El Salvador is known for many things: volcanoes, civil war, pupusas, and coffee, to name a few. But by far, the biggest draw to this Central American gem is its selection of stunning beaches. Given its rugged coastline, there are dozens of El Salvador’s very different but equally impressive beaches, often separated by only a few minutes drive.
After a few days of traveling around this country and exploring its beautiful coastline, I have put together this list of the best beaches in El Salvador.
Maybe you’re looking for a beach town with great nightlife or a remote and secluded place to unwind for a while. Perhaps you’re an expert surfer or want to try it out. Whether you’re looking for a luxury resort with pristine sands or a quiet surfing village to sit and watch the sunset over the sea, El Salvador has a beach for you.
Information about the beaches of El Salvador
El Salvador has 307 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Fonseca, a body of water shared with Honduras and Nicaragua.
Imagine how many beaches can you find along that coast!
I emphasize this because I will not be able to cover all the beaches in this blog post. I have to choose some based on specific criteria.
Now, I think I’m talking about some excellent places below. So, people from all over the world visit the beaches of El Salvador. Every die-hard surfer I know has been or wants to go.
I hope you get some inspiration from this article.
Fact: El Salvador is the only Central American country with no Caribbean coastline. To experience both the Pacific and the Caribbean, travel to Nicaragua.
Best beaches to stay in El Salvador
Barra de Santiago
If you don’t mind spending some time in paradise, take my advice and head to Barra de Santiago.
This natural wonder of El Salvador consists of a narrow strip of land (hence the name “barra”) that separates from the ocean an area where several rivers flow into it. As a result, an estuary full of mangroves, birds, crocodiles, and turtles has been created.
Due to the calm waters, water sports such as kayaking, sailing, water skiing, and stand-up paddling are popular. You can also organize fishing excursions. It is common to see dozens of dolphins when sailing in the estuary waters. In addition, there are shallow areas where you can jump from a boat and put yourself in the open sea (an incredible experience).
On the “bar” itself, you can find several restaurants that offer views of the estuary/sea and excellent food. If you want to dine on the water, head to the Merendero Jaragua.
If you want to see the place where the estuary opens to the sea, visit the Villas del Mar Restaurant.
I advise you to spend one or two nights in the area. Some excellent resorts include La Cocotera (elegant and expensive), Capricho Beach House, and Katymar.
This beach has a complete tourist infrastructure. Here you will find a boardwalk, a fishermen’s pier (where you can buy fresh fish), a varied culinary offer, two viewpoints, surf breaks, and multiple lodging options.
For incredible views, head to the El Majahua lookout, the Acajutla restaurant, or the La Cueva restaurant. Your jaw will drop when you see the cliffs and caves sculpted by the ocean.
To the north is a scenic spot where two sandbars almost touch but are “cut off” by the mouth of the Sensunapan and La Barranca rivers.
That’s the perfect place to satisfy your craving for salt air without much effort.
Playa Los Cobanos
This golden sand beach I know for its easy access, gastronomic offer, and panoramic views of Punta Remedios.
Some parts of the beach offer soft sand, while others are rocky. The good news is that natural pools are formed, suitable for relaxing swimming.
The Royal Decameron Salinitas, a vast all-inclusive resort, is less than 8 km away. Los Cubanos can get crowded with visitors from the resort. If you’re looking for a quiet environment, try to walk as far east as possible to claim your spot.
The great thing about Los Cobanos is that you can book snorkeling (there is a protected offshore coral reef), scuba diving, and whale watching excursions. Ask in town for service providers.
There are many options for dining and lodging on-site (or nearby).
Playa El Zonte
Zonte is a small surf town bounded by Route 2 (almost entirely) and the ocean.
Visitors prefer its laid-back atmosphere to the hectic scene of the more popular beaches in the area. Crowds are minimal, the surf is good, and prices are affordable.
The trade-off is that there is not much to see and do. Of course, this is a relative observation. For some, surfing, bodyboarding, beach soccer, grilling fish, swimming in the ocean, hanging in a hammock, and socializing with friends are more than enough.
