El Tunco is a sleepy surf town that is nestled against El Salvador’s rocky Pacific Ocean shoreline. The town consists of two main roads that form a T, with about a dozen or so restaurants, shops and bars that are largely deserted in the beginning of the week and gradually fill up with out-of-town Salvadorans from Thursday to Sunday. El Salvador is quite a small country, so hitting the beach for the weekend is rather common for those who have the means.
While the town can easily be covered at a leisurely pace in under 20 minutes, there’s an abundance of hostels and small-budget hotels for surfers, travelers and weekend party-goers from the capital city of San Salvador to take advantage of. We made ourselves comfortable in a quaint hostel half-filled with surfers and non-surfers alike, enjoying surf, sun and the hostel pool—well, before it got super cloudy toward the end of our stay. (Sunscreen and mosquito repellent on sweaty bodies will do that to a pool.)
The only real drawback to this beach-town experience—aside from being eaten alive by mosquitoes—is the fact that there’s not an actual sandy beach for lounging. The shore is comprised of volcanic rocks both big and small. Laying out or even wading into the water is nearly impossible at some points—and downright dangerous at others. Even the most experienced surfers would come back to our hostel with fresh gashes and missing skin as they became acquainted with the rocky bottom.
Fortunately for the less surf-savvy among us, the larger rocks and driftwood provide excellent seating from which to watch surfers work the waves. Those who cannot do, will do their best to spectate and ogle. Further, these same rocks and stray pieces of wood were perfect for the cotton-candy sunsets we were treated to nearly every evening over the course of our six-day stay.
Truth be told, we had mixed feelings coming into El Tunco. Several travelers we had met in Santa Ana warned that, unless you’re into surfing, El Tunco doesn’t have much to offer. In fact, some even said they cut their time in the quiet town short on account of sheer boredom. Maybe Whohn Brose are losing their edges, but we found our time in El Tunco to be quite a lovely week of rest and relaxation—rocky beach and all.
Much to our surprise and delight, a great Glaswegian couple we met through our awesome Australian Airbnb neighbors in San Pedro La Laguna—Cillian and Dani—found us on one of El Tunco’s two sandy streets. We got to know Martin and Sarah over a game of darts at El Barrio (our favorite!) and then again over a Pengins playoff game in Antigua.
Matching timelines, we were certain we would just miss them by the time we arrived to El Tunco, as we were heading to Santa Ana first, which they were planning to hit after the beach. Turns out this rad Scottish duo was enjoying El Tunco’s laid-back vibes just as much as we would come to, and decided to extend their stay. What’s even better is that we were all staying at the same hostel!
Much of our time during the day consisted of the four of us and other friendly hostel mates lounging by or in the pool and reading our various books. At times you could only see our heads, one hand and a book out of the water, which was a tactic we all evolved to avoid the barrage of mosquitoes. Otherwise, we’d be chatting about everything from conspiracy theories to politics to ‘Would you rather be sticky or itchy for your entire life?’ Majority consensus was sticky, but John predictably had to argue for the minority camp just to be contrarian.
Evenings were spent enjoying beers on the beach, watching the sky change colors above us and lightning bouncing off of clouds above the ocean. After sunset, like clockwork, it was time to visit one of the handful or so restaurants that was open nightly in El Tunco. If pupusas were had for lunch, which they often were, we would venture to the corner spot for fish burritos or the like, or on one occasion to the local sushi spot, which was delicious. And of course, if pupusas were not had for lunch, it was straight to the pupusa spot. The main point being that pupusas were eaten daily.
With all the Salvadoran Pilsener and tasty pupusas, Whit was happy to find oceanside yoga classes to join in the mornings. Of all the places she’s been fortunate to practice Vinyasa throughout our Central American adventure, this challenging class tops the list. It’s hard to think of a better place to flow than beside the meditative sound of crashing ocean waves.
Also to the sound of the ocean, John was able to learn a fun game with Martin and other hostel mates that is played throughout Texas at various events like tailgating, camping and BBQs. Similar to corn hole or horseshoes, this portable and simple game is played with weighted washers and a cup or hole in the ground. Definitely bringing this one back to share with the group.
It was an easy-going life we enjoyed in El Tunco, and it’s interesting to reflect on how different it felt from our experience in Santa Ana. El Salvador is a beautiful country with a troubling history, which is still being played out through horrific rates of violent crime, harrowing poverty, and perhaps most obviously, a struggle for identity. It doesn’t feel quite right to evaluate our time in this under-traveled country without drawing attention to these complicating issues, all worthy of compassionate consideration.
All in all, we are very happy to have experienced these two sides to El Salvador—even the more challenging aspects.
With six days in the peaceful beach town of El Tunco, we fell into a bit of a routine that one could be content to follow right on through into retirement. We knew we had to skip town before we found ourselves exactly there. With a shuttle scheduled for 9 a.m. to take us all the way down through Honduras and into Nicaragua, we were able to snag ourselves some delicious breakfast pizza before our 14-hour journey.
Next stop: León, Nicaragua!