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Introducing La Libertad

El Salvador’s most infamous port still sports an uneasy mix of drugs, crime and surfing, but there is change in the salty air. From the fabulous, sticky fish market on the pier to the sunset barrels on famed Punta Roca point, local authorities have poured money into gentrifying an otherwise sketchy patch of prime coastal real estate. Police abound; cool cafes, bars and restaurants hawk for passing custom; and an amphitheatre, skate park and convention center invite corporate and community events.

Off the beach La Libertad is still a stinking-hot, working-class city with far more energy, souped-up buses and loud-mouthed touting than you’d expect for a town of such modest proportions. Most travelers bypass it for the more chilled-out beaches to the west, but it’s an ideal stop for banks and other amenities, or for a steady dose of seaside grit.