Book! Pack! Go Travel! by Robbie Mamo

El Tunco, El Salvador and the beaches of La Libertad

El Tunco, El Salvador and the beaches of La Libertad

After a great sleep at my hotel in Antigua, I was well rested and ready for my next adventure and eager to catch my 8 am shuttle to El Tunco, El Salvador located in the beaches of  La Libertad. Having not surfed since Mexico and being on the go for the past few days checking out the ruins of Tikal and Copan I was ready to change things up and from what I had heard from others this was the perfect place for just that!

My shuttle from Antigua costed 300Q/$37 and was going to take 4 hours give or take. I didn’t have anything booked before I left but had sent a few emails out to hotels and had a few leads. It was a mixed group on the shuttle like usual. It was myself, a Swedish couple, 2 Australian girls and 2 British guys. It was an interesting drive from the beginning and we all traded travel stories the whole way.

A few hours into the drive we stopped at a truck stop and I was eager to use what little Quetzales I had leftover from spending the better part of the last week in Guatemala. I grabbed a bottle of water and noticed they had Heineken which as most people know is my favourite beer, esp in bottles! I got a few for the road and a couple bottles of water. The Heineken were 13Q/$1.25 each and the water was 7Q/$.80 for a 750ml bottle. This was so much cheaper than what they were charging in Antigua and I went for broke before we hit the Guatemala – El Salvador border. Once arriving at the Guatemala – El Salvador border at around 10:30 there were hundreds of trucks lined up and most of the drivers were having a siesta in hammocks strung beneath their truck. With one lane blocked off with the trucks waiting to cross this meant that our shuttle driver had to weave in and out on the other side of the road and tuck into what little room was between trucks whenever another vehicle was driving towards us.

Once we reached the border we all got out and had to get stamped out of Guatemala, but at this crossing there was no fee. We then got back into the shuttle and drove a short distance up the road and got out once again to get cleared through customs in El Salvador. This was the fastest and easiest border crossing I’ve done so far this trip  and they simply scanned my passport and sent me on my way.

The currency in El Salvador is US Dollars which makes things easy to price out and saves changing currency. It also means that I can withdraw US Dollars before heading onward to Nicaragua which is handy, especially if you have to take money out a few days before leaving a country and don’t want to be stuck with foreign currency. Usually when this happens you lose money on changing it back. Sometimes down South I’ll find a higher end hotel and they almost always have an ATM that will dispense the local currency as well as US Dollars.

From the border it’s a little over an hour drive to the beaches of La Libertad and my destination of El Tunco, which is a small surf/resort beach town that attracts tourists and people from the surrounding cities looking to leave it all behind, surf and party on the beach. This was a treacherous mountain road that skirted the coast through the jungle and beside massive cliffs that are densely overgrown with plants and trees.

There was an overturned transport truck blocking the oncoming lane while we were going up a hill around a blind corner. There are many ocean view restaurants along the way that offer good food for little money and amazing views. As you get closer to the beach the restaurants get progressively more expensive. This can be said when getting closer to any tourist area.

The port city of La Libertad is less than 15 minutes away from El Tunco and the chicken bus is less than 1$ each way. If you are planning on staying any length of time at the beaches and have access to a kitchen, then this is where you will want to go for food and other supplies.

Where to stay…

Once we got dropped off in the center of town I walked over to Hotel Mopelia which I had inquired about staying at a few days before through email. The owner is a Belgian guy and he had a room open up that day and held it for me in the case that I arrived before 2pm and would be staying there. This worked out perfect and was my home for my time at the beaches.

The single rooms were along the back of the property only a short walk to the beach. I could always here the sound of the waves crashing from my room and they had great hammocks. The room was $10 and was basic but did the trick. These rooms had a shared bathroom and no hot water. I was more concerned with being close to the beach than anything else as I didn’t plan on spending much time in my room and didn’t need a big, fancy swimming pool. At night we had a great breeze from the ocean and at night a fan worked fine to keep a nice temperature in the room.

The grounds at Hotel Mopelia

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My room and the little patio with great hammocks so far this trip!

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The walk to the beach from my hotel

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Most people stayed at either Papayas Lodge or at El Tunco Hostel which looked more like a resort, had a great pool and really nice rooms. These started at $10/night for a shared dorm with a shared bathroom and no hot water. There are at the top of the main street leading down to the beach.

The beach and surfing…

The beach here is a black sand and rock beach. It’s not the place you come if you want to lay on the beach and is mainly considered a surf  beach. There are 4 places were there wave is breaking and everyone uses the large rock at the rivermouth closest to the main strip as a guideline for what is breaking where.

