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February 2006 Update on El Salvador's Acajutla, Bahia Del Sol and Barillas Marina

By doina — last modified Mar 06, 2006 01:53 PM

Published: 2006-03-06 13:53:47
Countries: El Salvador

CRUISING CENTRAL AMERICA © Eric Blackburn S/V Chickadee

Puerto Acajutla

(anchorage), Latitude: 13’34.66N, Longitude: 89’50.21W

Acajutla is El Salvador’s principle shipping port and also the first official port of entry into the country.

Puerto Acajutla was built to accommodate container ships not recreational craft. El Salvador is a prosperous Central American country with a fast growing economy. On average between 5-7 container ships enter and depart Acajutla daily; a vital part of the regions economy. Unless you have a good reason for going to Acajutla, it is recommended that you pass it by. The port is industrial and offers few amenities to yachtsman, both power and sail.

If you should need to pull into Acajutla you will find the commercial area well protected from the sea by a 2 mile long breakwater at the entrance. The western breakwater shifts to the east which neutralizes swell action.

Large swell out of the south west breaks on the beach all the way up the coast. Therefore anchoring anywhere outside the commercial zone is not recommended.

Anchoring can be taken inside the inner harbor in 20 feet of water (6.1 meters). There are usually several fishing trawlers anchored in the basin. It has been reported that the bottom is fouled with rubbish. Several sailboats in the 2005 fleet, anchored in Acajutla with no reported ground tackle problems.

After you have set anchor, you are required to clear in with Immigration and the Port Captain. Unlike other entry ports along the coast, officials in Acajutla do not come out to your vessel to process zarpes and visas. Officals are occupied with commercial shipping traffic. Therefore you will need to go ashore to have your papers processed.

There is no safe place ashore to land an inflatable. The only place to tie up to in order to get shoreside, is on cement stairs leading to the water. The stairs are located on the west side of the outer commercial dock. The immigration office is located at the entrance to the dock. Immigration officials are friendly and professional. Several of them were stationed at Bahia Del Sol and are accustomed to greeting arriving yachts into El Salvador. The Port Captain’s office is located in the town of Acajutla 1.2 miles to the west. You can either get your exercise and walk the distance, or if you’re lucky you can flag down a taxi or mini-moto passing by.

A taxi shouldn’t cost more than $2. The mini-motos are 3 wheeled motor-cycle like taxis. They are red in color and charge .50 cents per ride. The Port Captain, Carlos Antonio Torres, studied in the USA and speaks English. He is well respected in the community. There is no cost for an entrance / exit zarpe in El Salvador, however a small fee may be charged to anchor within the port facility.

The actual town of Acajutla is not known for being a jet setters holiday destination. It could have tourist potential but a serious attempt would have to be made to clean up the littered beaches and shoreline. There is however, excellent surf for those with boards.

A few years back, crime was a major problem in this port town. Recent crime fighting programs endorsed by government and local municipalities have since made Acajutla safe to walk around by day at somewhat safe at night, though not recommended. There is a heavy presence of police and military soldiers patrolling the streets day and night.


Latitude 13 deg 18.03 N (Hotel Bahia Del Sol), Longitude 88 deg 53.54 W

If you decide to by-pass Puerto Quetzal, or Puerto Acajutla, you’ll find El Salvador’s Bahia Del Sol a pleasant anchorage to enjoy after a long sail down the coast. Bahia Del Sol lies one mile on the inside of Estero de Jaltepeque. (Hal-tay-pek-eh). The region is also known as Costa Del Sol.

There is a sandbar at the entrance of Estero de Jaltepeque. As is with most bar entrances, sometimes it’s flat and sometimes it is too rough to enter. The bar changes seasonally so a guide boat is absolutely necessary.

Out of the kindness of their hearts cruisers Murray and Colette on s/v Tarazed have inherited the task of guiding boats safely across the sand bar into the calm waters of the estero. They take this chore seriously and have escorted over 140 boats in and out of the harbor.

There is a GPS meeting waypoint marked at 13 deg 16.30 N and 88 deg 53.76 W. The waypoint can change slightly from season to season so confirm the position by radio ahead of time.

