Posted on December 31, 2015
Are you traveling to El Tunco in El Salvador and you are wondering what are the things to do in this tropical surf town? I prepared this artcile to introduce you to my tips and show you the best of El Tunco on 52 photos!
My experience in El Tunco
Let’s start with the number one question I get from other travelers when I mention El Salvador. “How about security in this country?” It’s known that El Salvador is a country that faces crime issues and as weird as it sounds tourists are not an object of violence. Unfortunately, the country is fighting a war between gangs but if you are smart and you stay in places that are recommended by the locals, you should be all fine. I spent there 5 months in 2015 and I had a great time.
The main reason why I stayed in El Tunco so long was that I started surfing and El Salvador has some great waves to learn and improve. My normal day looked like this: I woke up in the morning, checked the waves, surfed, I had breakfast, I chilled, I worked for some hours, I checked the waves again, maybe I surfed again, I had dinner and I either went to sleep or I went to party with friends. Kind of boring life, hm? 😉
During these five months in El Tunco and El Salvador I made many friends from the local and expat community. I would like to give you tips for where to stay, what and where to eat and what to do. Some of the places are owned by my friends who are doing their best to attract customers and make their businesses survive. It’s not easy under the situation that El Salvador faced in 2015, but they are not giving up. What I learned from them for my own business is: “You have to believe that the business will work and move forward, despite that there are many challenges which will appear everyday.”
Choose the best accomodation based on your preference and type of traveling. I know all of the recommended hotels and hostels, because either I have lived there or my friends stayed there, so it was all tested and approved.
BEACH FRONT HOTEL WITH GREAT FOOD : Roca Sunzal
Roca Sunzal Hotel offers accommodation on the beach front of El Tunco. It’s a nice and clean hotel with on-site bar, free private parking and wifi (of course!). What is great about Roca Suznal is that it’s directly in the middle of El Tunco, so it’s close to any type of wave (El Sunzal, La Bocana, La Bocanita). Every room is air-conditioned and features a flat-screen TV. I think that the best part of this hotel is it’s view from the beach front restaurant, the swimming pool and that there is an ATM at the property so you don’t have to walk far away. Book Roca Sunzal
FANCY AND QUIET ALTERNATIVE: Boca Olas
If you’re looking for a more fancy and quite type of hotel, go to Boca Olas. It’s at the entrance of El Tunco in a more quite area. You’ll stay just infornt of the fast La Bocana wave and you’ll have privacy and be away from the bars and clubs, so you can focus on your surfing and relaxing. There is an outdoor pool, terrace, on-site bard, wifi, billiard and private parking. Every room is air conditioned and features a flat-screen TV. Book Boca Olas
CHILLED AND BOUTIQUE HOTEL: Eco del Mar
Eco del Mar is a small, very chilled boutique hotel with friendly staff. It’s perfect for people who want to meet other surfers and who prefer to stay somewhere where it’s quite. I used to go to Eco del Mar to eat their healthy burritos and drink cappucinos -> in thier swimming pool 🙂 Rooms are air-conditioned, have wifi, there is free private parking, security and I loved their terraces with hammocks. It’s in a walking distance to La Bocana wave. Book Eco del Mar
HOSTEL EXPERIENCE: Papaya Lodge
For all backpackers or people who prefer more party, vibrant and fun atmosphere I recommend Papaya Lodge hostel. It’s in the heart of El Tunco, very close to all bars and clubs and in a walking distance from all waves. You can meet backpacers from all around the world and schedule some surf lessons with the local surfers who are always near the hostel. Book Papaya Lodge
FOR LONGTERM STAY: La Guitarra
I recommend La Guitarra as a great option for your long term stay. You can rent one of their bungalows with a private bathroom and a terrace with a hammock. I stayed there for almost five months and it felt like my second home, because the staff was very friendly. It is very close to the beach and lot of people lived there long-term. La Guitarra is known for it’s live music restaurant that hosts local bands every Friday and Saturday. This is great if you enjoy music, otherwise it could be too loud for you. I loved it becasue for a period of my life I felt like living in a music & surf festival 🙂 It was a great experience and I hope to return back soon.
Pupusa is the most famous salvadorian dish. It’s a corn tortilla stuffed with whatever you want 🙂 I love the combination of cheese with shrimp, or cheese with loroco flower or cheese with beans. There is a small place on one of the side streets where they have 3 pupusas for 1 USD or go to Fafi’s place where they have very tasty pupusas too.
