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El Tunco was meant to be my ‘first port of call’ in El Salvador, but as I made my way from San Pedro La Laguna (Guatemala) to El Salvador on Chicken Busses, I ran out of time and had to divert to Santa Ana.
I was planning to spend 3-4 weeks in El Salvador on the way to Nicaragua.
After 1 week in Santa Ana … it was time for 1 week in El Tunco …
SANTA ANA TO EL TUNCO:
I made my own way from Santa Ana to El Tunco by Chicken Bus(ses).
It took at total of 4 hours.
I left my Santa Ana Hotel (Hotel Libertad) at 8:30am.
It was a short, 5 minute walk to the Scotiabank (behind the Municipal Building in Parque Libertad). From there, I had to catch bus 51F to the Metrocentro (the big, modern shopping centre at the north end of Avenido Independencia).
The bus arrived within 5 minutes and I asked an awaiting passenger if this was the bus to Metrocentro, he said ‘yes’. I got on the bus and asked the driver for a ticket to the Metrocentro, he sold me a ticket for 20c. We went around the houses for 45 minutes and went nowhere near the Metrocentro. I followed our progress using GPS on Google Maps. When we returned to the Scotiabank, I got off and tried again.
This time, I made sure that the bus had an ‘F’ written on it. It arrived at 9:30am. It cost 20c and we arrived at the Metrocentro at 9:45am.
A 102A ‘aircon minibus’ went by after 5 minutes … I tried to flag it down, but it did not stop in the heavy traffic. Look for a White minibus. I waited another 25 minutes before the next one came. This one stopped. It was 11:30am. The price to El Tunco was US$1.50.
I was there at 12:30am. I walked down the street, found a small Tienda (store) with seats out the front, bought a cold cola, sat down, and got on the internet to search the internet for any last minute hotel deals.
NOTE: I could have gone from the Metrocentro in Santa Ana to Santa Tecla and changed busses there. But, I did not know which stop to get off at in Santa Tecla (the bus only stopped on the street and not at a bus terminal) … and it seemed more certain to connect at a known point in San Salvador.
ABOUT EL TUNCO:
It is located 8km west of Puerto La Libertad, 35km from the capital San Salvador and 35km from San Salvador airport.
Only a few years ago this place was unknown and quiet, but is now the most visited town of El Salvador – by backpackers and surfers all year long, and by Salvadorians on the weekends for the nightlife.
El Tunco is, now, said to be ‘the Tourist destination’ in El Salvador.
There are now around 20 hostels, bars, restaurants and everything needed to practice surfing (you can rent boards for US$10 / day). Playa El Tunco is the gateway to the surfspot ‘El Sunzal’, and is a few kilometers away from El Zonte and Punta Roca (2 other famous surfspots).
WALK AROUND – PHOTO GALLERY:
The back street at the end of the this road is uninteresting.
If you double back to the T Junction and continue on towards the water, you hit the ‘Main Street’ which is about 50 meters long.
When you hit the water, you can look right to El Sunzal which has a little bit of sand.
WHERE TO STAY:
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night at the end of October 2017 (at the end of their ‘rainy season’) …
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
Expedia had no properties within our price range.
As you can see, there are very few options within our GRANDPAcking price range.
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 18% to the displayed price to get the final price.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …
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.
If you rely solely on the internet, GRANDPAckers will not be able to find accommodation within their price range.
… BUT, READ ON ...
Before I arrived, I knew that I had to ‘get inventive’. I got onto the internet and searched the El Tunco 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 their own websites.
I found a couple of options worth trying. I knew that I was going to arrive in El Tunco at mid-day. I also knew that El Tunco was small and very walkable. I decided to ‘turn up’ and take a chance.
When I was back in San Pedro LL, Guatemala I found and emailed the La Sombra Hostel; their website advertised a Double Room with Fan and Private Bathroom for US$18 / night inclusive of taxes. I booked a room by email for 04-11 October. I didn’t make it to El Tunco on the 4th of October (I ended up in Santa Ana). I was too embarrassed to email them again, so I walked into and checked out other prices around town first and, then, headed for the La Sombra …
The best that I could find elsewhere (that was half decent) was US$15 for a small, barren room with shared bathroom at the Mopelia.
They offered it to me for US$18 / night. I said that I wanted to stay for 7 nights and asked for a discount. The receptionist called the manager … he offered me the room for US$13 / night. I paid US$91 up-front in cash (and a US$10 deposit).
Water and coffee was provided free of charge all day.
Not bad in El Tunco for the price.
Have a look yourself:
INTERNET / WIFI:
I had previously purchased a TIGO SIMcard in Santa Ana for US$2. I topped it up with a US$6 2-week 1.5GB Internet Plan just before I left for El Tunco.
I topped it up again in El Tunco by buying a US$5.25 ‘top up’ at a local store. In El Salvador, you can only buy top ups at set prices: US$5.25 and US$10.50 being the most common for travellers.
MY ADVICE: Wait until your Mobile Plan expires before topping up and purchasing a new Plan.
If you get back to the Highway, you can flag down a bus to La Libertad for 25c each way. You can got the other way to El Zonte for a little more.
You can walk around El Tunco … you don’t need transport.
El Tunco is about double the price of Santa Ana.
My favourite place was the Esquina La Comadre on the corner at the T Junction.
I don’t really eat Lunch anymore … a good Breakfasts lasts me until Dinner.
You can get something like a small Burger & Chips for US$3.50 or something like a Burito for US$3.
Papusas are, also, a popular lunchtime snack.
