Planning a trip to spot the wildlife in La Union El Salvador and Jiquilisco Bay? Excellent, I visited the east coast of the country, and it was honestly incredible. El Salvador is a wildlife paradise.

If you love watching animals in their natural habitat or simply someone who cherishes nature, this corner of Central America is a dream come true. Especially for birdwatching.

You’ll see monkeys swinging through trees, possibly turtles swimming along the shore, and birds of all kinds flying overhead.

Let’s get started with this guide, I can’t wait to tell you more about the wildlife in El Salvador!

Jiquilisco Bay and La Union El Salvador – Overview

Let’s start this wildlife guide with some information about Jiquilisco and La Union in El Salvador, such as their location and the wildlife in each.

Where Are Jiquilisco and La Union El Salvador?

La Union and Jiquilisco Bay are gems located in the south-eastern part of El Salvador. La Union, a city and municipality, is close to the Gulf of Fonseca, a body of water it shares with Honduras and Nicaragua.

It’s known for its beautiful volcanic landscapes and coastal life.

Jiquilisco Bay, about an hour’s drive southwest from La Union El Salvador, it has extensive mangrove forests and is a vital sanctuary for biodiversity, playing a crucial role in local ecology and economy.

How Long to Stay in Jiquilisco and La Union El Salvador?

I recommend staying 3 to 5 days in Jiquilisco and La Unión for a well-rounded wildlife watching experience.

You can spend one or two days exploring the mangroves and waterways of Jiquilisco Bay, which include opportunities for guided tours to observe birds, marine life, and turtles.

You can reserve a day to visit La Unión and learn about the local culture and coastal ecosystems, which is something you won’t want to miss.

How to Get to the East Coast of El Salvador?

There are several ways to get to the east coast of El Salvador, depending on your preferences and starting location.

First, you can take a bus from San Salvador to various destinations along the East Coast. The most popular route is bus 304 from Terminal de Oriente in San Salvador to La Union, which takes about 3.5 hours.

Buses are an affordable choice and are widely used for getting around the country. The public buses, while not the most comfortable, offer a local experience and are incredibly cheap.

Renting a car is another viable option, especially if you prefer having more control over your travel schedule. Roads like the Pan-American Highway (CA-1) and the coastal highway (CA-2) connect major cities and towns from the west to the east of El Salvador.

Alternatively, you can join a guided tour around El Salvador, like me with Mayan Escapes. Or you can contact our amazing guide Julio Acosta directly via his website or his Instagram.

Between them, they planned the trip perfectly, which allowed me to see the wildlife and get from one point to another conveniently. It honestly felt like the best way to travel in El Salvador.

Short on time?

Here are the quick things you need to know for your trip to El Salvador

➡️ Search for the best Tours on Viator & GetYourGuide
➡️ Look at luxury and affordable Hotels
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➡️ Check the flight prices from the UK or the USA
➡️ Make sure you have your e-SIM!

Each offers unique value and special deals tailored just for you. Don’t miss out on these when travelling to La Union!

Wildlife in La Union

La Union in El Salvador is home to unique wildlife, both on land and in under the water. The forests here are home to various birds, including Great Egret, Magnificent Frigatebird and Roseate Spoonbill.

The region’s waters are rich with marine life too, and you’ll find dolphins and sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Along the coast, crabs scuttle across the beaches, and in the deeper forests, small mammals, like armadillos and opossums, scurry under the dense foliage.

La Union offers a great opportunity to see and learn about these animals in their natural environments.

Wildlife in Jiquilisco Bay

Jiquilisco Bay is a biosphere reserve renowned for its rich and diverse wildlife. This area is home to a large network of mangrove forests, which are crucial for numerous species of birds and marine life.

Here, you will find Hawksbill Sea Turtles, countless migratory birds, and fish species like snook, red snapper, and corvina.

Jiquilisco Bay’s ecosystem supports a variety of coastal and marine birds, many of which are considered threatened or endangered.

Additionally, Jiquilisco Bay is particularly significant for its role as one of the primary habitats for the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles.

Things to Do in La Union El Salvador

Now that you know a little more about La Union and Jiquilisco Bay, let’s discuss the best things to do in each, starting with the former.

