Keen on museums, colonial churches, cobbled laneways and grand plazas? Well, look elsewhere as you’re not going to find any of that in El Tunco, El Salvador.
Instead, expect to see holidaying Salvadorans, millennial backpackers and a crap-load of surfers that make up this coastal hamlet. This is a place to disengage and become a beach bum for a while, not brush up on culture or historic buildings.
El Salvador has a bad wrap for violence and many travellers choose to avoid it altogether. Truth be told, I even had some slight concerns. The thing is, the vast majority of violence is gang related in its capital of San Salvador, so let’s just say that if you’re not a local homie, chances are that you’re ok.
Still, keeping your street smarts in check in urban centres like San Salvador is paramount, but with little old El Tunco, there’s little to worry about.
Posada Luna – where we stayed
One thing for certain is that there’s actually very little to do in El Tunco. This is a two-street town where the greatest activity probably involves sitting around somewhere.
Sitting by the poolside, or in it, wherever you’re staying. Sitting and waiting at one of the juice bars as your tropical concoction is blended, or as you watch a friendly girl dip fresh bananas in liquid chocolate and nuts.
Or sitting at Dale Dale Café by the creek and mangroves as you tuck into your breakfast burrito, berry smoothie or El Guanaco – a typical Salvadoran breakfast of eggs, plantain, frijoles negros and crema.
If all that sitting around is a bit much, you can take a 10 minute walk west on the rocky beach and explore the nearby sea caverns. Or there’s the Tamanique Waterfalls 20 minutes out of town where the adventurous can cool off by jumping 12 metres (40 feet) into a natural pool.
Dale Dale Café
Monkey La La
Checking out the handful of clothes and souvenir shops could keep you occupied for a little while, but if the urge of sitting down with a drink in the waning hours of daylight arises, then the bar scene ought to be explored a little.
The rhythmic waves serve as perfect viewing material for many bars along the narrow beachfront walkway, places you can chill with a cold one and settle in for sunset and the balmy evening.
Head to Monkey Lala for one of their $1 after-five local beers to enjoy with a burger or seafood cocktail as the upstairs DJ does their thing. Nearby you’ll also find La Guitarra, another live music venue with happy hour and edibles like ceviche, salads and nachos.
If you want to hang with the surfers and their groupies, grab a seat by the rocky beach at Thekla Bar and chill beneath shady trees with a drink and a perfect sunset. When the scene becomes too rowdy, walk back into town and sit upstairs at Charly’s, order some cocktails, a burger or one of their Perúvian dishes and enjoy the cool breeze.
El Buen Gusto
The food scene in El Tunco is just as you’d expect from a Salvadoran hamlet that’s also gringo central. Plenty of local food with a hefty dose of imports like pizza, burgers, bagels and the like.
Seeing you’re in the land of the pupusa, you’d have to try at least a couple while you’re bumming around El Tunco. These thick stuffed corn tortillas are cheap, tasty and fill the stomach perfectly. Seek out the few vendors at the top of the main street, perch on a stool and tuck into a variety of filled pupusas.
El Buen Gusto does them at 75¢ a pop and offers eight fillings. Be sure to sample one with loroco, a native flower bud that’s used to enhance the flavour. Alternatively, stop by for breakfast, quesadillas, grilled chicken or steak.
There’s local and international food going at Restaurante Erika, which sadly has a rather on-the-nose location right by Río Tunco. No amount of cinnamon candles can mask the smell that comes from that stagnant water, but if you sit closer to the main street, you’ll be perfectly fine. Expect your standard offerings and keep your eyes peeled for the great value specials like pescado al ajillo (garlic fish; 5).
I was pretty chuffed when we spotted a chef wearing a traditional chef’s white tunic, board shorts and Panamá hat at Arigato Lounge, home to some rather fab Japanese-style edibles. From the delicious teriyaki bowl (8) with tempura chicken, the panko squid rings to an excellent tempura fish roll with cream cheese, crushed nuts and eel sauce; it’s all really good.
We booked a shuttle through Quetzal Trekkers in León which uses a service that has a 1.00 – 1.30am hotel pick-up and departure. Our shuttle was delayed and picked us up at 5am and arrived in El Tunco at 5pm. There is an extra cost of US$10 which covers border crossings into and out of Honduras.