El Esteron – El Salvador – Information

El Cuco - Totuga Verde - Another Sunset 1

OCTOBER 2017:



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OVERVIEW:

I had spent 1 week in Santa Ana and another week in El Tunco: two of the top rated tourist destinations in El Salvador.

I was not impressed by either.El Cuco Location Map

It was time to try something completely different … it was time for 1 week in El Cuco (or, El Esteron … to be exact) …


EL TUNCO TO EL CUCO / EL ESTERON:

Gekko Shuttles have an office in El Tunco (on the Main Road) that advertises a shuttle to El Cuco. However, in October, their office was closed. I contacted them online. They said that they had no shuttle service to El Cuco in October.

Nearer to the T Junction, you find Surfos. Surfos also do a shuttle to El Cuco … but, not all the way … they only take you to El Delirio. They told me that Gekko do the same. From El Delirio, you have to take public transport to El Cuco. The Surfos shuttle leaves every day at 9:45am and takes about 2-3 hours. The price to El Delirio is US$23.

Alas, the Surfos shuttle was full on the day that I wanted to go … so, I decided to make my own way by Chicken Bus … This was may route:El Tunco to El Esteron Map

I walked the 200 meters from the La Sombra Hostel to the main highway; I was there by 8:30am.El Tunco - Bus 102A Stop

I flagged down a passing #80 bus at 8:35am and got off at the last stop in La Libertad in front of a wooden ship on the waterfront (US$0.25c).

Here, you have 2 choices:

  1. Wait at the same stop for a passing bus to Comalapa; online blogs say that you need bus #187
  2. Walk 2 blocks inland through the market to a street bus terminal (labelled Bus Stop 187-192 on Google Maps) and see what you can find

I chose option 2.La Libertad - Mercado Bus Terminal

At the bus terminal, there are more bus options to Comalapa (not just bus #187) … and you are 1st on … so you can get a better seat. If you have luggage, you always want to enter through the back door. At the back there is, usually, an area to put luggage. If you get onto a bus early you can, usually, get a seat next to your luggage (so that you can keep an eye on it). The locals helped me to find a bus to Comalapa … it wasn’t bus #187 (it might have been a #126 … but, it all happened so fast).

The bus left at 9:00am. We stopped at the wooden ship stop at 9:10am.La Libertad - Bus to Comalapa 60c

I asked the bus ticket collector to be dropped off at the bridge where route 2 meets route 5 … he knew exactly what I wanted (this is a popular stop for people heading east along the main coast road towards San Miguel). The ticket cost US$0.60c. We arrived at the bridge at 10:05am.Comalapa - Bridge Bus Stop

At the bridge, you follow a footpath down to the road below.Comalapa - Under the Bridge

Here, the locals will help you flag down the right bus to Usulatan or El Delirio. Sometimes, you can get a bus all the way from here to El Delirio … but, not today. The locals got me on a bus to Usulatan.

I only had to wait 5 minutes. I got on at the back … It was standing room only. I stood for 45 minutes with my suitcase in the aisle between my legs and my rucksack on my back. For the rest of the way I had a seat and held my suitcase by my side in the aisle – which was a bit a pain in the proverbial with so many people walking past. We arrived in Usulatan at 11:50am (US$1.50).

About 1 km before Usulatan town, the driver stopped and directed me to get off at a bus terminal. Here I could catch a bus to El Delirio.Usulatan - Bus Terminal

The bus driver was looking after me … by stopping here (rather than in town), my suitcase was stowed in the luggage compartment and I got a good seat at the back of the bus. The bus left within 1 minute of my arrival.Usulatan - Bus to El Delirio

This ‘kindness’ did not last long though … half way through the journey, someone else’s luggage took priority and my suitcase appeared in front of me at the back of the bus 🙂

We arrived at the El Delirio roundabout at 1:00pm (US$1).

You walk about 30 meters around the roundabout to the right. Here, you wait for a bus to El Cuco … again, the locals will help you get on the right bus.

The bus arrived at 1:20pm.El Delirio - Roundabout Bus StopEl Delirio - Bus to El Cuco

We arrived in El Cuco town at 2:20pm (US$0.55c).

From El Cuco my only choice was a US$5 taxi to take me to the La Tortuga Verde Hotel. This was a 3km ride down Bulevar El Cuco to Playa El Esteron.

The total price of my trip was US$8.90. If I had caught a Surfos shuttle it would have been US$28.55.


ABOUT EL CUCO / EL ESTERON:

El Esteron (3kms east of El Cuco) is regarded as being one of the best beaches in El Salvador.

