What to cover, what to avoid and what to do on your trip to El Salvador. Read this guide to finding the right travel insurance.
El Salvador is a country rich in attractions, encompassing scenic beaches, natural wonders and thousands of important colonial and indigenous archaeological sites. When you visit El Salvador, you can do it all. It’s sometimes known as “the country of 40 minutes” because many of the major attractions can be reached in just a short drive from the capital.
While stunning and rich in Spanish colonial history, El Salvador is not without travel risks. This guide will give an overview of what to be mindful of when travelling in El Salvador and what to look out for on your travel insurance policy.
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- Violence. There are numerous criminal gangs in El Salvador, and violence is often used with little hesitation. Firearms are common and gangs have even been known to use explosives and carry out terrorist-style attacks.
- Emergency medical cover is recommended for all travellers and may prove to be vital if you are the victim of violent crime.
- Crime. Travellers may be targeted based on perceived wealth, so consider leaving your valuables at home and travelling light. Drive-by robberies carried out on motorcycles can occur, as can “express kidnappings”, where people are briefly abducted and forced to withdraw money from ATMs to secure their release.
- Consider extra cover for valuables due to the high risk of theft.
- Keep a close eye on your belongings and exercise appropriate caution at all times.
- Avoid hailing cabs off the street and stick to radio-dispatched taxis. Use these as an alternative to the overcrowded bus system where robberies are common.
- Disease. Dengue fever and other insect-borne diseases (including Zika) are a risk, particularly during the wet season from April to November. Pregnant women are advised to defer non-essential travel to El Salvador, and all travellers should protect themselves from mosquitoes with long sleeves, insect repellant and suitable accommodation. Infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS are prevalent and travellers should take all necessary precautions, including drinking boiled or bottled water, and avoiding ice cubes and raw or undercooked foods.
- Travel insurance to pay for medical treatments is advisable in the event of illness and disease.
- Instability. Political unrest and conflicts between violent street gangs and local authorities contribute to instability in El Salvador. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations as they can turn violent with little warning, and foreigners found participating in them may face detainment and deportation.
- Travel insurance policies with cover for legal liability expenses may prove useful in avoiding altercations and potential detainment.
- Weather hazards. Hurricane season is from June to November. Mudslides, landslides, flooding and essential service disruptions are more likely to occur at this time of year. Monitor local media for weather conditions and be aware of the possibility that they may change rapidly.
- Travel insurance for tour cancellation can be a good idea if you are using prepaid tours or services.
- Travel insurance for natural disasters may cover you in the event of missed flights or cancellations resulting from extreme weather at your destination.
- Historical tours. Most travellers to El Salvador will take in at least a few of the Indigenous monuments and archaeological sites found throughout the country. The travel risks of El Salvador mean these are often best seen as part of an organised tour group, so consider travel insurance for tour cancellation to cover the cost of prepaid tickets.
- Nature walks. Get up close and personal with El Salvador’s living attractions on a nature walk. There are a variety of treks to suit all skill and fitness levels and to accommodate different interests, but ensure your travel insurance policy will protect you while hiking.
- Adventure activities. Zip-lining, bungee jumping, whitewater trips and a range of other pulse-pounding sports are waiting for you in El Salvador. Remember that the more thrilling an activity is, the less likely a standard travel insurance policy is to cover it, so consider each activity on a case-by-case basis and find a policy that protects you for all of them.
- Beach outings. The beaches of El Salvador are warm and inviting, but can also be home to dangerous undercurrents and are often without lifeguards. Exercise appropriate caution and consider how your travel insurance policy covers surfing, parasailing, swimming and other beach activities.
- Cultural trips. Museums, art galleries and historical, natural and archaeological sites in El Salvador cater to a wide range of interests, but visiting all the ones you want to see can mean heading to more isolated areas.
In rural areas of El Salvador, doctors and health care facilities are sparse. In the event of an emergency you will typically need to go to the capital city, San Salvador. The quality of health care you are able to access in El Salvador is directly dependent on how much you can pay.
- You will most likely need to visit an expensive private facility to access a high level of health care.
- In El Salvador, patients are typically required to pay up-front.
- Especially serious medical conditions or emergencies might require evacuation to the United States, or even back to Australia, at a potentially enormous cost. Travel insurance that covers medical evacuation can cover these expenses.
In the event of an emergency in El Salvador you have several points of contact, depending on the situation.
- The Australian consulate in El Salvador. For legal or other general assistance in an emergency, contact the consulate in San Salvador on +503 2298 9447. For passport assistance you will need to get in touch with the embassy in Mexico City on +52 55 1101 2200.
- Your insurer. Confirm that your insurer has a 24/7 claims helpline, with a contact number prominently shown in your policy. In the event of a claim you should contact them as soon as reasonably and safely possible.
- Family and friends. Let them know your travel plans and check in periodically so they know where you are and can notify authorities if something happens.
El Salvador is part of the Central American Border Control Agreement (CA-4) along with Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. This means that if you have a valid entry card for one of these countries you can use it for all of them.
Australian tourists to El Salvador do not require a visa. Instead, you are able to get access for up to 90 days with:
- A passport valid for at least six more months
- A renewable 30-day tourist card, available on arrival for a fee of USD$10
You can enjoyably visit El Salvador all year round. The main decision is whether you would prefer to go in the dry season or the wet season, and if there are any specific events you want to see while there.
- Dry season. Warm, dry and busy. Prices may be a bit higher during this season, but there are also more special offers and discounts around. More events take place in the dry season.
- Wet season. Similarly warm but with more rain and humidity. Hurricanes or bad weather can close attractions with little warning and travel conditions can become unpredictable. On the upside, El Salvador’s nature is at its most lush at this time of year, and wildlife may be more diverse or active.
Visit in the dry season if you’re more interested in convenience, luxuries and a wider variety of entertainment options. Visit in the wet season if you’re keener on a nature trip and don’t mind trading comfort and convenience for a more unique experience.