The Beaches of El Salvador Showdown
El Tunco vs El Cuco
Chances are, unless you’re a surfer, you haven’t heard much about the beaches of El Salvador. Mexico, yes, Nicaragua, sure, but El Salvador? As it turns out, the coast of this little country has more than a bit to offer. As a non-surfer and surf nut traveling together, we were looking for the perfect beach town that had the best of both worlds. Here’s our take on El Tunco vs El Cuco.
The beach in El Tunco isn’t that much to look at. Besides a couple of picturesque sunsets and a photogenic rock formation jutting out of the water, it’s not a very pretty beach. The black sand and thick layer of rocks that cover the shore don’t exactly make for good lounging or swimming conditions.
The beach at El Cuco turned out to be one of our favorite beaches of Central America. It’s vast shore leaves plenty of room for sun soaking or playing football. The waves are calm and perfect for swimming. We were there for one of the biggest holidays in El Salvador, and the beach was still serenely quiet and empty.
The La Libertad area, including El Tunco, is famous for its surf. Surf shops clutter the small town and board rentals are available for $10/ day. For beginners, there are small waves and plenty of local surf instructors available for lessons. For the more experienced, Sunzal offers a consistent right break and nearby La Bocana has a more challenging left.
If you’re looking for surf, Las Flores is the place to be. There are smaller waves for beginners and a consistent flow of right-handers to keep surf veterans happy for days, and if the conditions are good you can probably sneak into a decent barrel.
This town is packed with hostels, so you won’t have trouble finding a place to sleep. Hostels range in price (about $6-$10 for a dorm bed) and in quality (dingy to luxury). If you’re looking for a party hostel, there’s plenty with bars and many with pools perfect for day drinking, but if you’re looking for a quieter night, best to head a block or two off the main road.
The beach from Las Flores down to the end of Esteron is dotted with sun worn surf hotels and resorts. Proper hostels are hard to come but there are a few budget options along the way. We stayed at La Tortuga Verde. More of a laid back resort than a hostel, but with dorm beds at $10/ night, it’s a gorgeous property right on the beach. The only downside is the hostel has no open kitchen and the restaurant is expensive for a backpacker budget.
The restaurants here can be fairly pricey, especially further down by the water. If you’re on a budget, don’t even bother looking at the menus of the spots on the beach. There are a couple cheaper taco/ burrito spots that you can’t miss. If you plan on cooking, bring groceries in from La Libertad, because the few shops in town have a small (expensive) selection. There are two ATMs in the center of El Tunco if you need to get money out.
Most hotel and surf lodges will have a private restaurant, but it’s a pricey option. If your accommodation does have a kitchen, it’s best to buy groceries in San Miguel, because the stores in El Cuco are limited. Hit up an ATM in San Miguel before you come down as well. There are no ATMs in El Cuco and you’ll have to head back to Chirilagua to take out money. In the center, cheap comedors and pupuserias are available, but enduring the long, scorching walk into town isn’t fun.
If you’re looking for a beach spot to let loose with other travelers, El Tunco is it. The dense concentration of backpackers means a party any day of the week. Most restaurants serve beer buckets and the bars along the beach play live music or have DJ’s most nights.
These beaches are the perfect spot to sleep off your El Tunco hangover. Most hotels are pretty quiet at night. There are a couple spots in town to grab a beer, but the center can get a bit seedy after dark.
So there you have it, both fun little surf towns, each with their own draws. If you find yourself down at the beaches of El Salvador, let us know which you prefer! Here’s a few more pictures to help convince you!