I spent about three weeks in El Salvador, celebrating New Years 2011 at Playa El Tunco and then enjoying the mountains and slowness of Juayúa and nearby towns on Ruta de Las Flores. El Salvador is an often-skipped country on people’s itineraries in Central America, but I discovered it is a beautiful country with friendly people, and it’s very easy on the wallet.
General: Food & Drink
Playa El Tunco: Safety & Health | Where to Stay | Traveling Cheap | Sites & Activities | Restaurants, Cafes, Bars
Juayúa: Safety & Health | Where to Stay | Traveling Cheap | Sites & Activities | Restaurants, Cafes, Bars | Next Time
El Salvador – General
Playa El Tunco
This is a small surfer beach, plain and simple. There is one narrow dirt road lined with restaurants, bars, and accommodations. That road dead ends into another dirt road that takes you to the beach to the left and to a few more hostels to the right. It is a very rustic area, and if you walk around outside the main beach area, you will see very humble dwellings with roosters roaming.
- Do NOT leave belongings on the beach while you are surfing or swimming at Playa El Tunco or the other nearby beaches. Even flip-flops get stolen. Bring nothing of value that you plan to leave unattended. Bury your flip-flops in the sand. Or if you are willing to purchase water or Gatorade after you surf, there is a nice restaurant right in front of the surf area that will let you stow your shoes.
- If you are surfing, ask a local about where it is and is not safe from the rocks. The rocks are what makes the waves here so great. You’ll be fine where the main surfing action is, but be careful not to drift too far with the current.
- The nearby town of La Libertad is NOT safe at night. However, you can go there during the day to buy groceries, have lunch, use the internet, etc.
It is difficult to find hostels online, and there is only one place you can actually reserve a room online. This place gets packed around holidays but at other times, you can usually just show up and find a room. It is best to arrive on a weekday as the surfers from El Salvador flock here on the weekends). One thing I really didn’t like is that most places did not offer lockers to store valuables. Here are the list of hostels I am aware of that seemed decent (although I was unable to find a room at any of them):
- Papaya’s – This is the place recommended in my guidebook. Around $6 for a dorm.
- La Sombra – This is the place the surfers go for cheap dorms, but as of December 2010, they did not have internet (as they advertise) and had no idea when they would get it back. Around $6 for a dorm.
- La Guitarra – Pricier but facilities were very nice with a bar/ restaurant right on the beach, and they supposedly had good internet. $15 for a private room for 1, $25 for a private room for 2.
- Posada Luna – This place looked nice, had a small pool, and seemed to have good wi-fi judging by the number of people using it in the common area. Around $8 for a dorm.
- Everything in El Tunco is overpriced. Take the bus for a quarter each way into La Libertad to buy groceries at the market and the supermarket. You can even pick up fresh fish on the pier ($2-3 a pound). While you are in La Libertad, eat lunch and use the internet. There are no public places in El Tunco where you can bring your own laptop and use wi-fi (unless your hostel/ hotel has it, which is rare). The internet café in El Tunco is very slow and over-priced. Also, you will not find ATMs in El Tunco, so get enough cash while in La Libertad. Some ATMs only accept Mastercard and some only accept Visa. o In the market, you can find papusas for 20 cents and licuados for 70 cents (almost half the price in El Tunco). Or you can eat at a nearby comedor for about 50-75% of the cost in El Tunco. o Internet cafes are 75 cents an hour (less than half the price in El Tunco) and the connection is a little faster.
- You can still eat cheap in El Tunco if you go to the stands were women are making papusas and tortillas. Papusas are around 30 cents each, and if you walk to the main road and turn left, you’ll come across women selling them for 20 cents. Tortillas are 5 cents each. You can even find cheap bars and restaurants; just steer clear of the overpriced restaurants and bars lining the beach. You should be able to buy a Pilsener for $1 or $1.25.
- The Beach – There aren’t really any sites here. But the black sand beach is beautiful thanks to the large rock formation that apparently used to look like a pig many years ago (how the beach got its name). It’s also the only place I’ve ever been where you watch the sun rise and set over the same coast.