There are plenty of restaurants offering Dinner for around US$10 … here’s what you can get around town at the cheaper end of the scale …
The serving was small and disappointing (so were its prawns). I got a better one at Esquina La Comadre for US$6. Again, it was small but the prawns were a lot bigger … Both were poor value compared to what I was getting in San Pedro LL, Guatemala for the same money … which was double the size.
Again, it was disappointing for the money.
The bar was quite nice and I enjoyed the music … but the food was average for the money.
OTHER / CHEAP EATS:
There aren’t any stalls on the streets during the week but there are a couple of cheap local Papuserias where you can buy Papusas costing 0.60c for ‘cheese and beans’ up to 0.90c for ones with meat. On a Saturday night, you may get 1 Papusa stall setting up on the Main Road.
You can get Fruit Shakes for US$1.50-2.50.
Expect to pay an average of US$4.00 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee.
Expect to pay an average of US$5.00 for a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.
Expect to pay an average of US$6.50 for a cheap Dinner with a drink (Fruit Juice or Beer).
Expect to pay US$1.50 for a 330ml local beer (like Pilsener). Up this to US$2 in the bars / restaurants on the seafront.
In a local store, you can get a 750ml Pilsener for US$2.00 (they are US$1.50 in a local bar in Santa Ana).
There aren’t many good Happy Hours around town … if you find one, it will usually be 2-for-1 cocktails (at US$5-7) – not beers. Most finish at about 7pm.
Back on the Main Road, you will find a Disco Bar that sells small 300ml Pilseners for US$1 and shots of Tequila for US$1.
On a weekend night, the seafront bars usually offer Live Music … and get pretty busy because of all of the San Salvadorians visiting from the city.
They usually have drink specials lasting all night … on my night, it was 2x Rum & Coke for US$5.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
I bought almost nothing in the local stores so I cannot comment on prices, sorry … but expect ‘premium’ prices compared to elsewhere.
BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:
There is no foreign currency exchange in town.
There are 2 ATMs near the T Junction. They have a reputation of being a bit ‘temperamental’ so make sure that you get to them well before you run out of money … you may need to try a few times over several days. After a busy weekend, they may be empty.
The Banco Promerica ATM had a maximum withdrawal of US$200 at a cost of US$5.
The BancoAgro ATM had a maximum withdrawal of US$250 at a cost of US$4.50; use this one.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
El Tunco is an established, ‘chilled out’, tourism-oriented place … there is no reason to feel unsafe.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.
When I was there, mosquitoes were around … annoying … but, not a big problem.
El Tunco (like many of the fast-growing 3rd world tourist locations) has out-grown its sanitation systems … Don’t drink the water … be careful about eating salads washed in this water.
WHEN TO GO:
El Tunco has a pleasant 26-27°c all year round.
I was in El Tunco 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.
PLEASE NOTE: I was informed that, starting in November, the sea starts to ‘suck’ the stones from the beach back into the water and by Christmas this leaves sandy parts all along the beach front (but, obviously, more stones underfoot in the water) … and that the waters clear up so that you can see the bottom when swimming. For beach-lovers, Dry Season is the best time to go.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
Otherwise, you are just lazing around a dipping pool reading books and waiting for meal time to add a highlight to your day.
You can take chicken busses to towns nearby for day trips (e.g. 25c each way to La Libertad).
Brew Revolution Bar
El Tunco has it’s very own micro-brewery 2 minutes walk from the main street where you can sample a small selection of cervezas (beer) brewed in-house. The staff are friendly and keen to have a chat about the local produce they use and the beer brewing process. All in all a very pleasant afternoon spent in the shade of this hip little road-side bar.
Not technically in El Tunco, this series of waterfalls is located 20 minutes away in the mountain town of Tamanique. Nevertheless, it’s a great activity for cooling down in the humid El Salvador weather and if you’re game there’s a 40 foot jump from the top of one of the waterfalls that will get your adrenaline pumping. For $3 a local guide will take you on the 30 minute hike from Tamanique down to the waterfalls and back again.
The Beach At Night
On any given Friday and Saturday in El Tunco a herd of locals head down to the beach around sunset to view the spectacular dying sun. The later it gets, the rowdier it gets … people strip off to go swimming and the bonfires are lit. Live music blares from the beach-front bar.
Fruit Smoothies & Yoga
The fresh fruit smoothies are whizzed up in the blender right in front you in about 30 seconds. Watermelons, bananas, strawberries, pineapple, coconut, kiwi, and numerous other fruits all get chucked in and come out in a frothy, icy, delicious mixture. Accompany that with the sunset Yoga classes and you have a winning combination.
Explore the Caves
There are some great sea caves that you can access when the tides are low. If you bring anything make sure to put it in a dry bag because you’ll be walking along the rocks for the majority of the trip. To get there, walk east along the beach for about 10 minutes or so.
From El Tunco, I head for Playa El Cuco. El Cuco is said to be a ‘hidden gem’ with a long sandy beach and few tourists.
I’m having the same problem finding budget accommodation in El Cuco … I have done my usual ‘back door’ research on Google Maps and blog sites … it seems that I may only have 1 option: La Tortuga Verde (the Green Turtle) Hostel. I have emailed them but they won’t provide any discounts for 1-week, single occupancy. I have decided to just turn up and take a chance.
I will let you know how I get on in a future post.
El Tunco is full of young backpacking surfers; there are very few mature people around.
I didn’t like El Tunco. For me, it had no soul. It was disappointing. I couldn’t find any bars nor restaurants that I liked … they lacked ‘ambience’. The place is over-priced. The beach is poor. The swimming is poor. There are no nice walks. There is nothing to do.
El Tunco DOES NOT make it into my RETIREMENT REVIEWS.