Spending a week in El Salvador? If you like white sandy beaches and picturesque tropical oceanfront resorts Playa El Tunco in El Salvador probably isn’t the place for you. The sand in El Tunco is volcanic black and the Pacific constantly batters the shore line. There’s boulders, rocks and driftwood littering every inch of this El Salvadorian beach. To be honest there’s nothing typically beach resort-y about Playa El Tunco, El Salvador at all. In fact, there’s only one actual resort and one other snazzy looking hotel. I know this isn’t really selling El Salvador or Playa El Tunco but all these factors make Playa El Tunco an absolute paradise for budget travellers. It does not attract the masses, which in traveller talk means cheap and chilled – a language I speak fluently.
MY WEEK IN PLAYA EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR
|A sunset Salvadoran style – A local woman selling banana bread on the beach and a local wild doggy. No El Tunco sunset would be complete without the addition of a stray dog|
Important Dates for 2018
Holy Week El Salvador Sunday 25th March – Saturday 31st March 2018
El Salvador Independence Day Friday 15th September 2018
Celebrations of San Salvador 5th and 6th August 2018
WELCOME TO PLAYA EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR
When you’re staying in a beach town you do often have expectations and maybe hot water for cleaning with would be one of them, but when accommodations start at $8 per night and peak at around $15 in 30+ degree temperatures hot water is very overrated. This is Playa El Tunco, El Salvador in a nutshell. A dream to all budget travellers and backpacking as a whole.
Playa El Tunco, El Salvador is situated on the volcanic pacific coast of the El Salvador. And one of the main lures to Playa El Tunco is the surfing. I have heard Playa El Tunco is one of the best places to surf on this Central American pacific coastline. Its not hard to see why El Salvador’s coast is a recommended surf spot, after watching the swells from the ocean front restaurants. The small streets of Playa El Tunco are always packed with surfers, surf shops, beachwear and not much else, which isn’t always a bad thing.
The lazy streets and chilled vibes of Playa El Tunco make El Salvador’s beachy coastline the perfect spot for budget backpackers heading south through Central America to stop off and relax for a while.
|Enjoying the beachside bars in Playa El Tunco, El Salvador – How I spent most of my week in El Salvador|
IS EL SALVADOR SAFE FOR BACKPACKERS
My answer is simple El Salvador is safe for backpackers. When travelling Central America and the ‘gringo route’ in particular it is always wise to stick to tourist hot spots and avoid any wrongdoing and crime, like any destination if you go looking for trouble you will surely find it.
PLAYA EL TUNCO – AN INTRODUCTION TO MY WEEK IN EL SALVADOR
If you don’t surf, like me, it’s still pretty impressive to watch others taking part. Especially at sunset when everyone seems to gather on the beach to watch the show-offs do their thing. Pull up a piece of lost driftwood and grab a cold cerveza for under $1 and spend your evenings on the laid back sands of Playa El Tunco. This is perhaps one of the best things to do in El Tunco. Simple, but also a way of life here.
If you do surf, good news. You’re going to love the water as surfing is one of the number one things to do in El Tunco you only need to check out the surf shops to see this. Practice and try not to wipe out, the beach can be rocky and littered with driftwood and other debris from the ocean.
EL SALVADOR AND IT’S COSTAL DRUG PORTS
During our time spent in Playa El Tunco, which was roughly one week, we were fascinated to watch helicopters checking out the waters by La Libertad up the coast. La Libertad is one of the most notorious drug ports in Central America and certainly in El Salvador. A twenty minute car journey along the coast will take you from the calmness of Playa El Tunco to the hectic and busy streets of neighbouring La Libertad.
Its crazy to think that you’re so close to such an infamous port and life remains unfazed in little Playa El Tunco which is essentially just down the road.
|Prepare for a few similar photos. The rock is probably the only photographable thing in El Tunco, El Salvador|
|A beer and a sunset – The perfect Playa El Tunco evening on the pacific coast of Central America|
THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR
BUDGET TRAVEL TO PLAYA EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR
The accommodations in El Tunco, as I mentioned, are all priced between $8 and $15per night and most have pools (a bonus because swimming in the sea is way too risky). Check out Papaya Lodge before heading to El Tunco. They have both reasonably priced dorms and privates here with a pool, great communal areas and a snack bar for the guests. There’s also a convenience store located next to Papaya Lodge and you can bring your own booze into the hostel.
