Even though El Salvador is the only country in Central America without a Caribbean coast, there is no shortage of beaches along the South Pacific Ocean.
With so many quaint villages, surfer friendly waters, and pristine beaches to choose from you could spend weeks hopping from one oasis to the next.
Here’s a list of 12 beaches that will have you planning your next trip back before your feet even leave the sand.
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1. Playa El Zonte
The surfer village of Playa El Zonte is usually overlooked, which means you can enjoy the same great vibes without the large tourist crowd.
Surfers will be pleased to know that El Zonte has some of the best surf in the country, and its variety of breaks support surfers whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between. If you’ve never been out on the water, there are quite a few surfing schools that can help you test the waters.
Although the waters on the west side are rocky from the incoming waves, the east side of the beach sports soft, black sand and shallow, calmer waters, so get ready to get your swim on! It’s also the perfect place to lay out your towel and relax the day away. Arrive early, set up a chair on the beach, and watch the sunrise – or stay late, swing in a hammock, and watch the sunset.
Stop by La Mision Hatchery for a chance to see workers guide freshly hatched sea turtles safely back to the water. If the tide is low, head west past the hatchery to check out some of the sea caves hidden beneath the cliffs.
Many small restaurants line the beach selling quick, authentic meals so feel free to hop between restaurants once you’ve worked up an appetite.
2. Playa El Sunzal
Off the beaten path, El Sunzal is an up-and-coming beach that offers a large selection of water-based activities. Feel free to spend your day taking in the sun along the white, sandy beaches with a cocktail in hand.
Rent a surfboard for only ten dollars and get out on the water to try out some calmer wave surfing. Keep in mind, the area is prone to point breaks every so often.
Observe the marine life that calls El Salvador home by snorkeling or scuba diving in the clear, aqua waters.
Although there are no amenities located directly on the beach, they are just a short walk away.
Don’t forget to try a tasty seafood meal, like the lobster pizza, at La Hola Beto’s.
3. Barra de Santiago
Established as a protective wetland by the International Important Wetland Relative Convention in 2014, Barra de Santiago is an untouched beach of raw beauty with a thriving wildlife population.
The pristine beach goes on for miles to guarantee you have a section of the soft, sandy shore all to yourself, and is surrounded by a lush mangrove forest so you can listen to the sounds of nature and observe aquatic bird species.
Out in the distance you’ll see the hills of Parque Imposible and a range of volcanoes extending from Guatemala to Volcán de Izalco in El Salvador’s Parque Nacional de Los Volcanes.
Plan your trip between August and November to get the chance to see giant sea turtles climbing up the shore to lay their eggs or even the treacherous journey of hatchlings making their way back to the water.
The channels of water in the mangrove forest are perfect for kayak adventures, and pathways make exploring on foot possible.
When you are feeling famished, take the 15-minute walk to the tiny hut, Restaurante Julita, to enjoy a meal of freshly caught fish.
4. Playa El Majahual
Located so close to the capital, El Majahual is a popular beach amongst locals and tourists alike. its calm, warm waters that are perfect for swimming.
Although you won’t find solitude at this beach, there is a large variety of activities and amenities to keep the public happy. To ensure that you score a spot on the beach, arrive early and try to avoid the holiday season when possible.
Many vendors line the beach in ramadas, offering a selection of local products. You can find cocktails, seafood, and other dishes for as little as one dollar.
Spend the night in one of the town’s small hotels or, even better, sleep out on the beach under a ramada.
5. Costa del Sol
Named “the coast of the sun”, it is no surprise that the beaches along Costa del Sol are a fan favorite amongst tourists. The main beach is the largest in the country and tends to get the most crowded. If you want room to spread out, consider Beach San Marcelino or Los White Beach.
Make sure to grab a map when you arrive so that you can efficiently navigate through a day of fun activities.
Join a game of beach soccer or hit the courts at one of the beach’s volleyball courts.
Check out the mouth of the Lempa River, sneak over to the hidden Los Negros Beach, and venture through the mangoves at the estuary of Jaltepeque.
There are vendors and food trucks around the beach waiting for you to grab a quick bite. Watch the sunset as you enjoy a flavorful dinner at one of the many restaurants on Montecristo Island.
As a tourist hotspot, the area is overflowing with accommodations that are budget friendly to over the top – and everything in between.
6. Playa Los Cobanos
For a unique beach experience, head over to Playa Los Cobanos where the gold sandy shores are a product of a rare volcanic coral reef. Large volcanic rocks shape the waters to create calm pools, perfect for a relaxing day of swimming. The beach is located in a remote area so there aren’t any amenities on site.
With the one-off volcanic coral reef in all of Central America just a short boat ride away, the area is popular for snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. For experienced divers, multiple shipwrecks lay along the seafloor waiting to be explored. Give Salvadoran Touring Company a call for humpback whale watching tours.
