Backpacking in El Salvador is a rare thing. It is one of those countries that constantly remain in news because of its bad reputation. The statistics are also not in favor of El Salvador. Earned the title of ‘Murder Capital of the World’ many times in the last few decades, El Salvador has been trying to find a way out of the crippling problem of homicides and gang violence. How does it feel to walk on the streets of San Salvador and other cities of the nation? One has to experience it; merely reading news articles may not be that useful.
I was a bit nervous about my travels through El Salvador when I googled about the safety issues in the cities. As per one of the news reports, there was not a single day from 2012 to 2016 without a murder on the streets. Amid confusion and uneasiness, I decided to follow the original plan to spend 3-4 days in the country. Why leave El Salvador when I had done Colombia, Brazil and Mexico?
An express bus from Guatemala City to Santa Ana in El Salvador was a relatively a comfortable and hassle-free ride. The border crossing took only 10 minutes, and no surprises. Santa Ana is the third largest Salvadoran city known for its coffee industry. I was not the only tourist on the busy streets of the city; I met a few more travelers from the US who were also following the same route through Salvador to get to Honduras. The most touristic city in the country, Santa Ana has many things for visitors including its churches and museums. I did not feel any sort of danger while walking on the city streets. It was yet another city experience to me; although, there were areas I was told by the hostel staff not to walk alone in. Scenic beauty of the Coatepeque Lake, one of the most visited places in country, reassured me that it was worth coming to Salvador.
Just a few hours from this beauty is situated San Salvador, the biggest Salvadoran city and home of many gangs. The hostel doors closed at 9 PM. The staff had many stories to tell. The fellow travelers and I decided to spend time learning about the city from locals while enjoying local beer in the confine of the hostel walls. The city is heavily patrolled in the night time by armed police. Some of the spots in the city were alive way past midnight, under heavy security though. We all decided to pass on the nightlife to save our lives. We were told that tourists are always easy targets for the street gangsters. The city was different after the sunrise. The same busy, noisy streets; the same hustle-bustle of life and the same crowded restaurants and coffee places. I hardly sensed any fear in the street walkers. We enjoyed street food while doing a walking tour of the city, which looked pretty westernized with many global names displaying big to attract affluent spenders. The patrol trucks with armed cops were still operating. It seemed as if the citizens are used to of all this now.
La Libertad was certainly a better place to see a better side of metro area. Less than an hour from the San Salvador, the small fishing town offers a local Salvadoran feel. Small shops, not very commercialized beaches and less crowded streets. The pacific waves are perfect for surfing around this town. We ended our day with some beers and the sunset on the pacific ocean.
On the bus to Honduras, I was thinking how much potential the country is losing because of all the senseless crimes on the streets.