Tourists are flocking to El Salvador in record numbers, according to the country’s tourism minister.
The announcement comes as the Central American country ramps up its PR campaign to show the world that it is no longer a tiny backwater plagued by hyper violent street gangs—but rather a Bitcoin and surf paradise.
On Thursday, President Nayib Bukele, the country’s social media savvy, millennial leader, posted a cinematic video on Twitter announcing that El Salvador had just gone 365 days without a single homicide.
“El Salvador today is undisputedly the safest country in Latin America,” a dramatic voice narrates in the video.
AFP reported that the figure was “the total number of days without murders since 2019” rather than consecutive days.
Tourism minister Morena Valdez added on Twitter that the country had received one million visitors so far this year.
Until recently, El Salvador was largely unpopular on the “gringo trail,” other than with hardcore surfers. That’s because it repeatedly dropped in and out of the most violent nations on the planet lists.
In 2015, with at least 6,640 murders, it was ranked the most murderous country in the Western Hemisphere.
But El Salvador made headlines in 2021 when it became the first country in the world to make Bitcoin legal tender. Its eccentric leader has gone on Bitcoin-buying sprees and businesses now have to accept the cryptocurrency by law.
President Bukele has turned things around in the country by launching a historic crackdown on El Salvador’s notorious criminal groups. He in turn hopes to transform the country into a tech hub.
And Salvadorans seem pleased with the turnaround: Murders are down and Bukele regularly polls well.
But human rights groups have criticized his crime-tackling strategy and institutions like the World Bank and the IMF have slammed the Bitcoin idea.
Real data is hard to get hold of, too: No one other than the Salvadoran government knows how much murders have really dropped by—or how much Bitcoin the government owns.
Still, the impact of the Bitcoin and surf tourism campaign is undeniable. Travel guide giant Lonely Planet in November rated El Salvador as one of 11 top countries to visit in 2023.
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