El Salvador's compact size and good infrastructure make it easy to reach spectacular volcano climbs and memorable hikes through national parks, while the country's Pacific coastline is an increasingly popular surfing spot, offering low prices and reliable waves.
Diving in El Salvador does not compare with nearby Honduras or Belize, but there is a decent reef at Los Cóbanos, and the chance to explore the depths of Lago de Coatepeque and Lago de Ilopango outside the capital. The best time for diving is from October to February. One recommended operator is El Salvador Divers, offering open-water and advanced certification courses for around US$350.
Parque Nacional El Imposible, near the border with Guatemala, rewards hikers with lush primary forest. Use Tacuba as your base. The Ruta de las Flores offers waterfall and hot-springs hikes; find guides for hire in Juayúa. Parque Nacional Los Volcanes, with two climbable volcanoes, is a unique destination.
Further north, the pristine Parque Nacional Montecristo is renowned for wildlife. Access is difficult and the summit is closed during the May-to-November mating season. Hikes from the northwestern towns of La Palma and San Ignacio offer stunning views. You can access El Salvador’s highest peak (Cerro El Pital; 2730m) from here.
The northeastern state of Morazán, in particular Perquín, has a cool climate and fine hiking. As a longtime stronghold of the FMLN, it also has engaging and sobering sites related to the civil war.
Warm water, powerful right-hand waves and relatively small crowds make El Salvador a world-class surfing destination. The Costa del Bálsamo is the place to go. Punta Roca, the country’s most notorious wave, is found at the port of La Libertad, only 30km south of the capital; from here a whole string of testing breaks and all-service surf lodges are found within a short taxi ride. Your best bets for lessons are in Playa El Zonte, or at a number of places in Playa El Tunco.
Further east are less crowded breaks at Las Flores and El Cuco. It gets really big between May and August, but you can pretty much surf year-round.
El Salvador’s Top Five Surf Spots
With 16 right-hand point breaks and 28°C (82°F) water swarming with sea turtles, what’s not to love? Our favorites:
Punta Roca Iconic for a reason. Central America’s best wave is often compared to South Africa’s J Bay. A rocky bottom makes it fast and strong. Bring just your board – theft is common on the walk to the point.
Las Flores A fast sandy point break best at low tide. Picture a hollow take-off ending on a black-sand beach. A 300m ride is possible – welcome to the Wild East. From here you can also reach the infamous Punta Mango by boat. Don't drop in!
Playa El Sunzal The most popular wave in El Salvador; a fun, consistently big right-hander with a seasoned surf crowd.
Playa El Zonte Oodles of foam and plenty of instructors on hand make this pretty, largely protected beach an ideal place to learn.
Playa El Palmarcito A bit of a secret, this little beauty can serve up tasty waves for all levels when conditions are right.