As I waved the last of my New York friends goodbye, I mulled my next move. Equilibrio was over. El Cuco, for all its charms, was no longer an option after ten days without viable internet. Guatemala was calling, yet I wasn’t quite ready to leave El Salvador.
And so I made my way just a few hours North to the bustling surf town of El Tunco.
When I say bustling, I should quantify that by El Salvadorian standards. For this tiny, oft-forgotten-on-the-itineraries-of-backpackers Central American country, El Tunco is a powerhouse of tourism foreign and domestic. But, to most, it’s still just a tiny two street town with one crescent-shaped beach, a handful of hostels, and a small but lively bar and restaurants scene.
Upon arrival in El Tunco I checked myself into the charming Papaya Lodge, which I’d spend much more time than I anticipated in over the next four days. Why? Because I arrived in El Tunco feeling a little funny, a minor discomfort that quickly escalated into a crippling case of food poisoning, the worst I’ve ever experienced.
By nightfall I was miserable and dreaded the idea of taking a taxi to San Salvador to check myself into a hospital, as the guesthouse staff and several others encouraged me to do when they came to my room concerned after hearing my involuntary cries of pain. Without so much as a pharmacy in town Tunco isn’t an ideal place to get sick, and when two days later my muscles started to cramp and tighten from dehydration and I’d gone forty-eight hours without keeping so much as water down I finally agreed to go to the capital in the morning. After two weeks of being surrounded by my closest friends, I felt starkly alone. But my luck was about to turn, and I woke up finally on a gentle upswing.
All that is to say that I didn’t really have the El Tunco experience I’d imagined. I didn’t rent a surfboard, didn’t go dancing, didn’t check out the local caves. Instead, once I was in recovery, I went for slow walks around town trying to soak up some Vitamin D and find electrolytes in the form of the rare bottle of Gatorade, went for a dunk in the ocean to try to cleanse away the terrible memories of the past two days, and eventually made my way to one gentle yoga class to try to stretch my aching muscles.
I wished I’d been able to squeeze in more classes. The town’s one studio, Balancé, is gorgeous and a must-visit for asana addicts.
Though I regret that I was unable to get out on a board, I love the atmosphere of surf obsessed towns, and this one was no exception.
When I was finally able to eat again, there’s nowhere I would have rather been than El Tunco. From cheap roadside pupuserías to hip international eateries, Tunco had it all. Some of my favorites were Take a Wok, which had fresh and healthy stir fries, Soya, which had nice salads and other organic goodies, and the homemade popsicles sold out of several of the convenience stores around town.
Despite my very bad fortune when it came to matters of the gut in El Tunco, it still managed to win me over where it mattered — my heart. What a sweet, colorful little piece of sandy paradise! For such a small place, there were so many surprises to uncover.
I loved that El Cuco and El Tunco complemented each other so perfectly. While similar, El Cuco was a peaceful and remote retreat, and El Tunco was a fun and lively town (for more on the nightlife and whatnot that I didn’t experience, check out Adventurous Kate’s El Tunco post).
Best of all, they both make perfect stopovers between Nicaragua and Guatemala. I was surprised to find how many travelers in Central America gunned directly from León, Nicaragua to Antigua, Guatemala via a popular seventeen hour shuttle service. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s about twelve hours past my bus comfort zone. Why not pop by one of these beautiful beaches for a few days, and get to know a little bit of El Salvador along the way?
I don’t think you’ll regret it. My two weeks beach hopping in El Salvador were an unexpected highlight of my time in Central America. Just perhaps plan ahead and BYOE — Bring Your Own Electrolytes, just in case.
Next stop, Guatemala!
I absolutely adore your photos!!! Besos!
Thank you miss Andi! Quite the compliment coming from a photographer like you.
Sounds like she enjoyed the poo-l and the poo-poo-sas! I got food poisoning in El Salvador from eating a raw egg, I could not eat anything solid for 9 days afterwards, but I never considered visiting a hospital over it. I used to get food poisoning quite regularly in Nicaragua years ago, when they used to often experience power outages, which likely had something to do with it, food either being or not being properly refrigerated.
Nine days is long! I’ve had food poisoning a few times since I wrote this post but this one still clocks as the worst. I’ve also learned better coping mechanisms and self-treatment, for sure.
I’m really sorry to hear about your troubles, but it’s great that you managed to enjoy a bit of the place anyway. I haven’t heard of it before, but your pictures are so colorful and beautiful that I’m going to read more on it 🙂
Thank you Patricia! It was a pretty peaceful place to recover.
After living in Nicaragua for six years I can tell you what the BEST electrolytes are and how easy it is to find them in all of Central America. You simply drink coconut water, available eveywhere! Fresh and inexpensive. Way better than Gatorade! In fact coconut water was used in Cambodia during the war, it was put into IV s when no medicine was available.
