The ultimate guide to El Tunco, El Salvador 

The ultimate guide to El Tunco, El Salvador 

El Tunco is a tiny beach town on the West Coast of El Salvador, gaining popularity amongst backpackers and surfers around the world. Although this town is tiny, it packs an almighty punch of good beaches, good people and all around good vibes. El Tunco has some of the best surf breaks in Central America and is an awesome place for beginners. I stayed ten days and didn’t want to leave!

You should absolutely not miss it if you’re travelling the gringo route in Central America. By the time I left, all the friendly locals knew my name and I was fist bumping them on the way to the beach and it felt bloody awesome. El Tunco is also a great spot to break up the long ass journey from Guatemala to Nicaragua!

As far as tourism in El Salvador goes, El Tunco is the main tourist spot and is the most built up area for backpackers. Many travellers write El Salvador off as they deem it dangerous, but I felt safer there than in many other parts of Central America. In 2019, the country elected a new president who built a large prison and arrested over 40,000 gang members. This baller move has made El Salvador safer and is changing tourism in the country for the better.

Full disclosure, when I got to the beach in El Tunco, my Australian beach snobness kicked in. I was sitting with some brits who generally think a sun and some sand constitute a ‘good beach’ (sorry I love you) and was the only person at the table to say I thought it was shit because there are sticks everywhere. Why are there rocks and sticks on the sand where I’m meant to be lying??? But, after a few days, the charm, surf, the people, the stunning sunsets and everything else about El Tunco took over and now I adore that sticky rock beach.

This blog will cover how to get to El Tunco, getting around, where to stay, the best food, accommodation, nightlife, and other hot tips. I hardly took any photos cause I was too busy chillin, so apologies in advance!

Getting to El Tunco

To get to El Tunco from Guatemala, you can get a shuttle from Antigua or El Paredón on the West Coast. The shuttle is the quickest way to get there and takes about seven hours including a border crossing. The shuttle from either place shouldn’t cost more than 380 Guatemalan Quetzales ($48 USD).

From El Paredón: Shuttles from El Paredón only run Tuesdays and Saturdays, so make sure you plan accordingly. You can book the shuttle from the Cocori Lodge or Driftwood hostel and it leaves at 9am.

From Antigua: Shuttles run every day from Antigua and the journey takes about seven hours. There are loads of shuttle companies on the streets and all the hostels offer these services, so you’ll easily be able to find an option.

Chicken buses: You can also get chicken buses (local buses). These are much cheaper, but they take longer, you have to swap buses a few times and can only start in Antigua. I didn’t do this because I couldn’t be assed, but this blog details how to travel by chicken bus from Antigua to El Salvador.

Getting around El Tunco

Everything you need in El Tunco is within walking distance. Hitchhiking is safe in El Salvador too if you need to get somewhere close and there are taxis everywhere.

If you want to bounce between beaches on the coast, go to the main road and flag down a bus. There are two types of buses that go up and down the road. One is a large chicken bus and the other is a smaller shuttle/giant van looking bus. The giant van is roughly $1-2 USD and the chicken buses are 50 cents. They both go the same direction, only driving up and down the main highway. Use the maps on your phone to guide yourself on where to get off and give the driver a shout when you’re ready. Easy peasy.

Where to stay 

El Tunco is super small, I’m talking maybe three streets in a grid, so there aren’t many options. This also means you don’t have to worry about location too much when choosing accomodation as you can get around by foot easily. This is what I love about it actually. You get to know everyone at your hostel and all the locals super quick.

The best hostel in El Tunco is Papaya Lodge Hostel. Free breakfast, cheap surfboard rentals, a kitchen, comfy beds and rooms with air conditioning. They also have a pool for when you get tired of the sandy beaches. my favourite part; you don’t need to extend if you want to stay longer, you just don’t check out until you’re ready and they’re mad chilled about it. Less admin, yew!

I’d recommend booking your room directly with them through Whatsapp. If you use Hostelworld, they take a deposit that doesn’t come out of your total booking price. To book a room, send them a Whatsapp message on +505 6049 3894.

If hostels aren’t your vibe, there are many beachfront hotels and AirBnB’s are cheap too!

Things to do in El Tunco

There isn’t much to do other than surfing, chilling on the beach, eating, drinking and getting to know the locals. My fave type of place! But here are a few other things:

Learn to surf, get better at surfing, watch the pros surf, just be a surfer and chill out bro

The main thing to do in El Tunco is surf and it’s what this part of the country is renowned for. Amazing surfers come from all over the world to surf the coast line. Everywhere you go, you’ll see people holding surfboards, talking about the waves and throwing out shakas. I had to reign my shakas the hell in after being in El Tunco!

