A Traveler's Guide to Health & Hygiene in El Salvador

Tempremental shower taps, dengue fever, carjackings – these are just some of the many issues travelers might face in El Salvador. Find out before you go to avoid any unwanted surprises!

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Temperamental Shower Taps

When we say "Suicide Shower", many images must spring to mind – none of them pleasant, I'm sure. In fact, it's the term given to a contraption that sits over the showerhead – which kind of looks like something MacGyver put together in a cleanliness emergency.

Popular in Central America, but now found in other tropical nations, it's essentially a cheap hot water system for places that don't have (or can't afford) a permanent heating system. You'll definitely come across them in El Salvador, so it's best to know a bit about them so you don't get too much of a shock – electric shock that is.

No hot water heater? No worries, just attach these wires from the electrical mains directly into the contraption clamped onto the showerhead. "Water + electricity = a great combination!" Said nobody, ever.

Despite their frightening appearance, suicide showers can be enjoyable if they're well maintained, and if you know how to use them. Even though the name suggests otherwise, nobody has actually died from using one.

The heat is controlled by the water pressure. If you want scorching hot, let the water trickle. If you want luke warm, turn the taps on a bit more. A word of warning: don't tamper with the switch on the showerhead itself, it will already be set to a specific temperature that shouldn't be changed.

Electricity Troubles

Some travelers have said that when they've turned on the shower it's used so much electricity that the lights go dim. This might be disconcerting, but it's not something to worry about.

A few travelers have experienced slight electric shocks. Obviously, some electric showers are going to be better quality than others. Luckily, most of us know to wear a pair of rubber thongs in the shower – in El Salvador this doubles for both safety and hygiene.

Even most middle class hotels would have upgraded to hot water systems by now, but there's still a chance you could come across one in poorer parts of town.

Dengue Fever

Apart from temperamental shower systems, there are a few other health concerns you need to take into consideration when traveling to El Salvador. The major one is Dengue Fever.

Dengue Fever became an epidemic in 2010, when there were approximately 2,400 confirmed cases. The majority of these were treatable, only causing flu like symptoms such as severe headaches and joint pain. But, for young children and the elderly it's common they'll contract dengue hemorrhagic fever – which can be fatal.

There's no vaccination against Dengue Fever, so you need to take precautions to try and prevent it. Mosquitoes are the culprits when it comes to spreading the disease, so, you should always carry insect repellent, try to wear long sleaved shirts, and be a real dag by tucking your pants into your socks – especially in places where there's a lot of stagnant water or at night.

It's a good idea to place mosquito netting over your bed when you sleep, so check with your accommodation to see if they have any handy.

The Dangers of Driving Yourself Around El Salvador

Driving in El Salvador is an appealing option, as public transport is overcrowded, and often quite dangerous. But there are a few dangers that come with self-driving.

Carjackings are common, especially on rural roads. Always keep windows up and doors locked at all times. If you can, try and travel in a convoy.

Roads are poorly maintained, and visibility can be an issue due to lack of lighting, so try to avoid driving at night.

Know that there's still the danger of unmarked landmines and unexploded ordnance throughout the country, mostly in the Chalatenango and Morazan districts.

When it comes to actually driving itself, drive defensively and keep a lookout for pedestrians and animals, who have a tendency to wander out onto the road.

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