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Memories are made in El Tunco – anonymous
El Tunco El Salvador is a tiny off the beaten path beachside town.
Made up of just two streets, it’s not the place to come if you like a jam-packed itinerary. But if you like rolling waves, incredible sunsets and a chilled out vibe, then El Tunco is for you.
It wasn’t that long ago that Tunco – as everybody calls it – was known only to the locals. These days it’s the most touristed town in El Salvador.
Backpackers and surfers come for the nightlife and legendary surfing. And every weekend the town bursts at the seams with partying Salvadorans who love mixing it up with the tourists.
Like most people, we came to Tunco for the beach town vibes. The plan was to stay for three days but we ended up staying for three weeks.
And even then we had to drag ourselves away.
It wasn’t the beach or town that kept us there though. It was our community-minded, value for money hostel at La Guitarra.
There’s more about that later, but in the meantime, you can click here for more information.
El Tunco El Salvador
Playa El Tunco isn’t a gorgeous powder white beach like we found in Caye Caulker. Instead, it’s a black sand beach that’s covered in dull grey rocks that shift and change with the tide.
But, El Tunco beach has it’s own wild beauty and once you’ve been, you’ll want to go again and again and again.
El Tunco means “The pig”, and the town gets its name from a huge ocean rock that used to look like a pig. The rock has become the most photographed and iconic image of Tunco beach.
Things To Do At Playa El Tunco
Go Surfing At Playa El Tunco El Salvador
Playa El Tunco El Salvador is famous for its surfing and people come from all over the world to ride the El Tunco surf.
At the west end of the beach is a rocky right-hand pointbreak called Sunzal, and in the east, there’s Bocana a stronger left. And between Sunzal and Bocana are two beach breaks that are perfect for beginners.
One of the most popular things to do in Tunco is to have a surf lesson. And just about every local who can surf is an instructor.
Andrew had a lesson with a waiter called Chilli who works in the bar at our hostel. He was patient, gave good tips and had Andrew standing up and surfing in no time!
Lessons are one to one and cost $US20 for 45 minutes including surfboard hire. We recommend Chilli from La Guitarra – just ask for him at the bar.
Explore The Caves At El Tunco
Any beach that has caves has got to be cool right?
And the caves at El Tunco beach El Salvador are a fun way to spend an hour or two. There aren’t any tunnels so they’re good for people with claustrophobia and it doesn’t involve any crawling.
In fact, the caves are big amphitheatres that you can walk through.
The caves are only accessible at low tide, but even then there’s still water about. Bring a dry bag for any valuable belongings you don’t want to get wet.
To get to the caves walk left (facing the water) along the beach for about ten minutes. You’ll need to have something on your feet as a lot of the walk is over rocks.
Enjoy The El Tunco Nightlife
I have to be honest here, we’re not really into partying and we didn’t go out at night. But you can’t talk about things to do in El Tunco and not mention the nightlife.
Some bars have D.J’s and others have live music, especially on the weekends when the Salvadorans hit town. The bar at La Guitarra has live music on a Friday and Saturday night and they seem to get a good crowd.
Friends at our hostel went out most nights. And judging by the hangovers and injuries (!) the partying was pretty wild.
Check Out La Libertad
Like Playa El Tunco, La Libertad is famous for its surfing.
But if you’re staying in El Tunco, La Libertad is a great place to stock up on groceries. The shops in Tunco can be expensive!
The supermarket is one street back from the waterfront. And there are fruit stands along the street where you can buy delicious fresh papaya. Yummee!
There’s a fish market out on the pier where you can see Salvadorans going about their everyday life. The market is an explosion of sights and sounds but the smell will curl your toes.
The fishermen are only too happy to show off their wares, and you can watch their incredible knife skills as they fillet the fish.
Tip: Make sure you hang around to see the boats being hauled in. They use ropes and pulleys!
You can catch the bus from El Tunco to La Libertad on the highway. It costs 0.25USc and takes twenty minutes to get there. The buses come every 10 – 15 minutes so you won’t have to wait long.
Look for the “Sunza” bus for your return journey.
There are some fancy restaurants along the waterfront where you can treat yourself to lunch. La Libertad is not considered safe after dark.