In stark contrast to El Tunco, the El Cuco area is not well known, it draws few crowds (except for San Salvadorians at the weekend), and has a good beach with good swimming.El Cuco Town Map

El Esteron is said to be one of El Salvador’s best kept secrets.


WALK AROUND – PHOTO GALLERY:

My walkabout starts at my hotel in El Esteron (La Tortuga Verde, below).


HEADING EAST:

You walk out onto a grey sand beach.El Cuco - Walk East - 1

That stretches as far as the eye can see.El Cuco - Walk East - 2

Passing the odd fishing boat and odd debris.El Cuco - Walk East - 3 El Cuco - Walk East - 4

After about 600 meters, you reach the estuary.El Cuco - Walk East - 5 El Cuco - Walk East - 6

You can’t walk up the estuary far.El Cuco - Walk East - 7

You need to double back to the end of Bulevar El Cuco.El Cuco - Walk East - 8

You can cut inland along the back road out of town to a small bridge.El Cuco - Walk East - 9 El Cuco - Walk East - 10 El Cuco - Walk East - 11

Passing a couple of dusty back streets on the way.El Cuco - Walk East - 12

On the Bullevar back towards the hotel (about 200-300 meters from the Tortuga Verde), you pass a couple of stores where you can get the odd supplies.El Cuco - Walk East - 13 El Cuco - Walk East - 14

Passing a couple of large, quiet waterfront hotels along the way.


HEADING WEST TO EL CUCO:

You start on the same grey sand with a view as far as you can see.El Cuco - Walk West - 1

After about 25 minutes of deserted beach, you hit an estuary.El Cuco - Walk West - 2 El Cuco - Walk West - 3

The estuary is shallow and easy to cross.

As you walk further, you pass an increasing number of fisherman’s huts.El Cuco - Walk West - 4 El Cuco - Walk West - 5

As you get to the edge of El Cuco town, these huts touch the lapping water.El Cuco - Walk West - 6

You, then hit the park on the El Cuco town waterfront. The beach walk takes about 45-50 minutes.El Cuco - Walk West - 7

El Cuco town is small … and typical central american.El Cuco - Walk West - 8

The road out of town back to El Esteron is pretty deserted.El Cuco - Walk West - 9 El Cuco - Walk West - 10

And turns to dirt track after a small bridge.El Cuco - Walk West - 11

It is just a quiet road all of the way back to La Tortuga Verde … you pass the odd resort … but no stores nor local cafes.El Cuco - Walk West - 12

The walk back along the road is a bit quicker … allow 40-50 minutes.


WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night at the end of October 2017 (at the end of their ‘rainy season’) …



HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:El Cuco Booking

AGODA.COM:El Cuco Agoda

EXPEDIA.COM:El Cuco Expedia

As you can see, there are very few options within our GRANDPAcking price range.

PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18% to the displayed price to get the final price.



VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …


TRIPADVISOR:El Cuco Tripadvisor

AIRBnB:

AirBnB had no properties listed


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.



IN SUMMARY:

If you rely solely on the internet, GRANDPAckers will not be able to find accommodation within their price range.

… BUT, READ ON ...


MY ACCOMMODATION:

Before I arrived, I knew that I had to ‘get inventive’. I got onto the internet and searched the El Cuco blogs … I, also, got onto Google Maps, found hotels not listed on the ‘hotel booking sites’, and tried to find those hotels on Facebook and on their own websites.

I found La Tortuga Verde … which was, probably, the only hotel offering accommodation within GRANDPAcker price range.El Cuco - Totuga Verde - Another Sunset 2

PLEASE NOTE: There may have been cheap, local quality accommodation within El Cuco town – but, I didn’t come here to stay in town!

The Tortuga offered Double Fan rooms (Masos) with private bathrooms and screened deck & hammock for as low as US$25 / night. They also had what they called ‘mini rooms’ … private rooms with shared bathroom with only enough room inside to swing a kitten. These were listed at US$12 for single occupancy and US$18 for double occupancy.

I emailed them and asked if they offered a discount on the Masos for single occupancy and a 7 night stay. They said no. I knew that I was going to arrive mid afternoon, so I decided NOT to book in advance … and just turn up and have a look.

I arrived at about 3:00pm and asked to see the two types of rooms.

The Double with Private Bathroom listed for US$25 was very similar to the room that I paid US$13 for in El Tunco.El Tunco - La Sombra - Room Entry

Before deciding on which room, I took a walk around the grounds and looked at the Restaurant Menu. Ouch! The prices were expensive … I decided to take the cheapest room (so that I could afford to eat in the restaurant).