My favourite surf instructor in the area is Bamba Surf Coach. He’s competed in many high ranking surf comps and is now a judge at them. He coaches the pros and speaks good English too. If you go through him, you can get a surf lesson, rashie and a board for the day for $35 USD. You can find him on Instagram and shoot him a message at @bambasurfcoach. If he isn’t free there’s a surf rental place out the back of a nail salon (yeah weird, but roll with it) and the guys there are awesome. It’s called El Tunco Surf School. There are two with a similar name so make sure you follow the link!

Visit the Cascadas de Tamanique Waterfall

You can see the Cascadas de Tamanique Waterfall by taking a tour or a taxi there. There are tour companies on the street when you walk to the beach offering this. I didn’t do it because I was waterfalled out, but people generally liked it. 

Watch the sunset every night

It’s so beautiful and a must do. Grab some beers and some snacks and head down to the beach baby.

Head into San Salvador and slide the Rainbow Slide

I wanted to do this so badly, but the beach life stole my time as it generally always does. This is a giant colourful slide that you go down on a tube, like the ones you use on a river! My friends did it and it looked so fun, if I had my time again, I’d go for sure.

Check out the teeny town of El Zonte

Near to El Tunco, there is another awesome little beach town called El Zonte. It’s even smaller and more chill than El Tunco, with only one street and maybe five places to eat. I stayed in El Zonte as well as El Tunco and I loved that place. You can get to it using the buses mentioned above or a taxi and it’s only a 30 minute drive away. If you like the area of El Zonte, consider staying there after El Tunco!

A good hostel in El Zonte is Horizonte Hostel. You can only book it via Facebook and you can see the ocean from the balcony. At first, the hostel looks a bit run down and the mattresses are just two mattresses stacked on top of each other, but trust me if you’re a backpacker, you’ll like it there. You sleep and wake with the sun and the sound of the ocean, everyone is so lovely, the beach is right in front of you and you really get to know the other people in the dorms. It’s a very simple life and it was awfully calming.

The best food in El Tunco 

There is not a whole lot of food options in El Tunco, but what they do have is amazing! The local food in El Salvador is called pupusas. They’re a dough like flat bread stuffed with all different types of vegetables, cheese, beans or meat. You can pick different options from a large menu or make up your own combos. One pupusa is $1 USD and I ate them every day. My fave combo was garlic and cheese, it was like a garlic naan!

To buy groceries, walk to the end of Caserío Hacienda San Alfonso street (come out of Papaya lodge and turn left and keep walking until you see it on the right). There is a shop with vegetables, pasta, rice etc. It’s not massive but has more than enough to cook a meal. There’s also a fruit and veggie truck that drives around in the mornings and it’s cheap and local. Just listen for the sound of someone yelling Spanish through a megaphone.

Some other tasty food options:

Bao – Amazing asian food

Coyote – Unreal peanut butter smoothies, on the way to the beach

Esquina los Amigos – My favourite pupusa shop is on the way to the beach. The restaurant is blue and you can’t miss it

Esquina la Comadre – Tasty, reasonably priced food and is on the way to the beach. I watched many of the World Cup games there and the locals are lovely

La Neveria Icecream – Oh my god, we went here nearly every night, you can get a fat scoop of tasty ice cream covered in chocolate and nuts for under $2. It’s not on Google maps but if you put in Aloha Cafe it’s in that area, just look for the red ice cream sign.

Nightlife in El Tunco

As El Tunco is so small, you’re best off just wandering the front of the beach and seeing which bars or clubs tickle your fancy. You’ll be partying the night away in the sand, wearing ya bikini and no shoes with the locals and it’s a damn good time! I had an awesome night out at La Bonita, so if I were you, I’d head there. The DJ was playing house, rock and some corny white people music and it was banging.

Also, if you’re staying at Papaya, they let you bring alcohol in if you fancy a cheeky pregame.

Other hot tips

Currency: El Salvador doesn’t have its own currency, so you need to use American dollars. There are a couple of atms in the town too.

Leaving El Tunco: If you want to get a shuttle to Nicaragua from El Tunco, book it from the place across the road from Papaya Lodge. As you have to cross two borders, I think it’s worth spending the money on a shuttle instead of a chicken bus. This place was the cheapest I found, they came on time, the driver was helpful and the vans were comfortable for the long journey.

I actually don’t have any other hot tips, my advice is just to get to El Tunco! Everything is so easy to figure out and the locals are helpful and kind. I hope this helps you enjoy this unreal, largely untouched country.

Yours in shakas,

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