You may be surprised that I’m recommending a beach town in El Salvador. However, recently, El Salvador has become much safer than it was ten or even two years ago. As of July 2023, 71,479 people accused of gang affiliation have been arrested (La Prensa Grafica). Furthermore, the Minister of Defense recorded 496 homicides in 2022, an approximately 57% decrease from 1,147 homicides in 2021 (Reuters). Also, Miss Universe was hosted in El Salvador this year, making this the time that El Salvador is turning around its previous “dangerous” demarcation.
This tiny beach town only has two streets, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything to do. In recent years, it has become a popular tourist destination for people all over the world, from America to Australia.
The name “El Tunco” means “pig” in Salvadoran slang. The beach is specifically called pig since the locals thought that a rock on the beach had the shape of a pig. It’s 25 km or 40 miles from San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital city, and is located within the La Libertad department, one of El Salvador’s 14 departments.
Here are my recommendations for how to make the best out of your time in this place:
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How to get to/from El Tunco
When I went to El Tunco from San Salvador, I paid $24.79 for an Uber. When I stepped in the car at 1 PM, it took an hour to get to Sunzal Surfing. However, the ride back was almost 2.5 hours, during the peak rush hour traffic hours (5 – 6 PM) and cost $2 more.
You can also take the 102a bus from the Occidental Terminal in San Salvador to El Tunco. The journey should take between 1 – 2 hours and will cost $1.50.
What to bring to El Tunco
If you’re planning on swimming, obviously make sure to bring a bathing suit and a towel. And do bring sunscreen! The sun in El Salvador is very strong. I didn’t wear sunscreen for half a day in San Salvador and had heat exhaustion for the rest of the day. I would also bring thick flip-flops since there can be rocks strewn throughout the roads and the beach itself.
Since there are no major pharmacies or grocery stores in El Tunco, you may want to bring some snacks, water, and any medications you’re taking. Finally, make sure that your phone is fully charged since it can take a while to get to/from El Tunco. Keep in mind that El Salvador accepts US dollars so you must have this currency if you’re not planning on bringing your debit or credit card with you.
Take a surfing lesson
Surfing has been at the top of my bucket list so when I was in El Tunco, I made sure to take a surf lesson. I went to Sunzal Surf Company, which only charged $40 for a two-hour private surf lesson. The board and transportation were included in the price.
These lessons are best for beginners who want to know the correct technique of surfing and intermediates who want to improve their skills.
They also offer half-day or full-day guides, where guides transport surfers to surf on different waves, like El Cocal, Punta Roca, and Sunzal.
Personally, I felt like it was a fantastic way to learn surfing. My guide was patient as he showed me how to prop my board up on the waves. We practiced a few times until I was able to stand up on my own!
El Salvador’s rainy season runs from May through October so it may be best to go during the dry season, which runs from November through April.
This is an obvious choice since you are at the beach. There were plenty of people taking in the waves as I was surfing and the water wasn’t that cold so it should be a comfortable swim.
Just make sure to stay close to shore if you are an inexperienced swimmer since the waves were quite big. Also, there are pebbles close to shore so be careful where you walk.
Get a drink
As I was walking to/from the beach, I remember seeing many pop-up bars. If you prefer to go to a proper bar, you can also stop by Brew Revolution, which creates craft beer, and Hotel Mopelia, which not only serves Brew Revolution’s beers, but high-quality imported beers.
Take a yoga class
Balancé, which is located very close to Sunzal Surf Company’s suites, offers surfer stretch, morning movement, vinyasa, and restorative yoga classes. The studio also offers space for cacao ceremonies, workshops for breathwork, and meditations.
Their classes cost $12.
As I was walking and driving through El Tunco, I got the impression that there was a very laid-back vibe. I didn’t see anyone rushing to a job or impatient drivers honking at people.
If you’re looking for the kind of environment that’s different from the hustle and bustle of city life to simply lay back and stroll around leisurely, this is the place.
Stop by one of the waterfalls
Located just 30 minutes from El Tunco, these crystal spring waterfalls tucked in one of the Tamanique forests are an alternative swimming option for you to take advantage of.
Keep in mind that it takes another 30 minutes to walk to the waterfall from the town so bring good hiking shoes and water.
The entrance fee is $2.50.
Explore the caves
Follow the beach southeast and walk along the rocky shore for 10 minutes to experience the amphitheater-like environment these caves offer.
Pupusas are known to be the national dish of El Salvador, originating with the Indigenous Pupil tribe. Corn-filled pupusas are often filled with pork, squash, vegetables, cheese, and/or beans. Pupuseria La Guanaquita and Hotel y Restaurante Mamaguaya offer pupusas.
The El Tunco Town Plaza offers a tattoo shop, a smoothie bar, skin care products, and, of course, surfboards!
Look at the murals
The Institute of Youth in Spain and the Government of El Salvador have commissioned local artists to paint murals around El Salvador. If you’re looking to view some interpretative art, make sure to have your camera out for murals around El Tunco.
Watch the sunset
Although I left El Tunco before I could see the sunset, there are many people, Salvadoreans, and tourists alike, who stay on the beach to watch the crimson-pink collage that the setting sun creates. With the black sand on the beach, it provides a lovely backdrop to a long day.
Letting go and releasing your stress is an important part of enjoying beach life. La Bonita Beach Club offers a restaurant, events, and music from 1 PM – 12 AM.
Explore the nearby town of La Libertad
Located just a 20-minute drive from El Tunco, this town is considered an important fishing port and a popular tourist spot with a boardwalk, amphitheater, seafood markets, and restaurants. It also has the Museo de la Revolución, the Monumento a la Libertad, and the Iglesia de San Jacinto.
Stay in comfort
Sunzal Surf Company and Balancé offer accommodations that overlook the Pacific oceans and the surf breaks of La Bocana La Bocanita, El Sunzal, and El Sunzalito.
When I was waiting for my surfing lesson, I hung out by one of the pools near the offices of Sunzal Surf Company and Balancé. It had plenty of beach chairs and felt relaxing to look out at the waves from the pool.
Swim in a saltwater pool
If you’re hesitant to go directly to the beach, the Atami Escape Resort in Tamanique has natural water and saltwater pools that are enclosed yet still provide views of the beach.
If you choose not to stay at the resort, you can buy a day pass for $20, which gives you full-day access to the pools (8 AM – 5 PM) and a $10 discount on food and beverages in the resort.
Ride the chicken bus
Fun fact: Old buses from the United States are auctioned off and driven to Central American countries like El Salvador, where they’re converted into public transit buses. These buses usually have colorful patterns on them. However, don’t expect the luxury of air conditioning or personal space.
They run by the highway near El Tunco and can cost anywhere from $0.25 – $5, depending on how far you’re going.
Guest Author: Since 2019, Paige has been traveling solo around European countries like Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Croatia, England, and Wales, and Latin American countries like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, El Salvador, and Argentina. She has her own travel website called Petite Paiges Wayfaring Ways which shares travel tips based upon her solo adventures.
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