sure EMH you have added something.

Finally "the other side of the story" is finally being heard about the stereotypical, scary San Salvador.
I especially like the reference to the lady from Paris who felt safer than in parts of Paris.
http://blogs.bootsnall.com/busman7 | http://wwwlasbrisasplayasandiego.blogspot.com
"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: February 28th, 2011
I'm not going to indulge this, beyond giving my personal impression of San Salvador. The OP is an enthusiastic backer of El Salvador, who seems to take personal offense at anyone who points out the crime problem in the country. This isn't unique to El Salvador, but something shared with neighboring countries. The people are extremely friendly, to be sure.

San Salvador is a large, unattractive Central America city. It has a severe MS-13 gang problem, like Guatemala City and San Pedro Sula. The middle- and upper-class areas of the city are heavily Americanized, with shopping malls and fast-food outlets. Zona Rosa is a decent area to go out at night, particularly if you have local friends to show you around. There is little in the way of obvious attractions to draw a foreign visitor.

What struck me about San Salvador was the number of heavily-armed security guards at night. Actually, people the country in general are extremely heavily- and visibly-armed. I saw guns everywhere: from pump-action shotguns brandished by security guards on every corner in San Salvador to pistols on auto dashboards.

Don't take my lukewarm feelings about San Salvador personally, busman. It's not about you. There are plenty of warnings out there about safety in the capital. I simply think you give a misleading picture of the place when you tell people seeking advice absurdities, such as that San Salvador has a lower crime rate than Flin Flon. All Central American cities have these kinds of problems, and it's best that visitors are aware of safety issues.

busman7

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  • Added on: February 28th, 2011
Felix the Hat wrote:I

Don't take my lukewarm feelings about San Salvador personally, busman. It's not about you. There are plenty of warnings out there about safety in the capital. I simply think you give a misleading picture of the place when you tell people seeking advice absurdities, such as that San Salvador has a lower crime rate than Flin Flon. All Central American cities have these kinds of problems, and it's best that visitors are aware of safety issues.


The reason for this thread is to solicit facts, not, unsubstantiated warnings, rumors & urban legends. Then if necessary I can change my misleading advise, if the facts warrant doing so.

BTW I am saying that San Salvador is as safe to the seasoned traveler as similar sized US & Canadian cities, hardly believe Flin Flon fits that scenario!

Also armed guards are just a part of life in CA & hardly unique to El Salvador. Come to think of it, I seem to remember being pulled over in by some really heavily armed dudes, stopping traffic, in Arizona.
http://blogs.bootsnall.com/busman7 | http://wwwlasbrisasplayasandiego.blogspot.com
"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

EMH

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  • Added on: February 28th, 2011
busman7 wrote:Sure EMH you have added something.

Finally "the other side of the story" is finally being heard about the stereotypical, scary San Salvador.
I especially like the reference to the lady from Paris who felt safer than in parts of Paris.


Though just to clarify, she was talking about El Salvador in general rather than San Salvador specifically (don't remember if she visited San Salvador). And she spoke fluent Spanish which might have helped.

Anyway, I certainly thought San Salvador was better than Santa Ana, El Salvador. Now there was a city in which EVERY tiny little shop had its own security guard. I saw a lot fewer security guards in San Salvador. Plus, things closed down VERY early in Santa Ana. And I took buses all over the city and never once did I come across an area where I thought "wow this is a nice neighborhood".
Follow my travels through Central and South America: www.talesofagringo.com

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: February 28th, 2011
Okay, facts.

"The Mexican security watchdogs ranked the deadliest cities in the word earlier this year.

According to the study, Mexico's border city of Ciudad Juárez has the world's highest murder rate: 191 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.

San Pedro Sula (Honduras) ranked second with 119 murders per 100,000 inhabitants; San Salvador (El Salvador), had 95 murders; Caracas (94) and Guatemala (Guatemala) had 86 murders per 100,000 inhabitants."