Located within a fishing village, each small restaurant has its own catch of the day special. There are many accommodations and a variety of all-inclusive options to make the most of your trip.
7. Playa El Esteron
There is no place like the nearly deserted Playa El Esteron when you’re looking for a lazy day (or week) on the beach. The combination of gold and grey sand makes the shore a stunning sight, and the lack of towels and beach chairs leaves the beach exposed in the best way possible.
Enjoy the endless options to sunbathe along the empty beach and hangout with the sea turtles. It is the perfect place to escape the party scene of beaches like El Tunco, so sit back and relax with a pina colada in hand.
There are a few restaurants and bars located in the dunes behind the beach, but aside from this, there are no amenities in the area.
8. Playa El Palmarcito
Located in La Libertad, Playa El Palmarcito is a primitive beach hidden in the lesser known, rural area of El Salvador.
The beach may be short, but its lack of tourists and surrounding rocky cliffs makes for a secluded sunbathing experience. The calm waters makes it the ideal location for beginner and intermediate surfers, and surfing lessons are available onsite.
Treehouse restaurants overlook the beach serving flavorful seafood dishes and classic cocktails.
Right on the beach there is a hostel with 15 rooms, perfect for those who enjoy the simplicity of nature and the feeling of primal living.
For something with a touch of luxury, head over to the Atami Beach Club, located atop one of the rocky cliffs, to rent a beach house with breathtaking views of the water.
9. Playa El Cuco
As one of the most popular beaches in El Salvador, tourists flock to this beach year round – and with good reason. Thanks to its vast sandy shore and its hidden oasis vibes, you can walk the beach and sink your feet in the incredibly soft sand, play soccer with the locals, and lay back and sunbathe the day away.
The tranquil waters are perfect for enjoying a day of swimming, but not for surfing.
The beach is the complete opposite of its close competitor, Playa El Tunco, with its underdeveloped village town and absence of amenities like a supermarket or ATM.
You won’t find a lively night scene here since most bars are closed by 10 PM, but there is no better place to spend a weekend, unplug, and enjoy pure relaxation. With that in mind, make sure to bring all the cash you intend to spend for the day as credit cards are not accepted.
Small restaurants are just a few steps off the beach and serve fresh seafood and Salvadoran food. Basic accommodations are available and although they may not be the fanciest, they usually come with a meal package.
10. Lago de Coatepeque
While not technically a beach, visiting the volcanic Lago de Coatepeque is a must, with a variety of activities to get you out on the water and bathing in the sun. Tourists tend to visit on the weekends, so plan your trip during the week to beat the crowds.
Most of the beach towns in El Salvador are very basic, but this is one of the few areas where you can see how the rich live – with mansions overlooking the water.
Spend the day kayaking, boating, jet skiing or paddle boarding on the lake. Boat tours cost as little as ten dollars, and guests can stop to swim in the crystal clear waters.
The many pier restaurants located along the lake provide breathtaking views with every meal.
Right outside of town is the National Park of Cerro Verde where you can hike around a mountain and climb up two different volcanoes.
11. Playa El Tunco
When people hear “beach vacation in El Salvador”, they usually think of Playa El Tunco, the most popular beach in the country – with a reputation for its party scene.
El Tunco, “the pig”, is named after the massive black rock in the center of the beach that resembles an upside down pig. Smaller rocks create an ever changing view, as the strong tides push and pull them across the shore.
The large waves are the ultimate playground for experienced surfers – while swimming is not recommended. When the tide is low you can walk along the northern edge of the beach to explore the different sea caves.
The beach town provides relaxing vibes during the day and transforms into a night of music and excitement at sundown. Sip a margarita in the shade of the palm trees, relax and swing in a hammock, walk into town for a smoothie and a pedicure, or lay out in the sun as you watch surfers ride the waves. Admire the orange and pink skies with a drink in hand as the sun sets, starting a night of partying.
Stuff your face with Pupusas, an El Salvador favorite, for as little as 50 cents a piece. They’re made with a variation of different fillings to please your taste buds.
With just two streets and an abundance of bars to choose from, you can spend the night hopping from one bar to the next while enjoying the live music on the beach.
12. Playa Intiputa
Located right next to Playa El Cuco, Playa Intiputa is a less populated beach day alternative. Listen to the sounds of the clear waters crashing on the soft, sandy shore and the marine birds overhead as you enjoy a beach to yourself.
Known for its selection of hand-crafted beers, you can relax on the beach with a drink in hand. Although the area is not well known, there is a surprising amount of amenities to suit all of your needs.
For the best experience, spend the night at La Tortuga Verde, the gorgeous hotel that doubles as a turtle sanctuary.