El Salvador is kind of the pre-glass slipper Cinderella of Central America. Most backpackers bypass it entirely, and those that do pause to get their passports stamped tend to stay for just a few days, most often to surf along the Costa del Bálsamo or to take in the colonial Ruta de las Flores. I have to admit that had you asked me around this time last year, I wouldn’t have been able to sum up much enthusiasm to visit El Salvador, apart from its role in achieving my goal of eventually visiting every country in Latin America.
And then came Equilibrio.
Equilibrio is the brainchild of some of my closest and most creative friends from New York; a four day festival that came to life on the beaches of El Salvador in late February. As soon as my friend Sam told me to mark my calendar, I did so dutifully, and thus Equilibrio was one of the main anchors that set my current Central America trip in motion. But you’ll hear more — much more — about Equilibrio later.
First, I want to tell you about the beach town of El Cuco.
Though Equilibrio itself lasted four days, I decided to arrive a week early to soak up as much time with my New York crew as possible. I was worried about spending a full ten days on a remote beach with limited internet, but the day I arrived, after a long border crossing from Nicaragua, I knew immediately that I had made the right call. Some of my most cherished memories are from those first lazy days, before the festival goers arrived and the energy and chaos levels raised a billion notches.
When I first arrived, Equilibrio seemed like a distant future — it was just us, the sand, and the surf.
Alex in Wanderland regular Zoe arrived not long after me, and with our offers to help met with smiling shrugs that everything was under control, we had plenty of time to explore all that El Cuco has to offer.
As far as travelers are concerned, El Cuco is the backpacker beach resort of La Tortuga Verde, host of the Equilibrio festival. With a shady pool, a waterfront restaurant, a vegetarian cafe, free yoga classes, one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen in Latin America and dorms starting at $10 a night, it truly is an oasis for those looking for a break from the Gringo Trail.
The beach was truly unlike any other I’ve ever spent time on — impossibly long and flat, with hard sand perfect for meandering walks or barefoot jogs, lapped by a gentle surf perfect for beginners with a board, and backed by a thick lush fringe of palms. The best part? At a certain time of the year, you can watch both the sunrise and the sunset from El Cuco, something I wouldn’t have imagined possible until I saw both with my own eyes.
Tortuga Verde truly is a beach resort at backpacker prices — and also a popular weekend getaway for beach-bound Salvadorians. We loved the mix of domestic and foreign travelers.
Zoe and I split one of the largest rooms with our friends Liz and Brianna, each of us paying less than $20 a night for a massive suite with four beds, two hammocks, and about a three minute commute to the shoreline.
Considering we were pretty much stranded at Tortuga Verde — town was a twenty minute walk away, with not much on tap — we were impressed that the food prices were quite reasonable. The onsite local restaurant was great, although what really blew me away was the Cosmic Cocina, an adorable onsite vegetarian café.
Our days in El Cuco were busy — lounging by the pool, sipping fresh fruit licuados, lounging by the beach, chatting with friends, lounging in hammocks. It was hard to fit it all in! But one day, I did feel duty call, and Zoe and I made the thirty minute trek down the beach to Azul Surf Club, known for its razor fast internet (while technically Tortuga has internet, I was lucky if I was able to post an Instagram, and was never able to connect on my laptop.)
The walk was stunning, as was the change of scenery to a totally new pool.
Our favorite excursion, however, was a slightly more active one. Along with surfboards, Tortuga rents Stand Up Paddleboards — my favorite! A short walk down the beach from the resort we found the mouth of a calm river, and marveled at the stunning scenery as we slowly paddled by. Aside from a few fisherman in wooden canoes, we had it to ourselves.
After that, we really felt we’d earned our afternoon pool lounging session. Are you starting to sense a theme?
But we had more than our evening runs to shake off our lethargy. There was also yoga. Tortuga Verde offers one to two yoga classes per day in an open-air, ocean-facing sala. Classes are taught by visiting instructors and are completely, 100% free. How amazing is that?
As the week wore on, more friends began filtering in from up North, bringing with them tales of snowstorms and flight delays, hazards that seemed a million miles away from our bubble of bliss.