The Tortuga is large. The Mini Rooms block(s) was at the back to one side. But, still only a 50 meter walk to the beach.La Tortuga Verde - Mini Rooms Complex

Inside my block were 4 rooms.La Tortuga Verde - Mini Rooms Beach Path

A corridor lead down to the shared toilet, shared vanity, and shared shower.La Tortuga Verde - Mini Room Corridor La Tortuga Verde - Mini Room Shared Shower La Tortuga Verde - Mini Room Shared Toilet La Tortuga Verde - Mini Room Shared Vanity

On the other side of the corridor were the rooms.

The rooms were true to their word … mini 🙂La Tortuga Verde - Min Room Furniture La Tortuga Verde - Mini Room Bed La Tortuga Verde - Mini Room Entry La Tortuga Verde - Mini Rooms Entry

The walls were as thin as paper and you could everything going on … but people were considerate and kept the noise down after 10pm at night.

The grounds were very nice.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Entry to Grounds

There was a small swimming pool.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Pool

And plenty of places to relax in hammocks on the beach.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Bar Hammocks El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Beach Ramadas El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Beachfront View

Sod the room … I was only going to sleep there anyway!

PLEASE NOTE: On my walk to El Cuco and back, I saw nothing to suggest that it was worth paying US$50+ / night rather than the US$25 / night charged at La Tortuga Verde.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


INTERNET / WIFI:

There is one word that describes the WiFi at Tortugas: pathetic.

The give-away is, probably, in their password: ‘noskypenoyoutube’… in fact, they have blocked several sites including Facebook. They do this to stop all forms of video streaming … which helps them provide some sort of pathetic service for text-based internet access.

I already had a TIGO SIMcard purchased in Santa Ana for US$2. In El Tunco, I topped it up with a US$6 ‘promotion’: a 2-week 1.5GB Internet Plan doubled up to 3GB.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Sunset 2

In the Tortuga, I needed it. I was able to get an ‘H+’ signal (but no ‘G’) … which was good enough for everything that I needed to do.

Unlike what happened in Santa Ana, this plan properly queued behind my active one … and I didn’t lose it when the former expired.


TRANSPORT:

There is no Public Transport to / from the Tortuga Verde; you have to catch at taxi at US$5 each way to El Cuco town.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Sunset 3

From El Cuco town you can catch a public bus to Chirilagua (25c each way), the highway (55c each way), or continue on busses to the surrounding towns.

At those costs … GRANDPAckers are ‘resort bound’.


EAT:

You are living in a ‘resort’ and ‘resort-bound’ with few other options.

La Tortuga Verde hotel prices are triple the price of Santa Ana.

Here is the Tortuga Verde menu:El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 1 El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 2 El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 3 El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 4El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 5 El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 6 El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 7El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 8 El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Menu 9

PLEASE NOTE: La Tortuga Verde automatically at a 10% ‘service fee / tip’ to these prices. Residents don’t pay-as-you-go. Instead, you show them your wrist band ID and they charge it to your room. You settle your account when you check out.

ALSO NOTE: There is another (non-resort) restaurant 600 meters down the road to the east … but, it was deserted and you run a gauntlet of aggressive dogs when you walk the road at night.


BREAKFAST:

I tried the Tortuga’s Desayuno Tipico for US$4.50+10%. It was very average. It was another US$1+10% for a coffee. This adds up to US$6 for something that you can get in Santa Ana for US$1.50.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Desayuno Tipico US$4.95

But, I struck lucky. Just 20 meters east of the Tortuga is a little, local cafe called ‘Adelas’. El Cuco - Adelas - EntryEl Cuco - Adelas - Cafe

She does breakfasts for US$2 including a coffee. Extra coffees are 35c.El Cuco - Adelas - Desayuno Tipico US$2 El Cuco - Adelas - Desayuno Ranchero w Coffee US$2

At 1/3rd of the price, I ate Breakfast at Adelas. She was always very friendly and glad to see me everyday.


LUNCH:

I don’t really eat Lunch anymore … a good Breakfasts lasts me until Dinner.

You can get something cheap off of the Tortuga menu for US$3-4+10%.

Adela does pupusas for 50c each.El Cuco - Adelas - 3x Pupusas US$1.50


DINNER:

You can read the prices off of the Tortuga menu yourself … nothing is ‘cheap’.

As a comparison, Adela does a Fried Fish Meal for US$6.El Cuco - Adelas - Fried Fish US$6

And a Fried Chicken meal for US$5.El Cuco - Adelas - Fried Chicken US$5

She also did a reasonable vegetarian salad with fried potatoes for US$2.50.