If you don’t decide to stay at Papaya Lodge in Playa El Tunco, there are a wide range of similar budget accomodations along the main high street. As Playa El Tunco is very much on the Central America backpacker route, you’ll find a range of budget conveniences here including a few hostels. El Salvador uses the US dollar, but that doesn’t seem to inflate the prices in this beachside resort too much.
|Playa El Tunco, El Salvador beach selfies – Sat on a piece of driftwood is how I spent my week in El Salvador|
THINGS TO DO IN PLAYA EL TUNCO – NIGHTLIFE IN PLAYA EL TUNCO
ATM ISSUES IN PLAYA EL TUNCO
From El Tunco the closest working cash points are 20 minutes away in La Libertad as I mentioned earlier. La Libertad isn’t really a destination of choice and after 2 or 3 journeys some of our group still weren’t able to get cash out. Cash machines are rather hit and miss in El Salvador, even in the capital and the three in El Tunco didn’t work at all during our time there despite being a large, clean, air conditioned walk in ‘hole-in-the-wall’.
The locals in El Tunco told us cash points are even an ongoing issue for them and if you’re Canadian you’ll probably have to find someone with a non Canadian Visa card to withdraw for you. And If you use Mastercard forget about it you aren’t spending a penny.
|Who doesn’t love a sunset with a large imposing geological feature?|
LEAVING PLAYA EL TUNCO
When leaving Playa El Tunco Speak to the locals in the shops on Main Street most act as independent travel agents and will happily organise you a transfer for the best price. For almost any advice in Playa El Tunco ask a local. The people of this sleepy sunset town are more than happy to help backpackers and tourists with any requests and many act as tourist information 24/7.
During our time in El Salvador and Playa El Tunco we realised that culturally the Salvadoran people are extremely friendly and helpful. Non-english speaking locals are even eager to lend a hand and help with any broken or pigeon Spanish you can string together.
|A silhouette and a sunset. Playa El Tunco, El Salvador|
WHY VISIT PLAYA EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR?
I don’t want to sound too negative but Playa El Tunco doesn’t culturally have much to offer and Puerto La Libertad is too dangerous to spend any significant time there.
But, if you’re interested in getting to know some locals and learning first hand about El Salvador Playa El Tunco is definitely the place to do so. Almost everybody in El Tunco is friendly and not in a rip-you-off kind of way we experienced in Cuba and occasionally in Mexico. Independent tourist information centres fill Main Street in El Tunco and most locals appreciate if you take any time at all to stop by for a chat.
There’s nothing really outstanding about tiny Playa El Tunco except maybe the people and the big old rock in the ocean. But a select few travellers tend to arrive in Playa El Tunco whilst on the Central America route and stay for a while just like we did.
|Watching the final surfers steal the last of the daylight|
MY WEEK IN EL SALVADOR – PLAYA EL TUNCO, EL SALVADOR
Maybe it’s the spectacular sunsets that draw people here or the surfing. I doubt it’s the pupusas but the other cuisine was worth sticking around for. If you’re passing through El Salvador give El Tunco a try. It’s a great place for us budget backpackers to save up some cash and meet some other like minded travellers. Its also a great location to meet the characteristically genuine and kind locals. That’s probably why we ended up spending a week in El Salvador, including a night in the capital of San Salvador after leaving El Tunco.
For one member of our travelling duo El Salvador would also become a great stop on our journey to celebrate a Birthday too. Jamie turned 22 on the shores of El Salvador and Playa El Tunco disproportionate nightlife gave him a Birthday hangover to remember. After a splurge on Birthday breakfast and an fast taxi ride booked courtesy of one of the locals we left El Tunco towards the Capital to spend the remainder of Jamie’s 22nd Birthday in San Salvador. Large American chain steakhouses were calling.
|Happy 22nd Birthday Jamie|
HOW TO GET TO THE BAY ISLANDS, HONDURAS – TIPS AND ADVICE
Heading to Honduras? La Ceiba for The Bay Island? Once in San Salvador head to the nearest large bus station that does long distance and first class bus services. First and second class tickets can be booked for the long journey from the terminal, advanced is always best. We bought our tickets the night before and our bus was full. Be prepared and leave early to get to the bus station with plenty of time to ‘check in’. A mandatory procedure throughout Central America for big long distance bus journeys.
We had to buy tickets to San Pedro Sula in Honduras – yes, that’s the murder capital of the world. We changed bus here to get to La Ceiba in the same evening.
SAN SALVADOR TO THE BAY ISLANDS, HONDURAS
Take an early bus from San Salvador, ours left between 5.30am and 6.00am,. Ask your hotel or hostel to pre-book a taxi as you’ll be surprised at the traffic at that time in the morning in a busy city like San Salvador.
Once in San Pedro Sula, you’ll need to board a chicken bus or second class bus travelling to La Ceiba. This will take around 4 hours.pl
To read about our time in The Bay Islands, Honduras click here
Most busses from San Salvador arrive to La Ceiba late at night, its best to book a bed for the night before boarding the early ferry to Utila and Roatan. Check the ferry times for the boats leaving La Ceiba – the crossing to Utila takes up to an hour and sea sickness is a definite.