Since I left El Salvador, I haven’t stopped raving about El Cuco or Tortuga Verde. I’ve sang its praises and scribbled its name in the notebooks of dozens of travelers I’ve met along the way — and I’m so happy to finally now be sharing it with you.
Looking for a hit of raw tranquility in your Central America travels? Look no further.
Stay tuned for more on Equilibrio! Does El Cuco seem like your kind of beach?
That beach looks insane! El Cuco sounds perfect 🙂
I still get wistful thinking about it!
I recently started reading your blog, and have really enjoyed living vicariously through your travels, especially because you hit so many beach destinations 🙂 El Cuco is no exception.
I am curious – how do you do safety research before deciding to visit a destination? The US government has pretty strong warnings against traveling to El Salvador. I can see why the US warnings might not be the best resource, especially since they pertain to the whole country without giving much specifics about particular cities, but what resources do you use instead? How do you get comfortable with safety in a destination like El Salvador? Apologies if you have done a post on this in the past – I looked but couldn’t find one.
Thanks Tara — happy to have ya! 🙂 Honestly, I don’t do a ton of safety “research” in the traditional sense. I definitely don’t bother with the US State Department warnings. Looking at the news doesn’t really give you a good idea of what will effect travelers. Typically, I read the warnings section in my guidebook, talk to other travelers along the way, and use my intuition. When I’m actually in a location I rely heavily on hostel or guesthouse or hotel staff and ask a lot of questions about where it’s okay to walk, jog, hang out, etc. Hope that helps!
I think we enjoy more when our expectations are low 🙂 Love the pic with the reflection of coconut trees!
Thanks Rekha! That’s one of my favorites as well.
That last sunset run picture is beyond beautiful! Alex seriously central America has gone from somewhere I’d really never been fussed about visiting, to a place I’m making plans to explore. Which is annoying because I *really* didn’t need additions to my travel bucket list.
The same thing happened when you went to Iceland.
I might have to stop reading your blog.
Don’t go Francesca, don’t go! 😉
Glad you made it there, it is such a lovely spot isn’t it!
The food there is reasonable, however for even better value just duck up the beach a little further & you’ll find 2 local seafood restaurants (generally serving whatever’s available).
Cheap, fresh & delicious!!
We did have dinner “catered” by the local fish shack one night of the festival 🙂 As I don’t eat seafood there isn’t really anything for me at those spots but they are definitely good to let others know about!
Hell yes, I don’t like doing too much or too little, and this looks like it provides the perfect mix of activity and farniente! You’ve put El Cuco on my map and I can’t wait to read about Equilibrio. Oh, and I love the picture of the bird!
Thanks Camille! El Cuco is a gem. I’m sure many more travelers will be making it there as time goes on.
Those are some beautiful pictures. I think if I was there in Equilibrio, I would never leave. It definitely looks like a great place to be.
I admit that after ten days I was itching for some proper internet, but otherwise I loved every minute!
It looks so perfect and I can really feel all the fun that you had with your pals! I have the best memories from exactly those trips where I have been with a bigger group of friends. Can’t wait to hear about Equilibrio!
It always feels so special when you manage to wrangle the schedule of a big ‘ol group! I really cherish those times.
Your description of this beach reminds me of Samara in Costa Rica, and I loved the long stretch of sand, gentle waves, and quiet atmosphere there as well! The cafe and free yoga classes are amazing additions for such an affordable resort!
I would love to visit Samara someday… heard a lot of great things about it on this trip!
It looks amazing, Alex! Stand up paddle boarding and free yoga and a beautiful location? I’d go there in a heartbeat!
It’s the perfect place to break up a trip between Nicaragua and Guatemala, too. I’m so surprised more backpackers in Central America don’t know about it!
For most of the best places you’ve done yoga in Central America, has yoga mat renting/loaning been available?
i didn’t mean to write “best” haha. Weird brain lapse. But for any of the places you’ve done yoga, are mats available?
Yes! Everywhere 🙂 Not always in the best condition…. but they are there!
Looks so peaceful there, prior to the festival of course! I haven’t looked much into El Salvador or knew where to even start. Now this gives me two spots to begin to look at. Thanks!
