El Salvador is known for many things: volcanoes, civil war, pupusas, and coffee to name a few. But the biggest draw to this Central American gem, by far, is the selection of awe-inspiring beaches. Given its jagged coastline, there are dozens of very different yet equally stunning El Salvador beaches, often just a few minutes’ drive apart.
After many weeks travelling this country and exploring its gorgeous coast, we’ve put together this list of the best beaches in El Salvador!
Perhaps you’re looking for a beach town with great nightlife or a remote and isolated spot to disconnect for a while. Maybe you’re an expert surfer or just looking to give it a try. Whether you’re looking for a luxury resort with pristine sands or a quiet surf village to sit and watch the sunset over the sea, El Salvador has a beach for you.
Playa El Tunco
If you’re passing through El Salvador for any length of time, I almost guarantee you’ll stop in El Tunco. This is the quintessential El Salvador beach town. El Tunco is the heartbeat of the country’s backpacker culture; so much so that it’s likely the most visited spot in the entire country.
The beach along El Tunco is a mix of smooth, black sand and large rocks. Even its name comes from the large, jagged formation jutting from the sea. The beach can get a little rough for swimming, especially at high tide when crossing the rocks. But it’s one of the best surf destinations in the country.
Pros | Plenty of things to do, and a ton of options for food and accommodation.
Cons | Beach is rocky outside of low tide.
El Sunzal, El Salvador
I’ve always made little distinction between Sunzal (sometimes Zunzal) and El Tunco. Though two different towns, they share the same kilometre or so of shoreline.
Sunzal the town has very few options for accommodation or food, but the beach is smoother and has fewer rocks. It’s also a great destination for surfing and (mind-blowingly impressive) stand-up paddleboard surfing. In December 2019, the International Surf Association held the SUP world championships in El Sunzal!
Pros | Nice beach for relaxing, great for surfing, close to El Tunco for conveniences.
Cons | Not much in the town aside from higher-end accommodation.
Playa El Cuco, El Salvador
Until recently, El Cuco has been the “other beach” to El Tunco’s popularity. On the opposite side of the country, an hour south of sweltering San Miguel, is a long stretch of flat, sandy beach. The town of El Cuco has far less to offer, tourism wise, as some of the western beaches, but that’s the charm for many visitors.
In El Cuco, unless you’re staying at La Tortuga Verde with the rest of the tourists, you’ll have a much more local experience. During the few days we spent in and around Cuco, we didn’t encounter another foreigner.
The beach at El Cuco is wide, sandy, and unlike most El Salvador beaches, relatively calm regarding waves — so it’s great for swimming. As well, Most of the shore, opposite the water’s edge, is lined with local restaurants selling fresh seafood.
Pros | Swimmable beach, lots of sand.
Cons | Very busy on the weekends, garbage on the beach
This is our favourite town on the beaches in El Salvador. Just a few kilometres up the coast from El Tunco is El Zonte, a much smaller surf town that is just beginning to reach the tourism map.
The beauty of El Zonte is that it has two separate beaches. On one side of town, you’ll find some of the best surf in the country. It’s almost impossible to swim here though, due to the waves and all rock beach. If you’re not an experienced surfer yourself, it’s a great spot to grab a beer, sit back on the shore or a beachfront restaurant, and watch some outstanding surfers shred the powerful waves.
Across the river on the west side of town, the beach is almost all sand, aside from some nice rock formations around the edges. The sand is silky smooth and the water here is calm and warm. It’s the perfect spot for beginner surfers to take lessons or just a great place to swim in the soothing ocean.
Pros | Fantastic beach for swimming.
Cons | No tents or trees offering shade from the hot sun.
Costa del Sol, El Salvador
For the luxury traveller, Costa del Sol is a brilliant strip of beach lined with higher-end resorts. Here you’ll find a long stretch of pearl-coloured sand and soft waves rolling onto the shore. Most of the resorts here have private beach access, and usually have their own pools and cool, shaded garden areas.
There isn’t much of a town in the resort strip at Costa del Sol, but the hotels have some great restaurants featuring incredible seafood straight from the ocean.
Pros | Great, swimmable beaches and comfortable resorts.
Cons | Few services outside of the hotels, only a few small restaurants and shops at the far end of the road.
Isla de Tasajera
The yin to Costa del Sol’s yang. Directly across the inlet, where the ocean meets the freshwater lake, is Isla Tasajera. Just a short, $5 boat ride from the end of the resort strip is a quasi-island, cut off from the rest of the mainland by dense mangroves. There are no paved roads on Tasajera, one small village, and a spattering of small communities and farms.
The beach here is the same strip as you’ll find along the rest of the Costa del Sol, with one major exception: there’s absolutely nothing else on the beach. For as far as the eye can see it’s just sand, a few bits of driftwood, and nature. No hotels, no houses, and no traffic — aside from the odd horse-drawn wagon along the sandy street.
Tasajera doesn’t have a lot to offer for conveniences. There are a few small shops selling necessities, a handful of restaurants and pupuserias, and a couple of bars on the freshwater side. Accommodation options are also limited, and aside from the beach and main town, no WiFi. But what Tasajera lacks in conveniences, it makes up for in calm.
This is the place you come to slow down, to take a break — a digital detox. Swing in a hammock, swim in the sea, eat pupusas, repeat.
Pros | A seemingly endless stretch of beach with almost nobody around, perfect spot to unplug.
Cons | Very few services on the island, no WiFi if you work online.
Playa Las Flores is our Favourite El Salvador Beach
There are two beaches in El Salvador sharing the name Las Flores. The one most people refer to is in the fishing city of La Libertad, not far from El Tunco. However, for the sake of our picks for the best beaches in El Salvador, this one didn’t make the cut.
The Las Flores we’re referring to is just outside El Cuco. Although El Cuco may have a long and seemingly endless stretch of sand, turning west the town ends abruptly against a wall of rock. Head up the road several kilometres, and you’ll arrive in the secluded cove of Las Flores.
If El Zonte is our favourite beach village, this is absolutely our pick for best beach in El Salvador. The rocky cliffs and dense bush surrounding the bay give it a remote, almost protected vibe. Beautiful rock formations, velvety sand, calm water and even a few waves along the edge, make Las Flores the perfect beach.
Pros | Amazing sand, few crowds, and a small restaurant open on weekends.
Cons | Far to walk from town; no other services, aside from hotels, nearby.
Lago de Coatepeque
Alright, so this isn’t technically a beach, but this stunning crater lake is getting an honourable mention. Just a short drive from Santa Ana, in the caldera of a massive volcano, is the brilliantly blue Lago de Coatepeque.
The thing with Coatepeque is that nearly all of the shoreline is privately owned. Unless you’re staying at one of the higher-end hotels, or happen to be a wealthy Salvadoran celebrity (Oh hi there, we’re great house guests!), you’re very limited with options. Public beaches are non-existent for visitors.
However, the lone budget hostel we found, Captain Morgan, is a great place to relax and take a swim. Even if you aren’t a guest, you can pop in and spend the day for a small fee. Rent kayaks or just go for a swim in the thermal vent-heated lake. The water is 11 metres deep right off the patio, so you can grab some lunch, sip on a cold beer, and literally dive right from your chair into the crystal clear water.
Pros | Great temperature and crystal clear water.
Cons | Not technically a beach; limited accommodation options.