Link

According to the Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas in Venezuela, Caracas has recently vaulted into the top position. The difference is that none of the other dangerous cities on the list have partisans on this board saying that they are safer than Canadian cities. No one here bristles at descriptions of Juárez as dangerous.

zoomcharlieb

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  • Added on: March 1st, 2011
Well i'm going to Guatemala in a week and from there going straight to Copan, then not sure, but one thing i guarantee you I' m not going to spend my quality time in any of the 3 cities Felix mentioned. I've been attacked by gangs of youths, twice in Seattle, once near the Seattle Center in 1966 and once in Yesler Terrace where i was in a fight, had a knife thrown at me and then shot at , so yeah, i know a little taste of the danger bug and it ain't no fun. And i'm not considered a little guy or an obvious target. I've heard of El Salvador from a former diplomats child, now grown up and he said it was no place to be, period.

busman7

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  • Added on: March 1st, 2011
Oh my why must I spell everything out? :o

We all know that drug gangs are prevalent in CA & have a habit of knocking each other off, but they don't generally bother tourists, unless they are wearing a Rolex & flashing a big wad in the local crack-house.

As BNA is mainly a forum for backpacker travel advise the facts I am looking for are crimes against T-O U R-I-S-T-S-! :mys-bust:

Guess the school system in Canada must have better reading comprehension courses than the US as I was taught that as safe as does not mean the same as safer than.

So it would be appreciated if disagreeing posters would at least post relevant facts, rather than rhetoric & not attribute their interpretation of my statements but refer to what I actually said. :)
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"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

Felix the Hat

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  • Added on: March 1st, 2011
Wait, I'm the one who presented statistics (aka facts) above. You're the one trying to spin them away with qualifications and explanations, busman.

busman7

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  • Added on: March 1st, 2011
Felix the Hat wrote:Wait, I'm the one who presented statistics (aka facts) above. You're the one trying to spin them away with qualifications and explanations, busman.


Better take a refresher course in reading comprehension 101. :lol:

How many of those murdered were TOURISTS :?:

It's not me that's trying to spin things. :roll:
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"I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't really have to seek them - that is nothing but a phrase - they come to you." Mark Twain

EMH

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  • Added on: March 1st, 2011
busman7 wrote:Oh my why must I spell everything out? :o

We all know that drug gangs are prevalent in CA & have a habit of knocking each other off, but they don't generally bother tourists, unless they are wearing a Rolex & flashing a big wad in the local crack-house.

As BNA is mainly a forum for backpacker travel advise the facts I am looking for are crimes against T-O U R-I-S-T-S-! :mys-bust:

Guess the school system in Canada must have better reading comprehension courses than the US as I was taught that as safe as does not mean the same as safer than.

So it would be appreciated if disagreeing posters would at least post relevant facts, rather than rhetoric & not attribute their interpretation of my statements but refer to what I actually said. :)


I think part of the difficulty is that the data that people want to see simply isn't available. Something like "crimes against tourists relative to number of days tourists spent in place X".
Follow my travels through Central and South America: www.talesofagringo.com

2wanderers

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  • Added on: March 1st, 2011
busman7 wrote:How many of those murdered were TOURISTS :?:

Of course, for this statement:"San Salvador is [no] more dangerous for an aware traveler than a comparable sized US or Canadian city" to be true, we'd also need to be comparing only to murders of tourists in the US/Canadian city as well.

It's a reasonable hypothesis that a city with a higher general murder rate will also have a higher tourist murder rate. Do we have the statistics to prove it: no. You'll note that your claim is equally lacking in statistical evidence.

Tourists in most cities on the planet are pretty safe. Even in Juarez, you probably wouldn't find many foreigners outside of the drug trade being murdered. Of course, people with enough money to travel internationally are also not usually at much risk at home either...wealthier people are less likely to be murder victims, doubly so if you remove domestic violence from the equation.


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