El Cuco and El Tunco are both gems in El Salvador… I’m so thrilled I had a reason to slow down and stop at both. Definitely good places to start 🙂
Looks gorgeous! It’s so cool that you can watch the sunrise and sunset from the same place. I can’t wait to hear more about Equilibrio!
I didn’t even know it was possible until we arrived here. Pure magic.
all those pictures reminds me how was the festival, it was so cool, my favorite part was the sanctuary, roca mar was so intensive… i really wanna go back there…
More Equilibrio posts coming up soon 🙂
This looks amazing! Will there be another Equilibro next year? I’m so in!
Indeed there will! Follow Future Clear for more information and announcements to come 🙂
You have so beautiful pictures!
Thank you! It was a beautiful place, so they were easy to come by!
Looks like a beautiful place indeed!
Thanks Stef! Makes me nostalgic to look at these photos!
Beautiful. Always nice to find a quiet beach that’s reasonably off the tourist trail of Central America. I didn’t make it to El Salvador (yet) but will be returning to Central America at some stage for sure
There are SO many beaches I want to explore in Central America (slash the world?) I have a feeling this will remain one of my faves, though 🙂
Beautiful photos! Are you using Blogstamp, by chance? I’m considering downloading it for photo collages. Love the way it looks. Glad you’re having fun 🙂
Nope, not using it! Not even sure what it is 🙂
Your trip reminded me of my version of El-Salvador way back when i was a kid.Its really nostalgic, thanks to you. 🙂 😉
You are so welcome, William 🙂 I’m sure El Salvador was a very different place back then!
Whoa! a disposable camera… props!
They are very popular among my Brooklyn friend set 🙂
I visited El Salvador way back in 2010 for a week’s vacation while I was on a semester abroad in Costa Rica, and I absolutely fell in love with the place — I’ve raved about it to every person who’s mentioned traveling in Central America to me since, and it’s the first country in the region I’m hoping to go back to. I can’t wait for your Equilibrio post — I have a feeling it might give me the perfect excuse to (finally!!) return 🙂
I’ve been doing the same — raving and trying to convince other travelers to stop there as they rush between Nicaragua and Guatemala! I feel like a backpacking ambassador, ha 😀
Looks absolutely amazing! Really not helping my central America travel bug right now…
You definitely won’t find any help for that here 🙂 I love Central America… can never get enough!
Damn! Now I have to throw El Cuco on the list as a contender for this winter’s trip. The list is growing and changing constantly! What a beautiful, chill place and the photos are lovely. Can’t wait to read more about Equilibrio 🙂
Thanks Emily! A bit delayed but more posts coming soon!
Amazing photos! Wow! Never even heard of this place, but definitely will be planning a stop there next year! Thanks!
You might end up staying a few days more than you plan 🙂
Wow these photos are amazing. I’m so happy I found your blog! It is a bit far from Singapore, but I’ll have to add El Salvador on my list to visit now 🙂
Ha, it is indeed a bit of a hike 🙂
I’ve been reading your blog for the past hour and I want to say that the photos you take make good posts even better! Thank you!
Thanks Anita! I absolutely love photography and can’t imagine telling my travel tales without it 🙂
This sounds like the kind of place I’m in serious need of!
Everyone needs a little salt water therapy every now and then 🙂
That picture of Zoe running along the beach at sunset gave me chills – the colors in that photo are so vibrant. All of a sudden I have another destination to add to my travel wish list!
That’s one of my favorites from El Salvador! Such a beautiful memory — and snapped with my iPhone!
Did you like El Cuco or El Tunco better?
Tough question as they are so different! I think I enjoyed El Cuco more because of the specific festival that was happening and friends that were there, but if I had just been a backpacker passing through I’d have preferred El Tunco? I’m not sure, they really complement each other so well, I’d do both.
Hy, the trip sounds awesome.
How did you find yourself accommodation in El Salvador? Which websites did you use or what’s the trick?
Do you also know which atms will not charge a fee when withdrawing cash?
Thanks and happy travels
Hey Julius! I just showed up and booked accommodation on the spot 🙂 I use Charles Schwab bank so that my ATM fees are refunded, so I’m not too sure which charge a fee!