76km (47 miles) W of La Libertad
A long finger of land packed with coconut trees is lapped by an estuary on one side and the roaring Pacific on the other. Barra de Santiago is, bar none, one of the most beautiful spots in El Salvador. This protected reserve and tiny fishing village, which is tucked into the southwest corner of the country, features miles of deserted, pristine beaches sitting a few hundred yards from a mangrove-filled estuary teeming with birds. And both are set against a backdrop of the lush hills of Parque Imposible and a wall of volcanoes stretching from Guatemala to Volcán de Izalco in El Salvador's Parque Nacional de Los Volcanes. If you love nature and the sea, Barra de Santiago is one of El Salvador's must-sees.
Barra de Santiago is also one of the country's most active turtle-nesting areas, and every August through November, you can witness giant sea turtles laying eggs along the beach and hundreds of hatched baby turtles making the dangerous journey to the water. You can also paddle or arrange guided tours of the lush mangrove forests and narrow, bird-filled channels, take surfing lessons, or just walk for hours, absorbing the isolated natural beauty.
While here, make sure to take the 15-minute walk along the beach from one of Santiago's two main hotels to the tiny thatched hut, Restaurante Julita, which sits just yards from the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Santiago's estuary. You can munch on fish caught moments before while viewing the waves of the Pacific on one side and, on the other, the calm waters of the estuary reflecting the line of palm trees and miles of volcanoes that seem to rise from its shores.
Barra de Santiago is a 2-hour drive from San Salvador and offers little infrastructure, other than its two beachfront hotels. The town itself is a squalid collection of shacks and huts with Guantanamo-style lodging that is best avoided. You'll need to make advanced reservations for the better-quality hotels farther up the beach. You'll also want to arrange transportation in the area, as it requires a few twists and turns to get to this undeveloped corner of the country.