Tiny Central American nation of El Salvador is in the process of shedding its civil war strewn image for a beach one. The center of the country’s blossoming tourist scene is the laidback region of La Libertad’s Balsamo Coast, a 20-mile string of black sand beaches and fishing villages and one of Central America’s top surf spots. The most visited destination is the backpacker and surfer haunts of Playa El Tunco, El Sunzal and La Bocana, which are about 40 minutes from San Salvador’s Comalapa International Airport. This string of connected beaches are an ideal place to kick back in a hammock after a day in the sun with a cold $1 beer while listening to Spanish reggae. Direct flights from New York and the lack of currency exchange (they use the U.S. dollar) add to the allure.
Quick Guide to the Balsamo Coast
Where to eat
La Dolce Vita: An Italian chef runs this 20-year-old seafood restaurant near the port area of La Libertad. Dishes: curried shrimp or squid ink rice with calamari. ladolcevita.com.sv
La Bocana Restaurant: A seaside beach shack on Playa Tunco with the area’s best ceviches. restaurantelabocana.com
Café Sunzal: An upscale eatery on a clifftop with sweeping Pacific views. A creative menu with dishes like watermelon carpaccio and coconut and bacon stuffed shrimp.
Escencia Nativa: A popular backpacker café attached to a hostel on Playa El Tunco with fresh juices, veggie burgers, pupusas, fish & chips, and wood oven fired pizzas. esencianativa.com
Street Stall Pupusas: Just off every beachfront is a woman hand making pupusas, the typical Salvadoran snack that shapes corn masa into a thick tortilla that is grilled and topped with pickled vegetables or stuffed with pork or cheese. If you spend $1 you will be full.
Where to Stay
Casa de Mar: The 11-room hilltop resort looks out over the Pacific at El Sunzal beach and is one of El Salvador’s finest. Doubles from $140. casademarhotel.com
Tekuani Kal: A small funky hotel with décor inspired by the Nahuat Indian culture. Overlooks La Bocana point break. Doubles from $73. tekuanikal.com
Roca Sunzal Surf Resort: A laid back, 18room boutique hotel at El Sunzal beach with thatched roof bar. All rooms have terraces. Doubles from $80. rocasunzal.com
Villa del Olas: A clifftop boutique hotel overlooking El Sunzal’s legendary wave that is owned by the country’s best known adventure tour operators, Akwaterra (specializing in surfing, paragliding, and biking). Doubles from $75. villadelolas.com
La Guitarra: A guitar shaped beach bar with live Bossa Nova and rock shows on weekend nights. There are a few simple ocean facing rooms above the bar with stellar views, as well as a few rooms in the back. Doubles from $40.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.