I saved a lot of money by eating at Adelas most nights.


IN SUMMARY:

Eat at Adelas.

PLEASE NOTE: I don’t know why groups of young backpackers don’t wander down to Adelas for a cheap meal and beers before heading back to the Tortuga bar … I can only assume that it is because they don’t know that Adelas is there … Adelas should be a lot busier than it is.

Expect to pay an average of US$2.00 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee at Adelas; triple that to US$6.00 at the Tortuga.

Expect to pay an average of US$3.00 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink at Adelas; double that to US$6.00 at the Tortuga.

Expect to pay an average of US$6.00 for a cheap Dinner with a drink (Fruit Juice or Beer) at Adelas; double that to US$12.00 at the Tortuga.


DRINK:

Expect to pay US$1.50+10% at the Tortuga for a 330ml local beer (like Pilsener). Refer to their menu (above).El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Bird Bath

At Adelas, you pay US$1.50 for a 750ml bottle of the same beer.

I was there for 1 week and never heard of a Happy Hour at the Tortuga. However, the night before I left they put a sign up on the bar: ‘US$1+10% 300ml beers and 2-for-1 cocktails from 4:30pm to 6:30pm’. Bugger!


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

I bought almost nothing in the local stores so I cannot comment on prices, sorry …

But I do know that a 1 liter bottle of 4-year-old rum is US$10, 7-year-old rum US$12, and a 900ml bottle of some cheap, local spirit US$4.

I also know that a small 330ml beer is US$1 and a small banana is 10c.


BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are no foreign currency exchanges in the area. Not even at the hotels.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Sunset 1

There are no ATMs in El Cuco town.

The nearest ATM is a taxi ride to El Cuco (US$5 each way) and a short bus ride up the road to Chirilagua (25c each way).

I came with enough cash, so I don’t know the maximum withdrawal limit of that ATM … nor the transaction fee.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

These are well-run, westernised resorts … there is no reason to feel unsafe. You do meet the odd group of drunks on the El Cuco town streets … anytime from lunchtime onwards.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Sunset 4

The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.

When I was there, mosquitoes were around but, not a big problem.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

The Pacific Coast climate is typified by Acajutla.El Tunco Climate

El Esteron has a pleasant 26-27°c all year round … made more comfortable by the sea breeze.

I was in El Esteron at the end of Rainy Season … I didn’t see much (if any) rain … only a ‘hint’ of it in the middle of the night.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

Relax. Swim. Sunbathe. Watch the sunsets.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Sunset 5

You are lazing around on the beach, swinging in an hammock, or in a lounger around the dipping pool reading books and waiting for meal time to add a highlight to your day.

The Tortuga do put on events but, when I was there, they weren’t well patronised.

The Tortuga also has a Turtle Sanctuary. At 8am some mornings or 5pm some afternoons you can watch them release the hatchlings back into the water.


GETTING AWAY:

From El Esteron, I head for Potosi, Nicaragua and on to the northen Nicariguan Pacific beach(es).

The Tortuga provide a shuttle-boat service across the Gulf of Fonseca to Potosi for US$75. Alternatively, I can make my own way to La Union and try and organise a boat myself; an online search of travel blogs indicates that the cheapest boat trip costs US$55 – with a lot of hassle. Some blogs say it is US$75. There seem to be no guarantees of find a boat on the day that you want to go … and no guarantee that you won’t have to wait around for hours for your boat to leave.El Cuco - Tortuga Verde - Sunset 6

The boat trip across the Gulf of Fonseca is said to be much nicer than the long shuttle trip from San Miguel (El Salvador), through the problematic Honduran borders, to Leon (Nicaragua).

I have decided to book the Tortuga option for US$75. With a taxi to El Cuco, busses to La Union, the hassle of finding a boat, the threat of having to stay overnight in an hotel, and a minimum of US$55 for the boat across the Gulf … the US$75 price offered by the Tortuga seems very reasonable.

I will let you know how I get on in a future post.


CONCLUSION:

El Esteron is a very quiet, resort-oriented, beach holiday.El Cuco - Another Sunset 3

After a week or two, you are likely to go ‘stir crazy’. There is nothing to do.

In addition, these resorts are expensive for GRANDPAckers … if you are not next to Adelas or close to El Cuco town, you meal costs will blow your budget … but, I will tell you more about that in my next post.

El Cuco / Esteron DOES NOT make it into my RETIREMENT REVIEWS.

TTFN


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