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The most common travel ailments in El Salvador are diarrhea and food-born stomach upset. To stay healthy, be sure to drink only bottled water and ice you know to be purified, and stick to established restaurants. Dengue fever, known as "broken bones disease," is also on the rise in El Salvador. There is a low risk of malaria in El Salvador, centered mainly in rural areas of high immigration near the Guatemalan border.

Vaccinations -- The only vaccination necessary to enter El Salvador is yellow fever, which is required only for persons 6 months or older coming from high-risk tropical areas. Those traveling from the U.S. and Europe do not need the vaccination, and the World Health Organization does not recommend it. However, it's a good idea to consult your personal physician before leaving home to make sure that all of your regular inoculations are up-to-date, as many diseases that are all but wiped out in other parts of the world still exist in El Salvador. The CDC recommends getting shots for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, measles, rubella, mumps, rabies, and tetanus. It's best to consult a travel clinic 4 weeks prior to travel to check your vaccination history and discuss your itinerary.

Tips for a Strong Stomach

Most travel illnesses start in our delicate North American and European digestive systems, and what you put in your mouth is all-important if you want to stay healthy. Below are some tips on how to avoid a holiday in the restroom:

  • Make sure any meat you eat is hot and well cooked.
  • Keep your hands clean with frequent washing.
  • Make sure any dairy products you try are pasteurized.
  • Avoid salads and raw fish.
  • Keep flies away from your dish, your glass or bottle, and the table.
  • Do not leave food lying around, as this attracts germ-bearing flies.
  • Avoid tap water (unless it's been boiled) and ice cubes (unless made from purified or boiled water).
  • Eat only fruit that you have peeled yourself.

Safety

El Salvador's reputation for gang violence is warranted. It has the highest homicide rate in the world (excluding Iraq), and the crime wave there has been likened to a low-level war. However, such an image will contrast strongly with your experience of the country's friendly, peace-loving people. The fact is, there are two El Salvadors: the beautiful, fascinating destination that has you reading this guide and a darker, hidden society of poor ghettoes and warring tattooed youths. Thankfully, the two never meet. Travelers rarely experience anything worse than being pick-pocketed or distracted in some way and relieved of a backpack (and even this is rare). Gun crime is usually confined to the shantytowns and poor barrios, and rarely affects tourists. In my experience, the more budget-oriented you are, the more vulnerable you are to such theft -- a public chicken bus is not as safe as a private shuttle, for example.

Before you depart, check for travel advisories from the U.S. State Department (www.travel.state.gov), the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.voyage.gc.ca), the U.K. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.fco.gov.uk/travel), and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.dfat.gov.au/embassies.html).

Once you're there, keep some common-sense safety advice in mind: Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings; don't walk down dark, deserted streets; and always keep an eye on your personal belongings. Keep your passport and credit cards on your person (but not stuffed in your back pocket). Theft at airports and bus stations is not unheard of, so be sure to put a lock on your luggage. Rental cars generally stick out and are easily spotted by thieves.

Public intercity buses are also frequent targets of stealthy thieves. Never check your bags into the hold of a bus if you can avoid it. If this can't be avoided, when the bus makes a stop, keep your eye on what leaves the hold. If you put your bags in an overhead rack, be sure you can see the bags at all times.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.