Henning lived for several years in El Salvador, working as a teacher. He is Co-Founder of the SAY ZONTE! project. Writing for this blog is his way to give s.th. back to “el pulgarcito.”
Playa El Tunco: El Salvador’s tourist hub No.1
As the most crucial tourist hub, most people who come to El Salvador visit Playa El Tunco at least once.
In this post, you can get some useful tips for “El Tunco”. Also, I’d like to give you some alternatives if you prefer not to stay in Playa El Tunco.
The small beach town El Tunco (actually is more a village than a town) is about 50 minutes away from the international airport and 45 minutes away from San Salvador. “El Tunco” means “pig” or “hog”.
Why? Well, have a look at this picture! Can you see the hog laying in the dirt on his back?
Why you should visit El Tunco
Playa El Tunco has become busier and busier in the last years. Depending on what you’re looking for, you will find everything you need for your vacation in El Salvador. There’s plenty of Hotels and Hostels for every budget, bars, restaurants, and tour operators.
Also, if you like to party, there’re a lot of possibilities here.
Backpackers, Surfers, and national tourists fill up the bars on the weekends, and it’s easy to socialize here.
There’re direct Shuttles from Playa El Tunco to Antigua Guatemala, Suchitoto, Nicaragua, and other exciting destinations close to El Salvador.
Some tour operators offer tours to the most exciting places in El Salvador, like the volcano “Santa Ana” or the waterfalls of “Tamanique.” You can also rent a scooter or a car and discover El Salvador on your own.
There are three different spots within walking distance concerning the surf, but they sometimes can get crowded (but luckily still far away from “Bali-crowded”).
“Sunzal”, “La Bocana”, and “La Bocanita”. Sunzal is a very consistent intermediate to beginner spot. “La Bocana” and “La Bocanita” is a more advanced surf spot. Also, there are a lot of people who offer surf lessons. If you don’t feel that safe in the water, you should consider hiring one.
Why you should consider NOT to stay at Playa El Tunco
Well, as always, it’s a question of what you prefer when you are traveling. Staying in El Tunco means you will be surrounded by small businesses, other international tourists, and some busy bars, especially on the weekends. You might like that, or you don’t.
There’re some alternatives if you prefer mellower places or just fewer people.
Of course, we have to mention Playa El Zonte, not only because it’s SAY ZONTE!’s home. It’s simply beautiful, less touristy, and still has enough possibilities to have a great time in El Salvador. Check out this website: www.elzontelindo.com
Playa El Zonte is about 15 minutes by public bus from Playa El Tunco. Another option would be “K59” or “Playa Mizata,” more to the west. There’re some options to stay, and if you want a quiet place, these are the places to be.
10 helpful Traveler Tips for Playa El Tunco
Ok, so these are probably the most frequently asked questions that people ask us about Playa El Tunco. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any more questions. Also, you’re welcome to let us know about your travel experiences.
How do I get to Playa El Tunco?
Usually, your hotel or hostel can provide you an airport pickup. There are also official taxis (Acacya) at the airport who offer you a ride to Playa El Tunco for about US$30. Prices may vary, but you should pay more than US$50 for a ride to El Tunco.
How and where can I get cash?
You can pay with a credit card at most places at Playa El Tunco, although it’s often better to have cash with you because sometimes they charge you an extra fee.
El Tunco has three (and counting) ATMs that accept international credit cards. If the ATMs don’t take your credit card, try smaller amounts or go to La Libertad! VISA and MASTER are usually accepted.
What about security?
Playa El Tunco is generally safe, also for women. If you travel with common sense and don’t do something stupid. There’s a police station in Playa El Tunco.
Concerning the surf: Don’t overestimate yourself while surfing! Severe accidents are rare, but they happen! Especially when the waves are gib, currents can get really strong. Also be careful when you surf and there are a lot of people in the water!
Please also read our article “FAQ: Safety in El Salvador!” if you want to learn more.
Is there a hospital at Playa El Tunco? What if I get sick?
There’s no hospital at Playa El Tunco. The next small hospital is 10 minutes away in La Libertad. If you have severe problems, you have to go to San Salvador. Some hospitals have an international standard. Be sure to have international health insurance.
In general, you shouldn’t drink tap water and be a bit aware of what and where you eat. Hydrate properly and use sun protection!
How expensive is Playa El Tunco?
Depending on how big your budget is, El Tunco is not expensive at all. A beer is about US$ 1.
You can have a full meal, the famous “pupusas” (see our article about Salvadoran food), for example, for about US$ 3 and hostels start about US$7 per night for a dorm room.
Tours start at $15 per person (for Tamanique waterfalls, for example!). Anywa
Should I rent a car in Playa El Tunco?
Well, you could, depending on how big your budget is and what your plans are. A rental car starts at US$30, fully insured. Be sure to sign a formal contract! Driver’s licenses from other countries are generally accepted.
If you plan to stay most of the time at Playa El Tunco, there’s no need to rent one. If you plan to discover more in El Salvador, you should consider renting one (also see our blog post about “How to travel El Salvador: Transportation Tips“).
What’s worth visiting close to Playa El Tunco?
The waterfalls of “Tamanique” is a classy tour. I can totally recommend that! It’s an easy to moderate 1-hour hike (one way) and about 40 minutes away from Playa El Tunco. Don’t miss that.
Also, I can recommend you hike the volcano “Santa Ana,” it’s a one-day trip.
If there are big waves, you should go to “Punta Roca,” even if you don’t surf. It’s spectacular to see the surfers riding the waves. Also, the historical City Center of El Salvador is worth a visit. It’s only a 45-minute drive away from Playa El Tunco.
Should I bring my surfboard?
Depending on how your surf level is, how long you plan to stay in El Salvador and how big your budget is, you should consider bringing your surfboard.
But you can easily rent a decent one for US$ 10 or less per day. Also, you can buy one and sell it if you leave. There’s a good surf start-now, “Papaya Surf Shop.” Please also read our article “Surf in El Salvador: Useful Tips & Hints.”
Are there any times during the year where I shouldn’t go to Playa El Tunco?
Well, Playa El Tunco can get pretty crowded on public holidays. You should reserve your hostel or consider a quieter place when you’re traveling:
- during Easter week
- during the first week of august (Semana Agostina)
- 15th of September (Independence Day)
- and around Christmas time
The high season starts in November with the end of the rainy season and goes till April). The rainy season typically sets in May. But it doesn’t mean that it’s raining all the time. El Salvador gets beautifully green, and the surf spots are getting less crowded.
During the rainy season, the beaches a full of rocks. They disappear during the dry season.
Are there any places you can recommend?
Well, there’re so many new places in El Tunco now that I don’t know them all. Have an eye open on the internet and compare the different places when you’re there. Some of them are really nice; some can get pretty annoying because of the loud music.
But I have some places where I always go when I am in Playa El Tunco.
“Surfos” offers delicious handmade rum infusions also sells shuttle transfers to the most popular destinations. You can find it right on the main street:
Tunco Veloz at Playa El Tunco, El Salvador: Try the best pizza in town. Tip: Bring your beer because they don’t sell it (at least they didn’t when I was there last time!).
Bar “La Guitarra” in Playa El Tunco: El Salvador’s best place for live music! Come here for sunset, drink a beer right at the beach and listen to some of the best musicians that El Salvador has to offer.