Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Sat May 23 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | May 23, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    El Salvador's Hidden Gem: Playa El Tunco

    El Salvador's Hidden Gem: Playa El Tunco

    Our first night watching the magical sunset over El Tunco

    I dragged myself out of bed with the mosquito net basically in my mouth from tossing and turning all night excited for my next venture: hitchhiking to Playa El Tunco in El Salvador.

    The night before, I had met a couple from Canada named Alex and Luke — two new-age hippies who met while tree-planting and decided to do a road trip from Canada down to Panama in their yellow 1970s Volkswagen van. After talking, it turned out they were heading to Playa El Tunco and within minutes it was decided that I would hitch a ride with them. Because, why not!  

    At 8 a.m., we hit the road and left the sleepy beach town of Monterrico with Bob Marley playing in the background as we swerved past giant potholes en-route to El Salvador.

    The border crossing took hours — we sat in line, sweating, with no air conditioning and our remaining bottled water now as hot as the sun. We noticed a watermelon truck in front of us and managed to convince the driver to sell us one for $1. He tossed it down to us, Luke used a machete to cut it into giant chunks to eat and we ended up covered in watermelon juice down to our elbows without a care in the world.

    Eight hours later we finally made it to El Tunco and an ice-cold cerevesa never tasted so good! We made it just in time for sunset, and we knew we had made the right decision in coming here. To this day, I have never seen a sunset so beautiful.

    The next day we met a local named Luis — a surfer and unofficial tour guide who said he could take us on a hike where we would be able to see some incredible hidden waterfalls off the beaten path, and have a chance to go cliff jumping. Immediately, we agreed, and after gathering around 15 other travelers, we jumped into the back of a pickup truck and headed 20 minutes uphill to begin our hike down to Caminata Cascada.

    The whole trip took four-and-half hours of hiking, rock climbing, and practically turning into Tarzan holding onto vines and ropes trying to keep your balance while scaling a cliff in order to get down to the waterfall. It was the most intensive and challenging experience, but worth every second once we arrived at Caminata Cascada and jumped off 10 feet cliffs into the refreshing waters!

    Left Image: We FINALLY made it to Caminata Cascada and boy, was it worth it! Right Image: Taken seconds before I did my first cliff jump!

    El Tunco has an energy to it that can only be experienced to understand and will make it hard to leave. It has a hopping nightlife, fantastic food, and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met! This is one place you won’t want to miss!

    Weather: Hot, hot hot! (Between 22 and 32 degrees C/72 and 90 degrees F)

    Currency: Everything is in US Dollars in El Tunco.

    Best Accommodation: Playa El Tunco Lodge ($10 a night)
    I can’t rave enough about this hostel — The place truly is a gem and you will feel like you’ve hit the jackpot when you arrive. Beautiful layout, huge pool, “dorms” consists of 1 bunk bed and 2 single beds with air-con, beer from the bar costs $2 (same price as the tienda!), you’ve got a ton of free things to do there and not to mention, you’re around the corner from everything you need!


    • Chilled-out vibe
    • Only 4 beds per dorm! (And comfortable)
    • Air Conditioning in all rooms
    • Large bathrooms with rainfall shower head and warm water!
    • Kitchenette/Fridge (limited but it works)
    • Large, clean pool/lounge chairs
    • Tons of seating/hammocks
    • FREE pool table/ping pong table
    • 24 hr Security/Gated
    • Bar/Restaurant with cheap food and beer reminiscent of home
    • Free Parking Available
    • TV/DVDs/Book-share
    • Great Wi-FI

    Party Hostel: Papaya Lodge ($12 a night)

    Typically I’m not one for party hostels but I’ll give it to Papaya Lodge; the travelers who go here are a fun bunch of people, and although their amenities and dorms could use some TLC, everyone who stays here is fantastic. If you want to be in the height of the action, this is the place for you. (But FYI — El Tunco Lodge is literally around the corner from here.)

    Cheapest Food:

    Street Pupusas: corn tortilla filled with your choice of ingredients: cheese, pork, chicken, beans, garlic, jalapeños, mixed, etc. Cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar is then put on top.
    (For the best pupusas, go to the shack “restaurant” at the top of the road before the main drag. you can get them for 50 cents each — and they’re better than the $1 ones on the main drag near the beach!)
    La Libertad — Take an easy 15-minute chicken bus for $0.50 to the market where you can buy fresh fish and vegetables.

    Best Club:


    A group shot to commemorate our crazy adventure back from Caminata Cascada & the after party at D'Rocas!

    MUST DO’S: 

    • Watch the most incredible sunset of your life — it will be a highlight of your time in El Tunco.

    • Surf — El Tunco is one of the best surf spots in Central America. Rent a board for $10 or take lessons for $10 an hour.

    • Explore Caves — Head to the beach and walk eastward; it’s about a ten-minute walk.

    • Cliff Jumping — Go with a guide to “Caminata Cascada” for an intensive and fun adventure or the easier and well-worn path to “Las cascadas de Tamanique”

    • Eat and Drink — Get fresh coconuts and pupusas for 50 cents, incredible $2 smoothies, and mouthwatering burritos found on the main drag.

    • Check out El Tunco’s Micro Brewery — A 2-minute walk from the main street, you can sample a small selection of local beer brewed in-house.

    • Party! — Head to D'Rocas on Thursdays for ladies night to dance the night away! (On the weekend, El Tunco gets crowded, but it’s full of locals!)

    • Chill out! — After a fun night of dancing, relax on the black sand beaches of El Tunco, or float your day away in the pool!

    Two new friends watching the sunset after a crazy day of cliff jumping 


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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