Among Central America’s right breaks, it has one of the longest and most consistant. The warmth of the water is just a fraction of the warmth of its people. Papusas, tacos, burritos, coconuts and papayas are always ready to eat. Budget backpackers and travelers of all types are welcome and thrive in it.
When you envision a beach side budget backpacker surfing paradise in Latin America, this is it.
This Runaway Retreat is Papaya Lodge in El Tunco, El Salvador.
It’s also the first stop on the Runaway Tour Of El Salvador & Guatemala.
There are a few different hostals in El Tunco. The Surf Lodge is by far the cheapest at 5$/night for a dorm. As a result, it is almost always full, so be sure to book in advance. However, if you’re looking for a pool, clean and comfortable beds, a laid back atmosphere, and an array of eccentric and welcoming backpackers, Papaya Lodge is where it’s at. While it is an extra 5$/night, most agree that it is well worth it.
Being a tourist spot, the food in El Tunco isn’t as cheap as the rest of the country. However, if you go grocery shopping in La Libertad, just a short bus ride away, and cook in the hostel kitchen, you can stay comfortably full if you’re careful for just about 100$/month.
If you get sick of cooking and do decide to splurge, you won’t be disappointed. Among the cafes and restaurants that line the promenade to the beach, you can find beautiful tacos, burritos, and even American style hamburgers and steaks. A plate of 4 tacos go for 3.50$ while a decent sized hamburger with all the toppings is just 1.50$
Things To Do
El Tunco is known for its world class surf that is always on tap. It isn’t uncommon to catch 6 foot waves year round and ride them for 5 to 10 seconds. The locals are welcoming and the water is full of good times. If you don’t have your own board, you can easily rent one for 10$ a day or borrow one from another backpacker.
Aside from surfing, El Tunco has a remarkably hopping nightlife. Saturday and Sunday are the best days to go because the locals are out in full force. If the music doesn’t put ants in your pants and make you need to dance, no music will.
If surfing and partying hard isn’t your thing, there is a lot of cool exploring to be done. A 20 minute walk south on the beach reveals some pretty intricate caves. A short bus ride and hike, and you can jump into waterfalls. Finally, if all of this activity sounds a bit too much, you can always just relax and lounge by the pool.
While El Tunco has great waves, cool pools, tasty tacos and cheap cold beers, the thing that really makes a place paradise is its people. The people here are used to backpackers and will treat you like a local. Rather than hassling you into buying a bracelet, they would rather help you have a good time. They are warm, friendly, and sometimes feel like extended family.
Not only are the locals friendly but so are the other backpackers. Everyone is there for a good time, good food, and good waves. Some have ridden motorcycles all the way from Canada, and others have driven from San Diego to surf, spear fish, and make pot brownies for the hostel. Everyone is welcome here.
How To Get There
The cheapest way to El Salvador and Central America for that matter, is on Spirit Airlines. They offer a direct flight from Ft. Lauderdale to San Salvador for just 50$. But beware, if you pack doesn’t classify as carry on, they will charge you an extra 45$. Once you arrive, you can catch a 20$ taxi to La Libertade or a 1$ bus, and then a 15 minute local bus to El Tunco for 25 cents.
While this isn’t the cheapest Runaway Retreat, it is by far one of my all time favorites. A month in the Papaya Lodge will set you back 300$. Add food and beer, and the total comes to around 500$/month. This still loads cheaper and a heck of a lot more fun than living for a month at home.
Check out this video for a better idea of El Tunco and the Papaya Lodge.