El Salvadorian breakfast is a great start of the day. Or a great boost of energy after your morning surf session. You can find many places where they have breakfast for 2.5 – 3 USD dollars, including coffee. Breakfast usually includes: eggs, rice, refried beans, cheese and fried banana.
Tamales is another local speciality. It’s a corn dough stuffed with all kinds of goodies, e.g. chicken, beans, shrimp, loroco. The best is to buy it from the local ladies who walk the streets of El Tunco everyday.
Ceviche is one of my favorite meals in El Salvador. I love ceviche mixto which is a combination of raw fish, shrimp, chilli, onion, veggies, coriander and lime juice. Ah! I miss it so much 🙂 There is a place called “Esquina La Comadre” where you can eat ceviche or other great meals. Try their “camarones al ajillo” (garlic shrimp).
Rositas’s banana bread is world famous 🙂 Rosita is a local and very charismatic lady. She will always try to sell you some of her pastry and I would like to encourage you to try it because it’s delicious.
Chocobananas are tuncasmic! What? I mean that they are delicious. There is a small green house on one of the main streets (it’s opposite to the street that has Eco del Mar and La Sombra hostel). Knock on the black door and ask for a chocobanana with maní (peanuts) and you will know what tuncasmic means haha
Mango is my favorite fruit in the whole world. I love that time of the year when mango trees are full of mangos and I can pick them from the trees or find them on the streets and enjoy their amazing taste.
RESTAURANTS I RECOMMEND
Do you feel like homemade and tasty burgers? Go to Fex’s burger place. Their burgers are fresh and yummy and guys who work there are very friendly and always willing to share an advice about El Tunco and El Salvador.
Pannizimo is a relatively new place in El Tunco. It opened in May 2015 and the owners proved very quickly that they can brighten up the local gastronomy. Their offer consists of very tasty, fresh and crispy panninis filled with chicken, tuna, cheese, beer, etc. You can also enjoy their coffee or orchata – local non-alcoholic drink served in a coconut.
Taco Guanaco is a place to go. It’s a resturant that has it all. Local meals or international dishes for good prices. Try their seafood soup called “Mariscada” and you will know what I’m talking about 🙂
Loroco Bistro is a restaurant that offers an interesting fusion of german, peruvian, mexican and US cuising – with salvadorian ingredients! Their plan for 2016 is to have an outdoor owen and prepare all kinds from bread specialities: baguetts, pasty or burgers. Say hi to the owner Sasso who runs all kinds of interesting projects.
El Tunco is a small town and you will quickly discover that the touristy part has only three streets. Don’t get demotivated about the size of the town, there are plenty of things to do. Especially if you love surfing as myself.
Surf La Bocanita
La Bocanita is a beach break on the left side of the famous “El Tunco” rock. It works well with high tide and there is almost always someone watching you surfing because there are several bars close to the wave. So you can also listen to music 🙂
Surf El Sunzal
El Sunzal is the famous right point break. This wave can be very long and it’s perfect of all kinds of surfers. This is where I started surfing and I love this wave although I’m goofy. It can get crowded so it’s worth getting up earlier and doing the effort to paddle out and watch the sunrise from your surfboard.
Go on a surftrip
El Salvador is a small country but extremely rich for great waves. I will mention only some of them that are near El Tunco. The most famous is a world-class wave called Punta Roca. On the other side of Punta Roca you will find a wave called La Paz which suits more beginner and intermediate surfers. All in a chicken bus or a 15minute car ride from El Tunco. The popular waves north from El Tunco are: El Zonte, km 59 and km 61. The best is to talk to the locals and arrange a surftrip with them.
Watch surf and have a Pilsner
For everyone who is tired of surfing or who preferes to enjoy the waves from the shore, I recommend buying a local beer – Pilsner – and enjoy the sunset and watch others surfing.
For digital nomads: Work from El Tunco
I’ll tell you a secret! El Tunco is not a digital nomad paradise. Why? Because the internet connection is not stable and there are too many distractions like great waves and party almost every night. There is no coworking space so I found it challenging to work from there. I used to have my pool, hotel, cappucino, frappucino or ocean office. However there was always some friend walking by who convinced me to go surfing or having one Pilsener. Good luck 🙂
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Buy unique jewelery from Jimmy
For all ladies, I recommed to check out Jimmy’s collection of jewelery. In my opinion he is the best “artsano” of El Tunco so you can buy some nice souvenir for your family or for yourself.
