Bordering Guatemala to the east and Honduras to the south is the splendid, but small country of El Salvador, where I would spend twelve glorious days of my Central American tour. On December 6, 2012, after a 7-hour bus ride with two travel friends (a New Zealand lad and a Scottish lass) and a new friend (a loner Frenchman), I landed in a tiny beach town called Playa El Tunco. If you haven’t heard of it, it would be easy to miss on a map, but luckily, my brother and I were told this was the place to check out in El Salvador.
Touching the Pacific Ocean, Playa El Tunco is a surfer’s paradise. The warm waters and rolling waves create ideal conditions for surfers of all levels, while the fine black sand beaches offer a scenic backdrop for sunbathers, swimmers and spectators alike. In El Tunco, surfing isn’t just a past-time; it’s practically a religion. Locals love their surfing, and they love to share their enthusiasm for the sport with visitors to this gem of a beach town. Surfboard rentals are easy to find and are quite reasonable at $5/day. Surf lessons are also reasonable and more often than not, your instructor will be a semi-pro or professional surfer with long hair, a golden tan and a true love for the ocean. A few girlfriends took advantage of the $20 lessons and were happy with the lessons, but not as thrilled about one instructor’s Casanova attempts (we called him Fabio; you would understand if you saw him).
Another must-see that has become synonymous (in my opinion) with El Tunco is its sunsets. Perhaps second only to surfing are the spectacular sunsets on this beautiful beach. Ranging from golden orange to ethereal pink, El Tunco sunsets are something to marvel and take in every evening that you’re there. With wonderful company, a few cold drinks and time at a standstill, every sunset I saw was magical. For a different view, you can also swim out to the rock that seemingly splits the beach in two and climb up to the top, but you also have to be prepared to dive into the water after the sun has set and the tide has risen. One evening, I walked to the northern end of the beach with several friends and climbed a large boulder for a new sunset experience. The boulder was accessible from the sandy beach, but once on top, you could easily imagine someone falling off the cliff into the rougher waters below. Luckily, we all made it down in one piece.
Although the entire town consists of only a few square blocks, El Tunco is a lively, spirited place. From nightly pool parties to live music and dancing, there is no shortage of entertainment and fun to be had. In fact, there is an undeniable energy – and serenity – to El Tunco that makes it difficult to leave. For my brother and me, the town started to feel like home and our fellow travelers became regular company. This is where I received swim lessons and became a kid again, thanks to the German boys (friends I first met in Belize). This is where I learned the amazing life story of the loner Frenchman, a wanderer who just a few months prior, had been in a 3-month coma (rock-climbing accident). And when the ocean beckoned at 2am, this is the beach where I ran to meet the waves, aided by a bearded Canadian with whom I danced the night away.
*Practical information: For accommodations, check out the El Tunco Lodge (*has a pool) and the Surfers’ Hostel. El Salvador uses US dollars; there are two ATM’s in town, but they only accept VISA. Average dining out costs for breakfast/lunch/dinner are $4/$6/$9. Nearby places of interest: Tamanique Waterfalls (Cascadas de Tamanique) and La Libertad, the nearest “big” town – both approx. 20 minutes by bus.