A Guide to El Salvador Beaches

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A Guide to El Salvador Beaches

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With its gorgeous beaches that are popular with both surfers and swimmers, reasonably priced accommodations and warm weather, El Salvador makes for a pretty enticing beach destination. Surfers will find some of the best breaks in Central America. Those seeking an authentic local experience will find plenty of lively and hospitable villages to explore. Here’s your quick guide to El Salvador beaches and when to visit El Salvador for the best weather. Let’s start with the latter:


When to Go to El Salvador for Best Beach Weather

Although it’s a year-round warm-weather destination, you can think of El Salvador as having two main seasons, with six months each. (Remember that the seasons are opposite those in the northern hemisphere.) Summer is November through April; winter is May through October.
The most popular time to visit is between November and April (el verano, or summer), with December being the absolute prime time for swimming. The rainy season has just ended and the landscape is lush and beautiful. Keep in mind, though, that the rainy season (March through November) is the best for surfing, if that’s your thing. If you’re a beginner, you can find great surfing opportunities in the dry season. The dry season is also best for wildlife watching (with the exception of turtle watching; they come to next from May through November).


Where to Stay to Be Near the Beach in El Salvador
Just about all of the beaches we’ll look at below offer something in the way of accommodations, whether it’s a backpacker-friendly, budget hostel or an upscale, five-star resort. These are the villages you’ll want to aim for if you’re seeking direct or easy access to the ocean during your stay.

Now, on to our list of the best beaches and beach towns in El Salvador:

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1. La Libertad
The entire La Libertad area is considered among the top beach destinations in El Salvador. Surfers come here from all over the world to ride La Punta’s surf breaks. The vibrant beach town is just a half-hour from San Salvador and a perennial favorite of locals and backpackers who want to surf and swim all day, go fishing and feast on fresh, local ceviche at night. Part of the appeal in La Libertad is the smaller crowds as compared to other Central America beaches, including Jaco Beach in Costa Rica. Come during the dry season for smaller swells and more consistently pleasant swimming conditions; come in the winter for epic surf (10-foot waves!) at Punta Roca, La Bocana and La Paz. If it’s just sunbathing you’re after, head to pretty, white-sand Playa San Diego, with gentle waves more suited to swimming than surfing.


2. Playa El Tunco
Named for a rocky outcropping in the sea, Playa El Tunco and its dramatic dark, pebbly shoreline is another budget-friendly favorite in the La Libertad region (though a little quieter). Go caving at low tide or surf the intense breaks. Spend some time wandering along the budget-friendly beach town’s two main streets, full of smoothie and juice shops, swimwear boutiques and more. Don’t miss the famous Monkey Lala outdoor bar, where the craft cocktails go down as smoothly as the sunsets. In fact, El Tunco is known for having the best nightlife along the country’s northern coast.


3. Playa El Zonte
Another quieter La Libertad beach, El Zonte is a favorite with international surfers in-the-know. It’s more secluded than El Tunco and El Sunzal, so you’ll have the waves more to yourself.

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4. Costa del Sol
Decidedly more luxury than the La Libertad region, Costa del Sol’s sandy shorelines are lined with upscale homes, rentals and villas. The three main beaches here are Costa del Sol, San Marcelino and Los Blancos. Spend some time on the beaches, then head out for the popular three-hours boat tour of the Jaltepeque estuary – you’ll sail through mangrove tunnels at the confluence of the Rio Lempe and the Pacific Ocean. Global luxury-seeking guests, as well as locals, flock to the “Sun Coast” during Holy week, leading up to Easter. This is where to come for all the typical beach town amenities, including plenty of restaurants and water and sand sports.


5. Playa El Majahual
A top El Salvador backpacking destination, the beach village of El Majahual appeals most to those who are all about the authentic seaside lifestyle. While the beach isn’t the cleanest in the country, it makes up for it in sheer size. Locals and global visitors have found and loved it, so plan for it to be busy.


6. Playa El Cuco
If you have time for one El Salvador beach and want the most quintessential surfside experience, head to Playa El Cuco. This is another of the country’s dark-sand beaches and is lined with vendor huts, seafood eateries and palm trees. Playa El Cuco is a particular favorite of swimmers, who don’t always find calm beaches along the El Salvador coastline. Facing the Gulf of Fonseca – which El Salvador shares with Nicaragua and Honduras, Playa El Cuco is renowned for its peaceful swimming conditions.

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7. Playa El Sunzal
For striking black sand, come to Playa El Zunzal, a peaceful beach town with numerous upscale accommodations and epic waves. Families love it for the proximity to the Parque Acuatico El Sunzal waterpark. This is a great place to learn to surf, too, with waves ranging from rough to mild. Snorkeling and shallow scuba diving are popular here, as well.


8. Playa Las Flores
For the luxury-seeking surfer, Playa Las Flores is where it’s at. This black-sand beach in a natural cove, surrounded by vivid tropical flora, boasts an almost primordial setting. Add to this the Las Flores Resort and you have everything you could need for an indulgent warm-weather getaway. Wellness and nature are the key here, with spa experiences, yoga and surfing – all in a setting that makes guests feel at one with the nature around them. Even if you’re not a surfer, you can take lessons and get started. But it’s also just as beautiful as a luxurious beach getaway, complete with an infinity pool and sea-facing guest rooms.


9. Playa Los Cabanos
At Playa Los Cobanos in the Department of Sonsonate, you’ll get the best of both worlds – gorgeous golden sand juxtaposed with rugged, black volcanic coral and rocky outcroppings. The beach boasts the only coral reef of volcanic origin on the Central America Pacific coast. It’s also the largest coral reef between Panama and Mexico, making it a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers who come to see the tropical fish, sea snails and urchins. Look for the white and gray herons that hand out by the seashore.