Buy ocean jewelery from Ricardo & Ricardo
In case you want to own a piece of jewelery that is directly from the ocean and made near the ocean – try to find (Ricardo & Ricardo & son). They used to sit behind the point break El Sunzal – below the tree on the image. It’s a nice beach walk from El Tunco towards Sunzal.
I love to combine yoga with surfing. It helps the have more flexibility and balance. There is a place called Balancé where you can attend yoga classes, however I prefer to do yoga on the beach. It was not that easy because El Tunco doesn’t have a suitable beach for yoga, however if you stay longer, I’m sure that you will find your hidden spot for yoga.
Visit the caves
Did you know that there are very cool caves around El Tunco? I recommend to visit the caves that are on the left side of the town. It’s important that you’ll go there when the tide is low so you don’t get into trouble with the ocean.
Walk the streets behind the river
For more adventurous travellers who want to see something more than the three commercial streets of El Tunco, I recommend walking behind the river and see how a typical street looks like in El Salvador. Have in mind that this is El Salvador and it’s perhaps not a good idea to walk there at night.
Book a shuttle and have a ginger/rum shot in a bar that is not a bar
Are you leaving El Tunco and you need a shuttle to Leon in Nicaragua or Antigua in Guatemala? You can book it at Surfos. Surfos is something like a travel agency. It’s also something like a bar. And it’s also something like a club… The coolest people of El Tunco hang out there. I used to spend my time there too hahaha
Have a beer in a kiosk
Great thing about El Tunco is that you can have a beer everywhere. The easiest and cheepest is to buy a beer at Kiosk Super Tunco or Juanita and meet some locals or travellers in or outside the kiosk.
Party in the Lab!
There are plenty of places where you can party in El Tunco. For ladies: there are of plenty of bars where you can go for ladies night and drink for free. But there is only on “laboratorio” – a club called the Lab. Great music, fun people and ladies night on Saturday.
Say hi to Wilson
Wilson is a something over 70 years young pensionist from the US. He is one of the many expats who live in this area. When you see him (I’m sure that you will see him), tell him that Silvia from Slovakia says hi 🙂
El Salvador is an interesting country to discover because compared to Nicaragua and Guatemala is off the beaten path. Another reason to visit is that the locals are very friendly. There are plenty of interesting things to do in El Salvador, I will just give you some tips for one day trips that you can do around El Tunco.
Catch a chicken bus from the main road towards Tamanique and visit beautiful waterfalls. The best is to go there with a guide from El Tunco or you can also find a guide in the village close to the waterfalls.
Visit fish market in La Libertad
La Libertad is a bigger city where you can go shopping your groceries or you can visit the fish market on a pier. Buy fresh fish or try the freshly made ceviche. La Libertad has no beautiful sights, it’s a more of a look and feel of a “non-touristy” El Salvador.
Visit and eat pizza in El Zonte
I highly recommend to visit El Zonte which is a town 20 minutes north from El Tunco. It’s much more relaxed and you can find some nice restaurants there. Eat or stay at Esencia Nativa. I love their pizza.
Visit volcano El Boqueron in San Salvador
If you feel like doing some more touristy stuff you can visit the capital San Salvador and go shopping in one of their many shopping malls. I recommend to visit volcano Boqueron and see the views of the city from above.
Join Chef Mauro’s Volcano Barbeque
When you want to do something that is different and authentic talk to Local Chef Mauro Bernal. He will prepare a special trip for you. On this trip you will visit his private villa on the slopes of Boquerón Volcano. Just a few minutes outside of San Salvador. Its awesome chance to experience the beauty of the volcano and observe the lights of San Salvador, Lake Ilopango and the Chaparrastique Volcano’s silhouette in the distance. The trip includes transportation, food, and beverage!
I hope that you enjoyed this article. It took me a while to write it 🙂 I loved my time in El Tunco and I miss all of my local and expat friends. I wish you a great time and enjoy life & your travels as much as you can 🙂
About the Author
Thanks for reading this article! My name is Silvia and I’m from Slovakia. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship, marketing, traveling, surfing, photography and I’m in the search of the best ways how to combine it all. Over the past 3 years I changed my lifestyle completely. From an employee in a larger company I started freelancing and working online to be location independent. What drives me is the idea that if I want to, I can book a ticket and go surfing anywhere in the world and stay as long as I want. Also, I gathered lot of content and ideas inspired by beautiful people, places and products. I blog and organize presentations about these topics. Safe travels!