Call Tarazed a few hours in advance on channel 16 VHF (even during the night). You can also email Murray and Colette at [email protected] several days before so they can prepare to escort you in. If Murray and Colette are out of town or unavailable, you may trying hailing Hotel Bahia Del Sol or call Jan on SV Quantum Leap on channel 16.

If you arrive too early or too late at the entrance, and cannot be escorted in immediately, it is safe to anchor in 40 feet (12.12 meters) of water at the same given GPS meeting waypoint. (13 deg 16.30 N and 88 deg 53.76 W).

The outside anchorage may be rolly but the holding is good in sand and there are no rocks or reefs anywhere. True campers determined to get across the bar have anchored at this waypoint sometimes for days until the bar settles down.

Vessels are escorted into the estuary on an incoming tide near high slack water between sunrise and sunset. There is no charge for the service. The entrance or “Bocana” is approximately 100 feet (30 meters) wide with an average depth of 33 feet (10 meters). The actual sand bar at its shallowest depth is 12 feet (3.6 meters) at high slack tide.

There are breakers and surf on both sides of the channel. It is best to arrive at the meeting waypoint slightly before high slack tide to allow time for a crossing at high slack. Call Tarazed for tidal information and a swell report. The swell runs highest between May to October. May is the month that signals the start of rainy season and extra precaution must be taken when crossing the bar.

Once inside Estero de Jaltepeque, the water quickly flattens out and remains so throughout the year. The anchorage provides good holding. Estero de Jaltepeque is an ideal anchorage where you can safely leave your boat for an extended period of time in the event that you need to return to the USA, Canada, Europe and beyond. It is also an ideal spot for leaving your boat so you can travel inland.

Check-in procedure is as easy as it gets. Polite and professional port officials come out to your boat and process all paperwork on the spot. As of 2006, there is no cost to check into or out of El Salvador. Request your international zarpe before departing El Salvador for your next country of visit. If you plan to cruise within El Salvadoran waters, request a national zarpe.

The Salvadoran navy keeps 2 patrol boats in the estero so you can expect excellent security as well. The hotel also has a rotating staff of watchmen that keep an eye on boats, moorings and the floating dinghy dock.

Marco-Antonio Zablah is the owner of Bahia Del Sol resort. Marco is working hard to encourage growth and tourism to this fascinating region of Central America. All foreign flagged vessels are given 30% off everything at the resort including meals and beverages. There is a $10. per week club fee for use of the pool, fresh water showers, shore-side amenities, rubbish disposal, security, tennis court, dinghy dock, water and other hotel facilities. Register at the reception office at Hotel Bahia Del Sol. The staff is most helpful and accommodating.

For those who wish to anchor in the estuary, the holding ground is sand / mud and excellent in 15 feet (4.5) to 20 feet (6.5 meters). A 3 knot tidal current floods and ebbs inside the estero. Moorings are available in front of Hotel Bahia Del Sol for US$7. per day.

Diesel and gasoline are available at the fuel dock beside the hotel. There is a tidal grid available for vessels up to 35 feet depending on draft and keel configuration. For more proficient bottom cleaning, boat work and long term storage, Island Marine offers cruisers a travel lift haul out service for boats up to 30 tons. Island Marine’s rates are reasonable and competitive. They also offer affordable bottom paint. Island Marine is located at the west end of Isla Cordoncillo.

If you need your boat scrubbed while in the water, a young local named Santos Torres does bottom cleaning. Santos and his father run a small outboard repair shop on Isla Cordoncillo. Santos speaks a little English. He is very personable and hardworking. Santos can also do custom wood work and varnishing. He can be reached on VHF 16. If you need bright-work done, sanding, varnishing and painting, ask for Antonio or Pedro. Antonio is Santo’s uncle, so he should be easy to find through Santos. The cruising fleet have been very happy with Antonio’s and Pedro’s conscientious workmanship.

There is reasonable hardware store in San Marcellino called Ferrateria Ramirez. It is small and humble but does offer basic tools, house paint, brushes, rollers, WD40, PVC fittings ect. Next door to Ferrateria Ramirez is a small welding shop. If you need any top end machining done, there is a full service professional machine shop in San Salvador called BARON. There shop is located on Boulevard Venezuela #1205 y 21 Av. Sur.