- Surfing – Okay, this is the only activity here. But the waves are incredible, large and consistently coming from the same direction. They say this is a great place to learn to surf, but I don’t agree with that so much. It’s a great place if you already know how to surf at least a little. The waves are very large, and the current is very strong, so it can be difficult to swim out to the area where the waves are breaking. I suggest spending the money for a lesson if you have only surfed a couple times. Board rental is $10 a day (you can talk them down to 7 or 8 if it’s not busy). It’s also cheaper to rent by the week if you’re truly there to surf. Lessons run $10 an hour. Even if you don’t surf, it’s fun to watch the experts out here.
- Taco Guanaco – This is a small stand on the left side of the main dirt road that takes you to the beach. They serve good cheap meals and offer probably the best value in all of El Tunco. Full typical breakfast for $2. Large lunch plates for $3 (tacos, burritos, and more).
This friendly, quaint town nestled in the mountains is slow, and there’s not a whole lot to do except during the weekend fería gastronómica when the town fills up with Salvadoreans who come for the food and festive atmosphere, including rides for the kids and live music. You can walk the whole town in under an hour. But if you’re looking for a beautiful place to relax for a bit, it’s perfect. And it’s a great base to explore nearby towns on Ruta de Las Flores and even El Bosque Imposible.
- Juayúa and the other small towns of Apaneca and Ataco on Ruta de Las Flores are very safe. I was told by everyone that it was safe in the towns to walk alone and take photos.
- To go to some of the nearby attractions like Los Chorros, it is recommended to take a guide or go with a group because there have been reported thefts.
- I spent almost two weeks at Hotel Anáhuac, a beautifully decorated and well-maintained hostel with private rooms ($15 single, $25 double) and dorms ($7).
- There is a beautiful, relaxing courtyard with good common areas to enjoy a meal, read a book, use the free wireless, and watch one of the many DVDS in their collection.
- If you plan to be here over a weekend, call or email in advance to reserve a bed. The place fills up for the weekend fería gastronómica.
- The hostel is considered the tourism center of Juayua, and many non-guests come here for tours. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful with anything you need.
- They have a decent kitchen although it is small, and sometimes you have to compete with the staff who also use it to make food for guests who order breakfast in the morning. The breakfasts are huge and delicious for $3.50.
- Buy fresh fruits and veggies in the market or one of the nearby stands on the streets. Examples: a dozen eggs for $1, a small papaya for $1.50, 3 bananas for 25 cents, avocado for 35 cents.
- You can eat a set meal for $2 either at one of the eateries in the market or one of the many comedores.
- For really cheap, simple meals or snacks, have a 30 cent papusa at one of the many papuserías (20 cents if you wander to the streets further from center of town).
- There are two supermarkets, Selectos, which is where your hostel will send you and Dispensa Familiar, which is smaller and cheaper. I suggest going to DF first and then go to Selectos for anything else you need.
- Chicken buses are more expensive in this part of El Salvador (about 50-75 cents depending on where you are going), but still cheap compared to other countries.
- Las 7 Cascadas – Hotel Anáhuac offers tours, just tell them the morning before you want to go. Tour takes about 6 hours. $20 and includes lunch.
- Fería Gastronómica – Every Saturday and Sunday around Parque Central. Most of the food booths are not set up until after noon, and many close down early around 4pm. Most plates cost $5, but they are huge. Options include chicken, rabbit, frogs, BBQ ribs, usually accompanied by tortillas, rice or beans, and salad.
- El Bosque Imposible – This is not really on Ruta de Las Flores, but it’s not that far. You can take a chicken bus about an hour to Ahuachapan (75 cents), then another chicken bus (50 cents) 45 minutes to Tacuba. Hostel Mama y Papa is where you meet your tour guide from Imposible Tours. The hostel also looked really nice if you wanted to stay a night or two in Tacuba.
- Bicycle Bread Delivery – Okay, so this isn’t a café or restaurant, but buying fresh bread for 25 cents from the bread delivery guy riding a bicycle through the town every morning honking a horn was one of my favorite things.
- Licuados Shop – My favorite place for thick licuados with the most options of fruit ingredients is a small place just off the Parque Central. I do not know the name, but it is across the street from the Alcaldia.
- Akwa Terra Tours offers mountain biking tours that I heard from other guests were really fun. Basic tours are $35 if you have a big enough group.