Conchagua Volcano

Conchagua Volcano is a striking natural landmark located in south-eastern El Salvador, near the town of La Unión.

It’s known for its twin peaks, Cerro del Ocote and Cerro de la Bandera, which offer incredible views of the Gulf of Fonseca and the Pacific Ocean.

Most people coming to Conchagua are here for hiking; the trails lead you through lush forests to the summit where the panoramic view extends across three countries: El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

This is just as unique and beautiful as it gets, and I highly recommend coming when visiting La Union!

Playitas Beach

Playitas Beach is another peaceful spot in La Unión, known for its dark volcanic sand and clear waters.

This lesser-known gem offers a peaceful retreat from more crowded tourist spots. The beach’s gentle waves make it ideal for swimming and relaxing by the shoreline.

Locals often come here to enjoy tranquil days with family and friends, making it a great place to experience the local culture, which is exactly what I travel for!

Facilities might be minimal, but you’ll still find several restaurants in which to eat.

Mirador Espiritu de la Montana

Mirador Espiritu de la Montana, or Spirit of the Mountain Viewpoint, is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the eastern part of Costa Rica, and arguably in the whole country.

Located high up in the mountains, it provides a perfect spot for sunrise or sunset viewings, and you can camp at the lookout point for the night.

The viewpoint is accessible via a hiking trail that winds through diverse ecosystems, and it takes about 2 hours to get to the summit.

It’s one of the best things to do in La Union El Salvador, and you just can’t skip it!

Gulf of Fonseca

The Gulf of Fonseca is a shared natural resource between El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, famous for its rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes.

This large bay is the perfect place to explore, you can also go boating, kayaking, and island hopping among its variety of small islands.

You can take a guided boat tour, which typically includes visits to several islands in the gulf. These islands are great for short hikes, bird watching, or simply beach-hopping. You’ll also see stunning caves formed from years of volcanic lava flow.

If you like being on the water, you can consider kayaking or paddleboarding, which allow for a closer view of the diverse marine life and mangrove ecosystems.

Lastly, the sunsets here are spectacular, so make sure to find a quiet spot in the evening to watch the sky change colours over the Pacific!

Things to Do in Jiquilisco Bay

Jiquilisco Bay in El Salvador is a stunning and ecologically rich area that offers a variety of activities for nature lovers, and understandably, the things to do here are mostly nature related.

All these activities are available through Mayan Escapes, and I suggest you check them out or contact them before going as I was very satisfied with the overall experience from San Salvador.

Bird Watching

Jiquilisco Bay is a fantastic spot for bird watching, with over 280 species calling it home. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to catch some spectacular birds in action.

To get the most out of birdwatching, you really need an expert! Our guide Julio Acosta was genuinely one of the most knowledgeable and passionate guides I’ve had. He made our trip what it was. You can book a trip with him via his website or his Instagram.

Some of the popular bird species to spot are:

  • Least Tern
  • Collared Plover
  • Boat-Billed Heron
  • Wilson’s Plover
  • American Oystercatcher

Bring your binoculars or photography gear and watch as different birds’ flit from tree to tree. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the diversity of the bay’s ecosystem and enjoy the outdoors.

Take a look at this Instagram post to see the birds listed below.

On day two we saw White Ibis, Green Kingfisher, Bare-throated Tiger Heron (very rare!), Inca Dove (Chick) Boat-billed Heron, Black necked Stilt, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Blue Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Ringed Kingfisher, Boat-billed Heron, Tropical Kingbird, Ringed Kingfisher, Great Egrets, and a Groove billed Ani.

How amazing is that? You’ll also see these birds in the YouTube video above.

Sea Turtle Watching and Conservation

A wildlife highlight. ProCosta run eco-tours where you can accompany them in their research in tagging and monitoring Sea Turtles. They specifically focus on the Hawksbill, but you can also find Green Turtles here. They are a fantastic non-profit organisation that have successfully helped improve the turtle numbers.

They also share their incredible work with the local communities in protecting Sea Turtle nesting sites. They have turned local egg collectors into egg protectors!

ProCosta is a non-profit that turned local egg-collectors in to egg-protectors!!

With a population of just two hundred, these turtles are critically endangered. During the boat trip, you’ll observe how biologists capture and study the turtles, measuring and checking their health.