San Salvador, the nation’s capital, is a 1 hour drive by car from Bahia Del Sol or 2 hours by bus. For a few extra dollars and a whole lot of convenience, a local Costa Del Sol taxi driver named Jose Osorio can drive you around the city all day and back to the bahia for a very fair rate. Ask for him at the front desk or phone him at 7945-1761. Jose speaks a little bit of English and knows the city well. If Jose Osorio is occupied, you can call for a second taxi operated by Jose-Benjamin 7720-6269. A third taxi operated by Jose-Martin can be reached at 7809-7912.

Just about everything that can be found in the USA can be found in San Salvador. There is a Price Smart super store and Office Depot next to a super modern shopping mall called Metro Centro. Multi-Plaza is another mega shopping center found in the city. Ace Hardware and Vidris Hardware stores are well stocked with a huge assortment of tools and hardware; plumbing, electrical and marine needs.

Banking can be done in San Salvador or in the nearby city of Zacetecoluca. ATM machines are common throughout the country. Banco Cuscatlan accepts the widest range of debit cards and credit cards including Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, Credomatic and American Express. Banco Salvadoreno cashes traveler’s checks for commission, as do most of the other banks. The official currency of El Salvador is the US dollar.

Fuel, water, ice and propane are available at Bahia Del Sol. Telephone service is available at Bahia Del Sol’s reception office. The staff is friendly and accommodating. Teresa at Marisol’s Restaurant does laundry. The hotel at Bahia Del Sol also offers a laundry service. Hotel Bahia Del Sol has one computer in the air conditioned office allotted for guests to access the internet. The cost is $5.00 per hour.

Cruisers with a high speed planning inflatable can motor 20 minutes up the estuary to the town of La Herradura. There are two internet cafes in La Herradura and a unique traditional market place that shouldn’t be missed. La Herradura is a town that has a rough edge to in. Not a honeymoon destination, however interesting enough.

Hotel Pacific Paradise offers wireless internet to visiting cruisers with laptops. The service is free. Ask for the configuration properties at the front desk.

For a more modern efficient day of shopping, banking and Internet without going to San Salvador, you can catch a bus to Zacatecoluca, 1 ½ hrs from Bahia Del Sol.

All you can provision with is available in Zacatecoluca. There is a fully modern supermarket, with the highest of standards, named La Dispensa de Don Juan. They have just about everything you could ask for at affordable prices. In the same plaza as Don Juan’s, you will find an InfoCenter Internet café. The facility is modern, air-conditioned, clean and inexpensive ($1.00 per hour for high speed Internet). You can connect your laptop to their LAN. There is another internet café located downtown near the park, called Chico Café. Propane tanks with US standard fittings can be filled in Zacatecoluca at the main Tropi-gas dealer on the highway. See map.

Buses run to and from Zacatecoluca to Costa Del Sol, throughout the day. The last bus departing Zactecoluca for Bahia del Sol is at 16:30 hrs.

For basic local provisioning 25 minutes by bus from Bahia Del Sol, you can ride up the road to the “Supermercado”. The “Supermercado” is reasonably stocked with an assortment of canned goods and other items including beverages, dairy products and sausages.

Restaurant “Marisol’s” (known as Julio’s by the locals) on the shores of Bahia Del Sol, has become a popular dining place for friends and cruisers. “Marisol” sits on the shores of the bay. They have a dinghy dock where you can tie your tender in front of the restaurant. The view of the bahia and yachts at anchor is pleasing. The food and service is simply excellent, well priced and proportioned. A few docks up from “Marisols” you will find the Agua-Fun floating dock. Agua-Fun recently opened and caters primarily to El Salvadoran water-sport enthusiasts. They rent jet-skis, boggie and surf boards, along with an assortment of other agua fun water toys. There is also a bar/restaurant on site along with a modern mini-market similar to a 7-11.

Every Saturday night Bahia Del Sol hosts a band and banquet party next to the pool. It’s a fun atmosphere of song and dance. The restaurant known for its spectacular seafood platters and giant fresh water shrimp is delicious. It can be pricey for the average nomadic voyager. However, with the 30% cruiser’s discount, it tastes even better and the music is terrific.