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10. Playa El Esteron
Looking for an off-the-beaten-path beach in El Salvador. Visit Playa El Esteron. It’s almost-black-sand beach stretches forever in both directions. The surf is gentle and the backpacker population not quite as heavy, so it’s s nice choice for peace-seeking families. Rent a hammock and hang out until sunset.


11. Playa El Tamarindo
Another undeveloped favorite, Playa El Tamarindo is as remote as it gets. Look for its at the tip of the peninsula. From here, you can se the Conchagua Volcano, the islands in the Gulf of Fonseca and the coast of Nicaragua.


12. Playa El Espino
This wide, beautiful beach is the place to go for sunbathing and simply enjoying a relaxing day of sun, sea and surf. It’s uncrowded on weekdays and lively on weekends and holidays.


13. Playa Maculis
Another El Salvador secret beach, Playa Maculis is a beautiful, one-mile-long, crescent-shaped beach. There are two rocky points at either end, sandwiching a beautiful, sandy stretch with very few houses and lots of trees. The protected waters are great for swimming as they’re unaffected by the dangerous lateral current that is usually present at El Salvador beaches.


El Salvador is more than just golden- and black-sand beaches on the Pacific coast. Try these beaches of a different variety!

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Lake Ilopango
This crater lake in central El Salvador dates back to between 410 and 535 AD. The lake is the country’s largest and sits at 1,450 feet. Locals and visitors flock here for the calm glassy waters and the views of the volcanic peaks in the distance. You can even dive for fish in the water, which reaches up to almost 800 feet deep.


Lake Coatepeque
This crater lake in Cerro Verde National Park is one of the most-visited attractions in El Salvador. You can go kayaking and boating on the lake, as well as fishing, scuba diving, jet skiing and swimming.


Lake Suchitlan
This is the largest artificial lake in El Salvador and attracts all kinds of visitors for its delightful town of Suchitoto, boat rides and trips to the small lake islands like Bird Island, El Chaparral, El Leon, El Burro and Trinidad. Kayaking, birding and fishing are among the top activities at Lake Suchitlan.


Lake Guija
A great destination for those interested in ecotourism, this lake of volcanic origin is shared between El Salvador and Guatemala. Its notable wetlands are home to an array of flora and fauna. There’s a fair bit of Mayan history to learn about here, too – the lake was a center of Maya activity in the pre-classic period. Check out the views of the surrounding volcanoes of Mita, San Diego and Cerro Quemado. You can visit the island of Iguatepec – don’t miss the ancient carved stones found along the shoreline.


Barra de Jiquilisco/Barra de Santiago
Kayak the mangroves – an important habitat to the country’s flora and fauna – at Barra de Jiquilisco or Barra de Santiago. You’ll see the root systems of the impressive mangroves and might see crocodiles. These two mangroves, in particular, are navigable by kayak. Sign up with a local outfitter for a guided day trip. Barra de Santiago is particularly noted for its views of volcanoes and the chance to see sea turtles lay their eggs.


What Seafood Should I Eat in El Salvador
Would it be too presumptuous to say, “all of it”? Truly, any of the above beach destinations are perfect for sampling El Salvador’s fresh, local seafood after a long day of swimming or surfing. Whether you’re at an upscale, sit-down restaurant or grabbing a plate to-go from a beach hut, you’re in for a delectable treat. You’ll find catch-of-the-day specials featuring fish, calamari, shrimp, clams, crab, lobster and more. Here are the most popular seafood dishes to try when you’re in El Salvador:

  • Ceviche de camarones – a delightful and refreshing blend of lime, lemon, avocado, tomato, onion, chili pepper and shrimp
  • Pescado renello de camarones – grilled or breaded stuffed fish with shrimp, typically served with a cream sauce and garlic
  • Paella – a lavish rich dish with lobster, shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, sea crab and spice

I’m Backpacking in El Salvador. Where Can I Stay Close to the Beach or Water?
El Salvador is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in Central America and with good reason. There are countless authentic villages to explore, jungles, beaches, budget-friendly eats and a range of accommodations options. If you’re a backpacker at heart, head for these El Salvador locales to be by the beach (both ocean and lake options are given):

  • La Libertad – for the most-visited beaches, including El Tunco and El Sunzal, the surfing, the beach bungalows, the laid-back surf culture and the seafood
  • Suchitoto – for the nearby Lake Suchitlan and its islands and the waterfalls of La Cascada Los Tercios
  • Santa Ana – for proximity to Lake Coatepeque
  • The Wild East – for some of the country’s best surf breaks and a true off-the-grid atmosphere

I Want to Stay in a Luxury Resort in El Salvador. Where Should I Go?
Hostel life not for you? Try these upscale favorites for a luxury surf vacation:

  • Casa Il Bon Gustaio Boutique Hotel, San Salvador – for whitewashed rooms, incredible artwork and a stylish, boutique setting close to the city’s Zona Rosa
  • Las Olas Beach House, Balsamo Coas – for a gorgeous setting on the Balsamo Coast, a cliff-side infinity pool, surfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, off-road motorcycling, horseback riding and more
  • Suites Las Palmas, San Salvador – for hip city digs within an easy drive of the best beaches in El Salvador, a pool, Jacuzzi, Asian-fusion dining and proximity to the city’s best restaurants and shopping
  • La Cocotera, Barra de Santiago – for an intimate ecolodge setting with an international flair, access to water on property and spacious rooms

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