This careful research contributes to global conservation efforts, and it’s your chance to witness the balance of nature and the efforts to preserve a species.

To book this tour with ProCosta you can contact them on the ProCosta Facebook page (ask for Melissa, you can see her in my video). Or you can also contact Julio Acosta via his website or his Instagram.

Kayaking and Canoeing

Exploring Bahía de Jiquilisco by kayak or canoe is an excellent way to enjoy the natural beauty in the area.

You’ll get to paddle through the calm waters surrounded by mangroves and keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife.

This activity is perfect for anyone looking to relax and soak in the quiet atmosphere of the bay at their own pace. Make sure you stop at the stunning Zacatillo Island.

If you have limited time in El Salvador, the best way to discover Jiquilisco Bay is to join a kayaking tour from San Salvador, which is a full-day tour with lunch that you’ll love!

Take a Cacao Tour

On a cacao tour in Jiquilisco Bay, you’ll discover the origins of chocolate right from its roots. A local cacao expert guides you through the cacao farm, starting with tiny saplings in the nursery.

Learn about the full life cycle of the cacao tree, the significance of each growth stage, and the process of harvesting. You’ll also get hands-on experience with the fermentation and drying that are crucial to flavour.

The tour ends with the final process of roasting and grinding cacao beans into chocolate. Savour the rich taste of freshly made hot chocolate, a treat for all the senses!

My East Coast El Salvador Itinerary

Now that we’ve discussed the activities in both La Union and Jiquilisco Bay, I want to cover my personal itinerary around the east coast of El Salvador, which lasted 3 days, and that I’m confident you’ll love.

Day 1: San Salvador to the Gulf of Fonseca

On our first day in El Salvador, we set off on an adventurous journey to the Gulf of Fonseca.

After a delicious breakfast (I love the food here in El Salvador!), we headed east to the famed Las Flores Beach, known as one of the best surfing spots in the Americas.

After driving for about 3.5 hours, we were treated to a day pass at a cliffside hotel that offered panoramic views of the ocean. The hotel’s outdoor pools and access to the striking black sand beach provided a perfect setting for relaxation before starting our wildlife trip around La Union El Salvador.

In the afternoon, after a refreshing lunch and a nice break on the beach, we continued our journey to the Gulf of Fonseca.

We travelled a well-paved 45 km stretch from Las Flores to La Union Port, and the drive was simply breath-taking.

That evening we learned how to make the local delicacy; Pupusa’s! They are typically made with rice flour and stuffed with refried beans, shredded pork or cheese. I had one of each, and a lot of fun getting stuck in to making them.

Pupusa’s are so popular that on average locals eat 29 per week!

And once we made it to La Union, we checked into our hotel and had a relaxing, peaceful night with some drinks before starting our second day.

Where to Stay in La Union?

For the first day, you’ll stay in La Union before heading to Jiquilisco Bay on the second day. Here are the best hotels I recommend staying in town, for all budgets.

Luxury: Comfort Inn Real La Union

Comfort Inn Real La Union

Mid-Range: Mar & Sol Hotel

Mar & Sol, Hotel y restaurante

Budget: Alojamientos Santa Marta La Unión

Alojamientos Santa Marta La Unión

Day 2: Jiquilisco Bay

On day two, we were up early for breakfast, excited for a day on the water. Today’s plan was all about sailing across the Gulf of Fonseca.

We left from La Unión El Salvador, passing by fishing villages and getting glimpses of life by the sea and volcanoes in the distance.

We stopped at Zacatillo Island for a dip in the sea and a quick lunch break, and we got some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted, right on the water’s edge.

The afternoon sun is warm as you sail back to La Unión.

Around 3PM, you’re back on land, ready for the drive to Jiquilisco Bay. The roads were smooth all along, and it was a bit of a bumpy ride at the end, but the surrounding nature surely were worth it.

Our accommodation for the night was Puerto Barillas Lodge, a 3-star hotel with spotless, modern rooms and a beautiful pool outside, right by Bahia de Jiquilisco!

This is where there is a beautiful spot for birdwatching. Julio took us on a nature walk at dusk where we spotted a lot of the incredible birdlife listed above.

Where to Stay in Jiquilisco Bay?