(Second helpful hint…black papaya seeds in the morning and at night with water swallowed whole gets rid of parasites…do it for a week. Usually when u get so sick as you did its from parasites. Unfortunately they stay in your gut and live on, unless treated. This method works best by eating super healthy, avoiding sugar and fried foods.)
Sorry to hear u caught the bug…its inevitable actually, at some point everyone succumbs…BUT coconut water is your best friend solution, and prevention too ~so as not to get dehydrated in the tropics, or anywhere else and to rehydrate.
Ok one more…add chia seeds to your water bottle to stay hydrated. Had you added chia seeds to your coconut water, you would really be on top of staying well hydrated.
I love me some coconut water! I was definitely drinking them straight from the coconut while recovering. I guess I was under the impression that that wasn’t enough and that I needed other electrolytes. Wild that they used to put them in IVs. I will definitely remember the black papaya seeds and chia ones for future illnesses as papayas at least are also pretty much everywhere.
El Tunco looks quite groovy. Love the colourful and beautifully designed bars/restaurants. I take it that the the name of this beach town is named after the pig/hog shaped rock formation in the bay (‘tunco’ being spanish for hog/pig)?
‘Tunco’ (in Spanish) is also slang for disabled or crippled – hopefully not a reference to surfing accidents!
On the health front – when travelling off the beaten track and in need of electrolytes try this recipe – 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 2 cups of water (filtered or purified) or coconut water, 2 tbsp honey or syrup, 1/8 tsp of salt (preferably sea salt or rock salt for more minerals). It is very reviving!
If you are really off the beaten track (e.g. on a mountainous trek in Kashmir) try 1 cup of water (pre-boiled or filtered) with 2 tsp of sugar, 1/2 tsp of salt and the juice of 1 lemon. To make it more flavoursome add a tea bag.
This is a bit long-winded I know! But I believe that natural remedies are far more effective than the electrolyte drinks advertised by ‘sports’ drinks corporations. After all, the electrolyte powder drink sachets that are available at most pharmacies just contain sugar, salt and ascorbic acid (vit C). You can ingest these more purely and naturally from the above advice.
Love all these home cures for dehydration — I should have asked you guys when I was writhing around on the bathroom floor! Normally I travel with electrolyte powder sachets but I had just given the last of mine to a sick friend and didn’t replace them. Gatorade was a very desperate last resort 🙁
Oh man, I am so sorry to hear about your food poisoning 🙁 sounds a lot like my experience in Railay, Thailand. The worst!!! At least El Tunco looks like a pretty lovely place to recover – I’m always in search of surf town vibes, too! Will definitely make time for El Tunco when I return. Thanks for the suggestion 🙂
You’re so welcome Katie. It was a nice, quiet and colorful place to recover. If only they had a pharmacy it would have been perfect 🙂
Food poisoning is one of the worst things to ever experience! I can’t even imagine how amplified it is being somewhere away from your typical comforts (though El Tunco does look like a lovely place to be otherwise!) That yoga studio looks so charming and beautiful.
It really was. I was gutted I couldn’t practice there a bit more! It was so modern it was almost a tad out of place — but lovely nonetheless.
I am traveling to El Salvador with my boyfriend and family tomorrow!! Coming from Toronto, Ontario. Can’t wait to check out El Tunco!
I hope you love it Micaela! Let me know what you think 🙂
These are such great photos Alex! Good job on capturing them despite your limited time exploring. Do you think it was the restaurant at La Tortuga Verde that made you sick? I really hope you had a private bathroom lol… as simple as it is, it makes a world of a difference when you’re feeling horribly disgusting and the last thing you want to do is use a shared bathroom. Glad to hear everything worked out in the end and you enjoyed your stop there. 17 hours on a bus is a bit much for me too!
I moved to a room that had one. The first night, I did not and believe me… it was miserable. I don’t think it was the restaurant at Tortuga Verde. I stopped with the New York girls for a night in a random hotel near the San Salvador airport and two of us got quite ill from eating there. Ugh.
absolutely love the popsicle-photo with the green background!
Thanks Sarah! I love a bright background — and a coconut pop 🙂
Central America was never my favorite region to explore, but man you’re sure making me want to go back there and give it a second (third)(fourth) chance!
I’m quoting you on that in my (I was underwhelmed by) Guatemala post 🙂
Looks really nice!
Remote is good – and much of the Central American coast is remote. I guess long buss rides can help keep some of the magic BUT I like flying.
Did you see any airstrips in the area?
I commuted around Belize and local islands by small plane. Not too expensive, very scenic and can turn a 17 hour buss ride into a beautiful 2 hour flight.
I LOVED traveling around Belize by plane — I’ll be writing about it in the coming months! El Salvador, unfortunately, has just one workable airport — San Salvador. It really is a tiny country, and not very heavily traveled, so it makes sense. And traveling from one Central American country to another by air is often obscenely expensive. I priced out a few routes and never ended up taking any of them. I just couldn’t justify the cost when buses were cheap and not SO long.
Your beautiful pictures makes me want to jump on an airplane to San Salvador!
