We entered El Salvador waringly, with thoughts of gangs and crime on our minds after all the reading we had done. Making a beeline for the beach, we found nothing but friendly, welcoming people smiling and waving as we passed. Once again the stereotype of being a dangerous country was broken, at least from our experience at the tranquil beach towns. Perhaps one could find trouble elsewhere if one went looking for it, but that’s the same with anywhere isn’t it? El Salvador seems to be pretty well off in general compared to some of the other places we’ve visited. The roads are good, fancy surf resorts and private houses line the coast, and people apparently enjoy the highest minimum wage in Central America.
El Salvador’s south facing coast is lined with surf spots: point breaks, beach breaks, rights, and lefts, they’ve got it all. The first stretch of coastline we encountered, La Costa de Balsamo, is a spectacular stretch of black sand beaches with dark, rocky cliffs separating each. We stopped in El Zonte, a small, tranquil beach town with a fun right point break and a left beach break. We set up camp beside banana trees and coconut palms at Hostel Canegue for 4 dollars a night, a super mellow place run by a friendly local surfer. It turned out to be the central hang out for all the local guys and we had a great time getting to know everyone. Aron spent the week surfing multiple times a day and even went night surfing when some Canadians set up a huge spotlight to do some filming.
In El Zonte we had our first taste of traditional pupusas, a corn patty sort of like a thick tortilla filled with beans and cheese. They are simple and delicious and are served in pupuserias all over the country with a cole slaw of pickled carrots. We also enjoyed an amazing beachfront El Salvadorean breakfast that we liked so much we had to have it twice. Scrambled eggs with tomato and onion, beans, cheese, handmade tortillas, and carmelized bananas. Mmm mmm mmm!
We explored the popular beach town of El Tunco just down the road, named after the famous rocks in the picture below which apparently look like a pig (According to a guy at a juice bar). Larger and more touristy than El Zonte, El Tunco is known for it’s surf and party vibe.
We also ventured into the main port town of La Libertad to check out Punta Roca, said to be one of the best waves in Central America. The swell was small and the wind was up but Aron and our new friend from El Zonte had a lot of fun. We read that the rocky point where the wave is accessed from was dangerous because robbers would frequent the area. Our friends in El Zonte casually confirmed that it’s safe now because the person who was doing the robbing had been killed by means of rocks and a machete. Well, guess that’s good news!
Moving on down the road after some recommendations from the locals of where to go next, we drove two and a half hours to the eastern beaches of San Miguel. After spending an hour trying to find another surf spot called Punta Mango but only finding a dirt road in bad condition and some not so friendly looking ranchers, we turned back to Las Flores, a much easier accessible beach. Playa Las Flores has only a few places to stay, most are swanky ‘”surf-lodges” for $150 a night and at the other end of the spectrum are two hostels that offer simple concrete rooms for $25 a night. The family running one of the concrete hostels said we could camp right on the beach in a dried up riverbed for free, but to watch out if it rains because we could get washed away. The van moved into action: pop-topped, surf boards out, awning up, and we headed straight for the ocean for a sunset surf. The wave right out front of our camp is a peeling sand bottom right similar to Scorpion Bay in Baja California but not as long, more consistent, and less crowded.
After enjoying the waves and the wide sandy beach at Las Flores, we made our way to Nicaragua. This involved traversing Honduras, which was not a very pleasant experience. The three hours it took us to pass through were spent constantly dodging humongous potholes and denying shady police officers looking for bribes. Getting stopped by the “law” five times we figured out that the trick is to only give the police officers copies when asked for a license or registration or anything for that matter, never the originals. Once they have a hold of something that you need, you won’t be leaving until you have paid them to get it back. Unfortunately, before we had a chance to wise up to this, we got pulled over within 20 meters of crossing into Honduras. Aron handed over his license to the police officer who proceeded to make up something we had done wrong and we had to pay him a $5 “propina” (tip) to get the license back. Long story short, our three hours in Honduras were extremely frustrating. As we gratefully crossed into Nicaragua, the military guys that took a look in our car at the border laughed because they could see how happy and relieved we were to be out of there.