On the second and last night out on this trip, you’ll sleep in Jiquilisco Bay, and these are the best properties you can consider.

Luxury: Puerto Barillas

Puerto Barillas

Mid-Range: Hotel Miraflores

Hotel Miraflores

Budget: Hostal Sol y Luna

Hostal Sol y Luna

Day 3: Jiquilisco Bay

On the third and last day, we started very early! A 5AM alarm for another chance to spot some of El Salvador’s stunning birds. And we were not disappointed.

Not all of the group made it, but please check this YouTube video at 6:33 to see just how many birds we saw that morning. This was also when we spotted an incredibly rare Bare-throated Tiger Heron.

The rest of the group then joined us at breakfast, gearing up for another day of discovery in Jiquilisco Bay. Today we joined ProCosta!

We set sail into the heart of the biosphere reserve, the boat roaming through waters bordered by the mangroves. Our guide Julio told us more about the bird species (over 280 species!) that call Jiquilisco home, and it was simply an incredible adventure.

The group split into two boats for a special purpose: to help monitor the endangered hawksbill turtles. Melissa, a biologist was on board with us sharing insights into the conservation work. More about that above.

It’s a hands-on learning experience about the delicate balance of nature and the efforts to sustain it. As the boat weaves through local communities, and we got a real sense of rural life in El Salvador.

Seeing the work the ProCosta volunteers do, and a Sea Turtle close up was a wildlife highlight for me. What a magnificent animal, a species that must be protected at all costs.

After a lunch filled with local flavours and stories from the biologist, we made our way back to San Salvador. The drive took about 2.5 hours, transitioning from the charm of unpaved roads to the more urban areas leading into the city.

FAQ – Wildlife in La Union El Salvador and Jiquilisco Bay

Lastly, let’s discuss some questions that first-timers often have about this part of El Salvador, which I’m sure will be beneficial to you too.

What Species of Wildlife Can You See in La Unión and Jiquilisco?

In La Unión and Jiquilisco, you can encounter a diverse array of wildlife. The region is a hotspot for birdwatchers, with over 280 bird species including herons, kingfishers, and ospreys.

If you’re interested in marine life, Jiquilisco Bay is a crucial habitat for the endangered hawksbill sea turtles. Mangrove forests provide shelter to various mammals, such as howler monkeys and coatis, and reptiles like green iguanas and spiny-tailed iguanas.

The waterways are also home to fish, crabs, and occasionally, you might even spot a crocodile basking on a riverbank!

What is the Best Time for Wildlife Watching in El Salvador?

The best time for wildlife watching in El Salvador is during the dry season, from November to April. This period offers clear skies and easier access to various habitats.

If you’re here for birdwatching, the dry season also coincides with the migration of numerous bird species. You can book a trip with Julio Acosta via his website or his Instagram.

Sea turtle nesting can primarily be observed from May to October, with hatching occurring up to a few months later, offering a unique experience in coastal areas like Jiquilisco Bay.

Contact ProCosta on their Facebook page to find out more.

Do You Need a Tour Guide for La Union El Salvador?

Having a tour guide in La Unión is highly beneficial. Guides provide valuable insights into local ecosystems and can make the wildlife viewing experience much more enjoyable.

Without our guide and expert Julio, I can safely say the trip would not have been half as fun and we certainly would not have spotted as many of the incredible birds in El Salvador.

They also contribute to safety and navigation through remote areas. In protected zones like Jiquilisco Bay, a guide is essential to ensure adherence to conservation regulations and to help locate the best spots for observing endangered species like the hawksbill turtle.

What to Wear for Wildlife in El Salvador?

When wildlife watching in El Salvador, you’ll want to wear lightweight, breathable clothing for the tropical climate. Long sleeves and trousers (pants) provide protection from the sun and insects, especially in mangrove forests.

Also, sturdy, waterproof shoes are a must for varied terrain. Don’t forget a hat and UV-protection sunglasses. It’s also wise to have a lightweight rain jacket on hand, as weather can be unpredictable.


As we wrap up our adventure in La Unión and Jiquilisco Bay, I’ll remember all the incredible animals and beautiful places I’ve seen. This trip shows how important it is to look after our planet and the creatures we share it with.

This was an incredible trip around La Union El Salvador, and if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to comment here below.

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