Or, you can base yourself on this beach and take cheap public transportation to more developed beaches in the area or some fun businesses on Route 2.
Atami y la Playa El Palmarcito
After El Zonte, Route 3 turns slightly inland and creates an elliptical shape concerning the ocean. Inside the ellipse, you will find the village of Atami. The town’s beach is known as El Palmarcito.
It is another low-key surf town full of resorts, lodges, and seafood shacks—high cliffs inside a cove flank the beach. You have incredible viewpoints at both ends of the cove (Palmarcito Point and Mirador Altos del Palmar). Head to La Isla for dinner while admiring the stunning ocean views.
Atami has gained some notoriety for the photogenic Atami Escape Resort and its rock pools. It is the ideal place to take photos for Instagram. In addition, restaurants like EL Pelicano, Donde Tiola, and Seafood Bar are right on the beach.
Playa El Tunco
Without a doubt, El Tunco is one of the most popular beaches (at least among tourists) in El Salvador. The chances are that when you look for a photo of El Salvador, you will see pictures of the beach’s famous rock formations.
Because of its popularity, lodging options in town cater to international visitors. You’ll find eco-lodges, chic beach houses, surf lodges, and spaces designed for yoga retreats. There are also more straightforward options (note that this place is popular with backpackers).
As for food, you can find tacos, wings, sushi, burgers, pizzas, and modern interpretations of Salvadoran food. It is also easy to find typical dishes (pupusas, fried yucca, empanadas, seafood).
In addition, it is one of the best places in the country to find healthy food offerings, such as cereal bowls, fruit plates, salads, smoothies, and squeezed juices.
While the city offers a lot, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a small place. People come here to surf, learn to surf, jump on the beach and be part of the night scene.
Operators like Tunco Life offer daily excursions to the Ruta de las Flores, Santa Ana Volcano, and Tamanique Waterfalls. In addition, you can arrange tours to Suchitoto, San Salvador, and archaeological sites.
You can walk west of El Tunco to check out El Sunzal, another cool surf town with a golf club, a famous coffee shop, and beachfront accommodations.
Before you get to La Libertad, east of town is another nice string of beaches (El Majahual, Conchalio) with beach resorts, eco-villas, breweries, and seafood restaurants. If you don't like crowds, staying in one of these areas might be a good idea. You'll have quick access to the most popular cities, but you can retreat to your quiet place when necessary.
Playa El Sunzal
I have always made little distinction between Sunzal (sometimes Zunzal) and El Tunco. Although they are two different towns, they share the same kilometer of coastline.
Sunzal, the town, has very few lodging or food options, but the beach is gentler and has fewer rocks. It is also an excellent destination for surfing and paddle surfing (mind-blowingly awesome). In December 2019, the International Surfing Association held the SUP world championships at El Sunzal.
Pros: Nice beach for relaxing, excellent for surfing, close to El Tunco for amenities.
Cons: Not much in town other than the upscale accommodations.
La Libertad is a hugely popular place with the locals (unlike El Tunco, which resonates more with tourists). It is the place to go on weekends to escape the city. In addition, there are excellent roads connecting the town to the capital and the international airport.
Now, this is not necessarily a place to go for a dip in the water (although there are designated swimming areas). The main attractions are the pier, the fish market, and the dozens of seafood restaurants lining the waterfront. People go for cocktails (shrimp, black clams, octopus, snails), fried fish, and seafood stew.
Many restaurants sell typical dishes, ice cream, cakes, and coffee. Don’t worry if seafood is not your thing. There are stores and stalls selling handicrafts, clothing, shoes, and souvenirs.
Tour operators such as Tunco Life, Nahuat Tours, and EC Tours take visitors to colorful villages, volcanoes, archaeological sites, lakes, waterfalls, and thermal pools. You can arrange transportation to other cities in the country and other points of interest in Central America.
South of La Libertad, you can visit the Walter Thilo Deininger National Park, the Walter Deininger Adventure Park, and several beaches (Ticuisapa, San Diego, and El Amatal).
