Central America · El Salvador

Surfing in El Salvador: El Zonte or El Tunco

El Salvador is a small country with access to the huge ocean.  The coast is famous for good surfing conditions with world class right hand point breaks and budget travelling. There are three main surfing spots in El Salvador: El Zonte, El Tunco and El Coco, I managed to check out the first two. The comparison contains practical criteria as well as subjective opinion.  I also share some tips to make your traveling easier. Keep reading if you would like to find out which place to choose for surfing in El Salvador: El Tunco or El Zonte.

a green wobbly chair in front of the ocean, under a palm tree and El Salvadorian flag

El Zonte

The beach and surfing condition – the beach in El Zonte is wide, with black sand. The view of shimmering sand crystals will stay in my mind forever. In the center of a village there is a small bay, where the surfing lessons are held. On the right side, after crossing a little river, there is a longer beach and the waves for experienced surfers. The hotels and bars along the beach lay back from the coastline, that makes the beach spacious and natural feeling. It’s not the best place to swim though, rip currents are common and the waves might be high.

Places to eat – very limited options. For me it was the main con. Small, local shops offered only basics, it was nearly impossible to get fresh vegetables or fruits. There was a truck once, selling pineapples, but only as a whole. In other places it was possible to buy a piece of a fruit, but not in this case. The breakfast on a beach comedore, was for a decent price, but I didn’t find good coffee anywhere. They served us Nescafe, which is a shame, as El Salvadorian coffee is one of the best in the world. There are some hotel restaurants, but the prices are inflated, about 10$ for the main course. The good thing was the pupuseria, seriously the best pupusas I ever had, but it’s hard to live on just pupusas for a whole week, no matter how good they were. It was a no name family pupuseria, without a banner, opened only in the evenings, with a queue to get inside. It was very popular, and cheap: 0.75$ per one, but trust me you wouldn’t stop on one, and try many different fillings. Shared, simple tables encouraged people to interact in a dark light of a bulb hanging from a beam, under the rough roof.

Accomodation – wide selection of places to stay for every budget. See below a tip on how to find accomodation in El Salvador.

random buildings in a canter of El Zonte along the dirt street
El Zonte

Overall view – it’s a very small village full of tourists, expats mainly. The main advantage is a wide, sandy beach, relaxed, peaceful atmosphere and salsa night on the beach.

Tip – the water from the river is used by locals for the showers and the toilets, but I’m suspicious that it was also in a bathroom tap, so I recommend cleaning your teeth in drinking water.

El Tunco

The beach and surfing condition – El Tunco is the most popular spot for surfing in El Salvador, so expect it will be busy. The beach is covered with big stones, difficult to walk on. When the tide is low, patches of sand appear, but only for a short time. The stones make surfing dangerous in a spot called La Bocana (a left, rock, point break with a workable right) and the condition is only for advanced surfers. In neighbouring El Sunzal there is classic right point break with long lines, perfect for long boards and for surfers with every skill level.  There is a pavement along the beach in El Tunco, but it’s quite short, and with busy bars it’s very crowded in the evenings, especially during the weekends.

Places to eat – many options to dine, from cheap comedores to beach restaurants. The traditional breakfast starts from 3$, coffee 1-2$ which is fine, but compared to prices in Ruta de Flores, where amazingly good coffee was just 0.25$, nothing is cheap anymore!

Accomodation – there is lots to choose from. I stayed in the Layback Hostel, a nice room with a shared balcony, hammocks and a garden. Close to the beach, you could hear the sound of the ocean. 

Big stones along the coast during the sunset
El Tunco

Overall view – it has got everything a tourist needs, from bars to hostels and yoga classes. Party atmosphere around the town attracts mostly young people. 

Tips – check out nearby spots like Sunzalito is a better spot to provide surf lessons with sandy bottom and soft waves.

How to get to El Zonte and El Tunco

There are regular, direct shuttles from Guatemala (eg. Antigua) and from Honduras. Chicken buses in El Salvador run regularly and are very cheap. If you are going from Ruta de Flores, get the 249 bus from Juayúa to Sonsonate, it takes about 45 min. And the ticket is only 0.45$. Now you need to find a bus towards La Libertad. There are only two direct buses at 6 am and 3.30pm. But if you don’t mind travelling with a change, you have more options. Just ask at the bus station. I was advised to get La Pearla bus and then change to El Zonte. The journey was very smooth, with only one antinarcotic police control. From El Zonte is very close to El Tunco, if you go on the main road and wait, there will be some chicken buses passing by. 

Beach with a dark sand and wooden houses along with the palm trees.
El Tunco

The weather in El Salvador in January and the water temperature

Just perfect condition for surfing in El Salvador. Full week of sun. The water in the ocean was warm with a little hint of freshness during the hot day.

Tips

There are no cash machines in El Zonte and El Tunco. ATM Proamerica doesn’t charge provision.

You will not find any shade in both beaches, so think carefully before you go around midday.

Both places are quite close to each other, so it’s a good idea to visit them both even on a one day trip.

How to find accomodation in El Salvador

There are not many options listed in the Internet. When I arrived I realised there are many places to stay, so I went to ask directly. And it was the best decision, as I could negotiate the price due to a longer stay. I also resigned from the A/C which put the price much lower. The room wasn’t that hot with the open window and a fan but the problem was mosquitos. 

Safety in El Salvador

I spend 10 great days in El Salvador, and I didn’t have any uncomfortable situations, also when travelling in chicken buses. I found people very helpful, although they seemed to be a bit reserved at the beginning, but once the conversation started they became more open. But the truth is I avoided big cities and walking in the dark. 

A surfer walking with a board from the ocean.

To sum up, where is the best spot to surf in El Salvador?

El Zonte has got a nice, sandy beach with majestic cliffs, peaceful vibe and surfing conditions for all skill levels. El Tunco has got more to offer for tourists, as it’s a bit bigger, but the stony coast makes it difficult to surf. Could be good as a base to explore other beaches nearby. Both places were very limited, no walking paths, short beaches, I was glad to spend some time there, but I wouldn’t stay longer. Also the awful smell of gray water running on the streets was unbearable for me. Personally I liked much more surfing spots in Nicaragua, especially tranquil fishing village El Transito. If you would like to know how to get to Nicaragua by boat, skipping Honduras, visit my next article.

Which place would you choose? Please share your thoughts in a comment below. 

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