Price out flights — you might be surprised by how affordable they can be! 🙂
Oh man, I’m so sorry to hear about your bout with food poisoning. Getting sick on the road is awful, but it gets especially scary when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Glad to hear you didn’t actually have to go to the hospital and were able to recuperate in such a beautiful place.
I’m SO grateful to have not been alone in an El Salvadorian hospital. However, it did inspire me to beef up my first aid kit before I leave again!
Oh Alex I just wanted to give you a hug reading this! You poor thing, a reminder that it’s not always rainbows and unicorns on the road. At least it sounds as though you had great accommodation staff and hopefully one day you’ll return. If you liked a place when you were at rock bottom then you’ll love it when you’re feeling great 🙂
No, definitely not all rainbows! I think being sick on the road is the hardest part of traveling solo. You’ll almost never feel so lonely…
Well I’m glad you’re feeling better! That’s so scary.
I think you’re gonna have to add this to your list for later. It looks like there’s a ton to take advantage of and I love the small town feel but it still seems it has a ton of options. Gorgeous photos as usual!
I’d definitely return to El Tunco. But if I don’t, I still adored what I saw of this cute little surf town 🙂
I love seeing you talk up the wonderful merits of El Salvador, & there’s even more than just the beaches!
Sorry to hear of your pain (we always travel with Hydralite/Gastrolyte for ‘just in case’…)
Normally I do as well, but I’d just given my last packet to another traveler who was feeling ill! Definitely stocking back up before the next trip…
Don’t think I could ever get bored of looking at your pictures. You capture the beauty and colours so well! xo
What a beautiful compliment Amy. Thank you for making me smile!
Ouch! TWO WEEKS of food-poisoning pain sounds like utter hell. What a place to recover in, though! This looks like a charming little place, and I love the decor of Soya. Your pictures always make me want to dive right into my computer screen – or better yet, just book a flight RIGHT NOW.
Two days, not weeks 🙂 But yes, it was indeed hell!
Oh good! I would have gone home for sure if I felt so ill for two whole weeks – I thought you had superhuman strength or something! Either way, I’m glad you still managed to have a good time. 🙂
I probably would have too! A few days kind of felt like a lifetime.
Sorry to hear about the food poisoning Alex, it must not be so fun travelling alone when something like that happens. Glad you enjoyed your time in El Tunco once you were feeling better
Thanks Katie. No, it was not fun at all. It does make me appreciative of the good times, however.
Oh, I’m so sorry about the food poisoning. I dealt with a horrible bout of it myself over Christmas travel and nothing ruins a trip quite like it. I’m glad you were able to enjoy the town somewhat, even if not as planned. It looks beautiful and quaint.
Sorry to hear you suffered too, Kacy! At least food poisoning usually runs its course relatively quickly…
Food poisoning brutal! I had it once in Morocco but my ex-boyfriend was with me to run to the pharmacy and get me medicine and water, etc. I can’t imagine going through that alone (although on the flipside, it’s nice that no one else has to see you in that lovely attractive state haha). El Tunco looks really cute and before reading your posts I never thought about going to El Salvador before. I’ll have to think about it especially since there are surprisingly a lot of direct flights from the Northeast US(I’ve connected there before to other Latin American destinations).
I know what you mean about the pros/cons of having someone around. I definitely felt lonely but… not sure I would have wanted to subject anyone to my misery!
Now that I live in Ghana where food is always dubious and the weather is always extremely hot, I bought some electrolyte tablets that dissolve in water. They are called Nuun and you can get them on Amazon. They have all kinds of flavours and really help give your body some strength back. Might be worth taking with you on your next trip…
Normally I travel with the little electrolyte sachets that you buy at pharmacies in Thailand, but unfortunately I’d JUST given away my last one to a sick fellow traveler. Sigh!
Beautiful! One of the things I love most about your site is that because of the experiences you have and locations you choose, I get to discover-by-proxy places I may never have on my own. I’m glad you were okay and still got to see a bit of the town!
Thanks Marni! I love introducing people to places they’ve never heard of before… what a privilege.
I love El Salvador! I’m excited to have a new destination to look forward to. I’m actually writing a paper on life in El Salvador at the moment and have been inspired to write about living in El Tunco specifically. Thank you! 🙂
It’s an adorable little town. Definitely a well worthy destination!
I really love ALL your pictures!!!
A rain of kisses for you… thanks for this loving post.
Thanks Jules! I love the pictures in this post too 🙂
What a pity that you got so sick! I spent 7 years in Asia and I only got badly sick once (in the Philippines). Peta is right about the coconuts. I was in Vietnam (where I used to live in Asia) and the Viet Cong used to use it as an intravenous drip! Despite your sickness, this is a great post that includes plenty of great tips for travellers to El Tunco. I hope to get there in 2018. Fingers crossed that I won’t repeat your experience or my experience in the Philippines!
I’ve definitely learned my coconut lesson and now reach for them whenever I’m feeling dehydrated or under the weather 🙂