Off to the far left near the other rivermouth is La Boconita and this is the the shortboard wave that breaks in front of where the fisherman are casting their nets and fishing for oysters. You have to be careful not to get caught on the inside here because it’s a submerged rock point that the waves break to either side of against the flow of the river. You enter the water to the far side of the red flags before the rocks start and it’s a fair paddle around the rocks to get out to where the wave is breaking.

Directly to the right of the large rock is a reef break and a little beach break. Further down the beach moving right is El Sunzal which is the longboard wave that is a fair paddle out in the inner cove of the bay where the waves are breaking. This is the most crowded point and the beach area in front of this break is also ideal for beginners.

The town…

It takes less than a minute to walk down the main strip in El Tunco and it is lined with restaurants, a few hotels, board repair/rental shops and a few other random businesses. The town is built along the banks of a river leading into the sea. The resorts and other hotels are built along the shoreline going in either direction from the main road which is built alongside the main river leading out to the sea.

The strip at El Tunco

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El Tunco was a definite party town and all the action is mostly centered around a few resorts on the beach. They have special events quite often and sometimes you pay a cover charge. The main resort in town is called D’Rocas and on most nights ladies drink free early in the night. A beer costs under $2 for a regular bottle or a pint. Mixed drinks at most other places in town are $2 but they charge $5+ for cocktails at the resort.

Where to eat…

Most of the restaurants near the beach sell buckets of beer and this costs $8 for 6 and are great for large groups. At night on the main strip there is a guy hanging out in his doorway selling 1 litre bottles of beer for $1.25 and he is out late every night! For alcohol ay of the small stores in teh area have beer and a few places have bottles you can buy for decent prices.

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The staple food here in El Salvador is called a Papusa. This is a stuffed tortilla that is then fried on both sides and served with a thin tomato juice and spicy pickled cabbage and vegetables. Typically they stuff them with cheese, refried bean or both.

One of the locals took me to a place a little up the road away from the main beach and resorts where most of the action was because he said they had the best Papusas in town. He was right and they tasted amazing! They had chicken, beef, jalapeno, cheese, refried bean and garlic butter. This place took Papusas to another level and I bought 5 for $2.

Papusas being cooked up for me

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The best Papusas ever!

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There were lots of smoothie shops and they were selling the frozen fruit style. This was strawberry-mango and was dense with fruit and cooled me off in a hurry on a hot day!

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The seafood in the area was some of the best I’ve had anywhere. I ate most of my meals at a small restaurant on the sand road to the beach and the food was epic. One day I had the burritos, one was shrimp the other was fish and they were 2 for $4.

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They also had fish taco sliders which were a treat and both the fish and the vegetables were really fresh tasting. I soon realized that the seafood in this region was the real deal.

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My favourite meals of the whole trip so far have mostly been in El Tunco. They have some of the best ceviche I’ve ever had. The one I ordered the most was mixed ceviche with shrimp, mussels, clams, conch, squid and octopus.

If you haven’t heard of ceviche it’s seafood marinated in lime juice that is mixed with diced tomato, onion and cilantro, which are the main ingredients in salsa. It’s then served cold and is a refreshing, light meal that is perfect on a hot day! All the places were serving their ceviche with crackers and it is also common to taste a dash of what they call English Sauce down here which is similar to worchestershire sauce.

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Whole snapper is one of my favourite things to eat and one of the best I’ve ever had was in El Tunco. This one was fried whole and served with rice, beans and salad. It was a little more of a wait than usual but it was prepared perfect and it was a meal to remember! This costed $10 and came out with a crispy tortilla bites on the side.

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On another visit to the same restaurant I decided to have the jumbo seafood sopu and it was the best meal of the trip so far. This had mussels, clams, whole prawns and langostino which are like mini lobster tails and taste just as amazing! I had mine done with a cream base and it was lightly flavoured with butter and garlic. You also have the option of having it in a broth(claro) or with milk(con leche) if you prefer.

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As far as street food went there was this guy selling fresh oysters that were being fished out of the rivermouth and he was steady delivering them to hotels, random people and houses in the area.

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One day I was approached by a guy selling local cheese and decided to try some. He was popular and was selling out fast just walking down the road offering his cheese. This is the typical cheese for the area and similar to what you commonly see in Central America.

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One night on the beach there was a lady selling shaved ice treats. They were either served with lemon, salt, tabasco and spices or served with condensed milk, flavoured syrup and honey.

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I spent 4 days total in El Tunco and the beaches of La Libertad, El Salvador and had a great time each day! The surf was great, the people were friendly and the seafood and other food was amazing!

Gone on a whim…