Going to El Tunco is not a culturally enriching experience. There are no galleries, no museums, no colonial Salvadorian architecture. Instead, there is a beach, two streets of restaurants and bars and a shed load of surfers. The only thing you will learn there is how to surf, and maybe a few drinking games or two, but it is a good laugh and a beautiful place to relax for a few days/weeks/months. Here’s how.
El Tunco is kind of miles from anywhere, save El Salvador’s dangerous-as-hell capital San Salvador. If you go via San Salvador, by bus or by plane, you can get a direct shuttle bus to Playa El Tunco which takes about two hours. The more common route is from any of the tourist stops in Guatemala – we did it from Antigua and it took about 6 hours on a tourist shuttle, which costs about US$25. There are no border fees from Guatemala to El Salvador (as of November 2016 anyway), don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
The town is literally tiny. There are two streets, totalling about 500m between them. This section is entirely pointless.
Due to the huge influx of backpackers, there are loads of hostel options, plus a few slightly more expensive hotels if you want to treat yourself. We stayed at Tunco Lodge for $10 per night per person and got a private room with A/C (although that was actually the price for a dorm), and there was a pool on site as an added bonus. They also let you use their surfboards for free. (I say “let” – I simply took them and didn’t ask questions and it was ok…). Papaya Lodge just around the corner is similar, they have more boards to rent but you definitely have to pay there. Your choice!
- El Tunco is quite simply a surfer’s paradise. Boards are $10 per day (or you can steal them from your hostel…), or you can borrow one from your newly made friends who are too hungover to surf. The biggest waves are at high tide, avoid these if you are just learning because they can be pretty damn powerful.
- It’s full of backpackers on a beach so it’s a bit of a party town. Watch out for the Ladies Night offers where the fairer sex drink for free between certain hours. That said, beers are cheap anyway, all the shops and bars sell 1 litre bottles of lager for $2.
- Sunset watching. The El Tunco sunset is famous, for good reason. Grab a beer, head down to the beach about 5pm and watch the sky go from blue to pink to burning orange. Just watch out for the sandflies that like this time of day to emerge from their hidey-holes.
- It’s a beach town, this is why you are here. At low tide, get yourself on the beach and top up your tan. You deserve it.
Food & Drink
The single best thing about El Salvadorian food is their local speciality: pupusas. They are kind of a cross between tortillas and a toastie, where two wraps sandwich together whatever filling you want – cheese, beans, chicken, fish, garlic, jalapenos – and are fried on both sides. They have the added bonus of costing less than a dollar each. Our favourites were at Pupusaria Bendicion de Dios where they were 50 cents for one. El Buen Gusto pupuseria was also worth a mention, although theirs cost a titanic 75 cents a go.
Away from the pupusas, we also liked Fafi’s place, where a seafood burrito set us back $4 and was amazing, and Surfer’s Shakes near the beach for amazing smoothies. Top tip – pour rum into these for an awesome sunset cocktail. Erika’s restaurant did a nice breakfast too for $3.50. Finally, if you are feeling a bit indulgent, or have just eaten too many bloody pupusas, Arigato Sushi up the entrance road is incredible, and very, very reasonable to boot – $13 for 20 pieces of sushi! Bring your own beer to round it off.