The United States issued a renewed travel alert for El Salvador Friday, pointing to high levels of crime and violence as the reason for the State Department warning.
“Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit El Salvador each year for study, tourism, cruise ship visits, business, and volunteer work,” begins the travel warning published on the U.S. State Department website.
U.S. State Dept. issues travel warning for El Salvador, cites “critically high” crime and violence levels: https://t.co/wdfmAxz8At— Jessica Plautz (@jessicaplautz) January 15, 2016
The statement goes on to explain that violence in El Salvador has spiked in the past year, increasing the possibility of U.S. travelers finding themselves in the “wrong place at the wrong time” and becoming victims.
“Since January 2010, 38 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador,” the State Department statement says, adding that the perpetrators of seven of those murders were convicted. “During the same time period, 449 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent crimes.”
The statement highlights widespread gang activity as well as “extortion, mugging, highway assault, home invasion, and car theft” as typical threats to security. The State Department advises people who do choose to travel to El Salvador to take extreme precautions, including avoiding using public transit.
In contrast, the Canadian government does not have a nationwide travel advisory for El Salvador, but advises tourists to “exercise a high degree of caution” if traveling to the country.
WATCH: El Salvador Murder Rate Skyrockets
In 2015, the murder rate in El Salvador jumped 70 percent, shooting the Central American country into top standing as one of the homicide capitals of the world. Gangs are largely held responsible for the spike in violence.
In July, gangs forced a public transit shutdown that caused days of mayhem in the capital city San Salvador and left at least nine transit operators dead. After the gang-mandated strike, violence continued to soar even as buses got back on the road under heightened security measures.
A 15-month truce between rival gangs in El Salvador launched in 2012 temporarily made significant cuts to the level of violence and rate of murders in the country. However, after the truce began to unravel in 2013, violence levels creeped back up and have skyrocketed to record heights in recent months.
Critics say the truce failed to address the underlying causes of El Salvador’s gang problem, resulting in the renewed surge in violence once the agreement broke down.
According to a study released last month and reported in El Salvador’s La Pagina, 60 percent of respondents said they felt unsafe, and 18 percent said that they had been victims of violence.
WATCH: Violence Continues Unabated Since Gang Truce