Hike To The Tamanique Waterfalls
A hike to the Tamanique waterfalls is great for anyone that’s fit and agile. A sense of adventure is helpful too as it’s not an easy walk.
The way isn’t clear and the path is steep with exposed roots and loose stones. The return journey is tricky too as you have to use a rope to pull yourself up the cliff.
Be careful, we know someone who had a nasty fall on this trail.
But for those who make the effort, they’ll be rewarded with gorgeous waterfalls and sparkling pools to swim in.
And for the daredevils, there’s a twelve-metre high cliff jump!
This hike is not suitable to do on your own, and you can hire a guide from any shop in El Tunco. They cost $US10 per person for groups of 3-4 or $US20 if you do it on your own.
Alternatively, you can catch a bus on the highway to Tamanique and organise a guide from there.
Soak Up A Stunning Sunset
Everyone goes to the beach at sunset. It’s a tradition. – A long-term visitor to El Tunco
The sunsets at Tunco are incredible – even better than the ones we saw in Thailand.
Every night there’s a spectacular explosion of colour across the sky.
And everyone heads to the beach to see it.
It’s when you catch up with friends, play frisbee, and have that last dip in the ocean.
Then it’s time to grab a happy hour cocktail and watch the sun sink below the horizon.
Where To Stay In El Tunco
We’d looked at several El Tunco hostels when we stumbled upon La Guitarra.
From the street, all we could see was a gravel car park but their sign said, “The longer you stay the less you pay.”
So we thought it was worth a look.
They had a private room with a fan available but we wanted to see it first.
We walked out of the main building which houses a kitchen, computer room, pool table and lounge area into a luscious green garden.
There was a wide veranda with tables and chairs, comfy couches and a ping pong table. Guess who was champion?
I couldn’t help myself when I spotted the pool and started nodding “Yes, we’ll take it” to Andrew.
And we hadn’t even seen the room yet.
All the rooms face a central pathway making it easy to chat with your neighbour. There’s a real sense of community here and we were invited to a fish dinner the first night we arrived.
It was this relaxed community atmosphere that had us staying there much longer than we intended.
That. And the incredible value for money.
It wasn’t just us who felt this way though. We met an American who has been living at La Guitarra for six years!
We understand why.
Our days were filled with lazing in hammocks, chatting to neighbours and swimming in the ocean. The property has its own private beach access and we appreciated the showers in the garden where we could rinse that black sand off.
Where To Eat In Tunco
There are plenty of options for eating in El Tunco El Salvador. The cheapest by far is pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador.
Everybody raves about these cornmeal pancakes stuffed with meat and cheese and served with pickled veggies.
To me, they’re heavy gobs of goo. But at around $US1 each they’re worth trying, you never know you might like them – everybody else does!
El Coyote is great for coffee and I popped in there most mornings. Their chocolate brownies are yummy too.
For a deliciously fresh and healthy meal try building your own noodle dish at Take A Wok. The portions are huge!
For something more upmarket have dinner on the beach at Roca Sunzal. Arrive for the 2 for 1 sunset happy hour cocktails and stay for dinner.
How To Get To Playa El Tunco El Salvador
El Tunco is easy to get to from San Salvador and its neighbouring countries Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Buses leave from San Salvador from the corner of 17a Av Sur and 6a Calle Poniente in the city centre. They also pass the Western/Occidental bus station.
The 102A air-conditioned minibus goes all the way to El Tunco. Don’t confuse it with the 102 which only goes to La Libertad – if you do catch this bus La Libertad is only a short bus ride from Tunco. The chicken bus will only cost around $US1.
There are many travel agencies in Leon Nicaragua and Antigua Guatemala offering shuttle buses to El Tunco. It’s a popular stop between the two countries. A shuttle will cost around $US30.
If you’re in Central America then a visit to El Tunco El Salvador should be on your list of places to go.
But be warned you could end up staying longer than you planned.
As a wise man told us, “You’ve gotta have an exit date!”
If you’re interested in learning more about El Salvador we’ve written an article with lots of interesting facts about the country. You can take a peek here.
And you can find out more about where to stay in Tunco here.
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