I advise staying at one of the other beaches we have talked about (El Zonte, El Sunzal, El Tunco) and spending some time in La Libertad.
Costa del Sol
According to experts, Costa del Sol is the most developed coastal resort in El Salvador. It also has the longest beach in the country (about 13 kilometers, although some consider it a different beach).
The area has a geographic similarity to Barra de Santiago. The Costa del Sol Boulevard, where most of the services are located, stretches along a narrow strip of land. On one side, you have the ocean, and on the other, the Estero de Jaltepeque.
From the different marinas, you can tour the islands of the estuary (for bird, mammal, and reptile watching), organize a fishing excursion, or explore the mouth of the Lempa River (El Salvador’s largest river).
Another fun thing to do is that there are companies that rent jet skis, kayaks, surfboards, and stand-up paddles. If you prefer land adventures, you can rent bicycles or quads.
You can enjoy a resort with two swimming pools and cabanas for an affordable price.
As for food, you will not suffer as there are restaurants for different tastes. Seafood reigns supreme here.
Note that you can access the Estero de Jaltepeque from San Luis La Herradura.
Playa el Cuco
The list of beaches in El Salvador would not be complete without mentioning El Cuco. That’s another of the most famous beaches and one of the most visited places by people living in the eastern part of the country. Personally, it is one of my favorite beaches in El Salvador.
El Cuco is known for its long stretch of black sand. There are several areas where the water is calm. Therefore, staying in the water without being swept away by the waves is feasible.
The town of El Cuco is tiny. Be prepared to relax if you prefer more action, head next door to Las Flores beach. This surf spot is protected by cliffs and offers panoramic views. There are excellent accommodation options for those who like the surfing lifestyle (or want to learn to surf).
From El Cuco, you can explore the coast (Punta Mango, Playa El Esterón) and other areas of the Department of San Miguel (Laguna Olomega, Chaparrastique or San Miguel Volcano).
Playa el Tamarindo
This beach is one of the most beautiful in El Salvador. It is undeveloped and remote. Therefore, it is little visited. The beach is almost at the tip of a peninsula, and, in the distance, you can see the Conchagua volcano, the islands of the Gulf of Fonseca, and the coast of Nicaragua.
You can find lodging and restaurants in El Jaguey or Playa Las Tunas.
Playa les Flores
Two beaches in El Salvador share the name Las Flores. The one most people mention the fishing town of La Libertad, not far from El Tunco. However, this one didn’t cut our selection of the best beaches in El Salvador.
The Las Flores beach we are referring to is on the outskirts of El Cuco. Although El Cuco may have a long and seemingly endless stretch of sand, the town ends abruptly against a rock wall as you turn west. Head up the road for several kilometers, and you’ll come to the secluded cove of Las Flores.
If El Zonte is our favorite beach town, this is our choice for the best beach in El Salvador. The rocky cliffs and dense bushes surrounding the bay give it a remote, almost sheltered feel. Beautiful rock formations, velvety sand, calm water, and even some waves on the shore make Las Flores the perfect beach.
Lago de Coatepeque
Okay, it’s not technically a beach, but this stunning crater lake gets an honorable mention. A short distance from Santa Ana, in the caldera of a colossal volcano, lies the brilliantly blue Lago de Coatepeque.
The problem with Coatepeque is that almost the entire shoreline is privately owned. Unless you’re staying at one of the higher-end hotels or you’re a wealthy Salvadoran celebrity, your options are minimal. Public beaches are non-existent for visitors.
However, the only inexpensive hostel we found, Captain Morgan, is a great place to relax and take a swim. Even if you are not a guest, you can come and spend the day for a small fee. Rent kayaks or take a dip in the fan-heated thermal lake. The water is 11 meters deep, right next to the patio, so you can grab something to eat, grab a cold beer, and dive from your chair into the crystal clear water.
If you were left wanting more beaches, look at the best beaches in Bocas del Toro, Panama. They are gorgeous!
By the way, what did you think of the best beaches in El Salvador? Leave your opinions in the comments. Learn how to travel safely in El Salvador. Check out my guide to this country.
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