For cheap-eats, one can walk 10 minutes up the road to “Pupuseria Emely” and enjoy a beer and pupusa for a few cents more than a dollar. The Galley Restaurant on the Island of Isla Cordoncillio has become a popular cruisers hang out. Mexican food is severed at good value. Owners Richard and Karla are hospitable and welcoming.

If you plan on hanging out in Bahia Del Sol for an extended period of time, you will soon discover the estuary’s many secrets. During weekends, Isla Tasajara comes alive with vacationers. Half a dozen seafood restaurants on stilts line the beach front.


Latitude: 13’ 15.735 N, Longitude: 88’ 29.437 W

This attractive marina is located 9.8 miles up stream in the estuary of Bahia de Jiquilisco. A sand bar surrounds the outside of the entrance and local knowledge is a must. Though easier to enter than Bahia Del Sol, it is still recommended that approaching offshore vessels call Barillas Marina on VHF channel 16 one hour in advance of arrival for an escort.

The swell runs highest between May to October. May is the month that signals the start of rainy season and extra precaution must be taken when crossing sandbars.

The marina will dispatch a guide to pilot you safely across the sand bar and up the channel to Barillas. The operator is experienced and will lead you all the way to the marina. The service is free and operates in daylight hours only.

When approaching the entrance to Bahia de Jiquilisco from either north or south, stay well clear of the coast and only pick up the offshore meeting waypoint from a due south approach.

The offshore GPS meeting waypoint is in deep water at 13 degrees 07.02N and 88 degrees 25.16 W where vessels can wait for the pilot boat to arrive. The depth across the sand bar at its shallowest time in the year (mean low water) is 9 (2.7 meters) feet.

The lowest depth in the channel is 24 feet (7.3 meters) at low slack tide. It is best to cross the bar on a rising tide. Radio the marina for tidal information

Barillas Marina is in the process of anchoring an entrance buoy to mark the channel. Once inside the estuary a tropical paradise awaits.

Bahia Jiquilisco is one of the best cruising grounds on the West Coast of El Salvador. A mangrove sanctuary of ecology and wildlife twists and turns in a kaleidoscope of directions. The occasional remote-fishing village charms the shores and palm fringe beaches. There is plenty to explore.

Barillas Marina is a full service facility with 80 heavy moorings capable of holding vessels up to 60 meters (200 feet). The cost is US$11.30. per day per vessel regardless of LOA. (November 2005).

Check in procedure is clean and simple. The Port Captain and Immigration office are under one modern roof at the marina. Friendly officials check you in and out hassle free. There is no cost to check into El Salvador. Request your international zarpe before departing El Salvador for your next country of visit. If you plan to cruise within El Salvadoran waters, request a national zarpe.

Bahia Jiquilisco is away from populated areas and is far from the hurricane zone. Though hurricanes seldom hit the West Coast of El Salvador, when such a phenomena occurs, the 9.8 miles of winding estuary that separates the marina from the sea makes Barillas the perfect storm hide-out. It is a place where one could leave a boat for an extended period of time and travel overland or return home to North America or Europe. Barillas Marina is an ideal port for large power vessels.

Security guards check unattended boats and their mooring lines by day and by night. In the event of an emergency they will contact you.

Barillas Marina offers free LAN internet service. Cruisers can sit comfortably by the pool and download email. At the time of this writing, Barillas was planning to install a wireless internet node so cruisers could get online directly from their boats.

The fuel dock dispenses clean US refined Texaco fuel, (gas and diesel). An unlimited amount of pure fresh drinking water is supplied from a deep artesian well. A fresh water hose and wash down service is permitted at the fuel dock for those wishing to rinse any salt from the decks of their vessel.

The marina provides transportation service to the town of Usulutan, every Tuesday and Friday. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes. The service is free. A reasonable rate is offered on other days depending on number of passengers and time needed for the vehicle rental and driver. Check with the office for more information. Banking and provisioning can be done in Usulutan.

Haul out arrangements can also be made with the shipyard next door. Duty free parts and shipping is available. Barillas Marina’s operations manager Heriberto Pineda can help you with any additional questions.

For those wishing to arrive by light-aircraft, there is a designated landing strip at 13’ 15.54.94821 N 088’ 29.56.87491 W Elevation: 4.682 mts.


Eric Blackburn, S/V Chickadee