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Diving in El Salvador

A Quick Guide to Scuba Diving in El Salvador

El Salvador is one of Central America’s surfing meccas, and it’s what happens on top of the waves that comes to mind when you think about watery fun here, not what happens beneath them. But scuba diving in El Salvador is certainly possible if you know where to look.

Scuba diving is small in El Salvador. Dive sites and centers are few and far between.

The most popular dive site is near the capital city San Salvador in the volcanic crater lake of Ilopango. The lake has a surface area of 75 square kilometers and reaches a depth of 235 meters.

Ilopango sits at 470 meters above sea level, so diving this lake is altitude diving.

In the waters of Ilopango, you will meet masses of small freshwater fish, a few crabs and plenty of freshwater sponges. You can also see hot vents in the lake bed where hot water shimmies as it escapes from cracks in the rocks. Around these cracks are large sulfur deposits which feel slimy.

There are also lava flows along the underwater cliffs and deposits of pillow lava, balls of light igneous rocks formed by the volcanic action.

With all the hot vents the lake is a warm 85F/26C most of the year, warmer during the rainy season.

Visibility in Lake Ilopango can be as good as six meters but drops off during the rainy season when the water warms and the algae blooms grow.

During this time the surface visibility drops to one to two meters until you drop through the thermocline at around 12 meters. Then the temperature drops a few degrees and becomes clear, although dark, like diving in the twilight.

With little current and varying visibility, this is a great place to do diver training as it enhances the “Buddy system”.

Man-made attractions are also in Lake Ilopango.

One site has three statues of the Virgin Mary at 18 meters, accessible to all certified divers. A three-meter statue of Christ the Redeemer was recently deployed at 27 meters for advanced divers.

Another popular dive location in El Salvador is the marine park at Los Cobanos close to the port of Acajutla.

Here, plenty of fish reside on the rocky reefs. During the short diving season, November to March, one can spot barracuda, green moray eels, parrot fish, angel fish, the occasional turtle, dolphins, rays, and even whales.

There are wrecks to dive on, too. The SS Douglas and the SS Cheribon are within range of all, but the SS Arce at 30 meters is for more advanced divers.

Although the Pacific Ocean lacks the colorful corals found on the Caribbean side of Central America, plenty of great diving is still available for those passing through El Salvador.


Mick OConnor

Mick OConnor

Mick O’Connor is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer from London, England. After living in Sierra Leone (where he opened the country’s first dive school) and on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, he moved to El Salvador in 2016 where he now owns and operates El Salvador Divers. Mick has also been a bar owner, boat captain, and telecommunications engineer. He lives in El Salvador’s capital city, San Salvador.