Tora Adventure

Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.

The beaches of El Salvador – Los Cobanos, El Zonte, El Tunco [Day 137]

Travelling from Tacuba to Los Cobanos

This is a fairly easy trip to do, but took us a little longer in total due to some longer than expected stopovers along the way. Take a bus from Tacuba to Ahuachapan ($0.60/45min) and transfer to the bus going to Sonsanate ($1.25/1hr20min) then transfer to bus #257 to Los Cobanos ($0.45/45min). The longest wait was for the bus to Los Cobanos which we’re not totally sure, but might only be going once per hour compared to the every 30 minutes we thought it was. We’d stopped in at the Sonsanate station for lunch as it was 12.30pm and we were hungry and think we had just missed a departure at 1pm (our own fault). Anyway, after $2.30 per person, we were at our destination of Los Cobanos and had continued our chicken bus adventure with great success.

Los Cobanos

In Juayua we had been recommended a place to stay called Casa Garrobo Guesthouse. We were given some hand drawn directions which were relatively useful, but I’ve included a more detailed Google Map screenshot for anyone else’s future reference.

Look at the blue pointer - this is the location for Casa Garrobo Guesthouse

Look at the blue pointer – this is the location for Casa Garrobo Guesthouse

Firstly, we struggled to get easy access onto the beach after getting off the bus. We were trying to follow the road for as long as possible and got stuck in a dead end. Secondly, we were told to walk along the beach, which was a little tough with our packs on. We think there is a better way if you head towards the beachside restaurants and follow the path almost directly through them without going on the actual beach. While we were walking we walked through the main fishing village with countless fishing boats moored in the bay. Some locals actually took photos of Toby on the way.

Los Cobanos - Fishing village

Los Cobanos – Fishing village

When we arrived, we were met by one of the friendly staff and given a rather spacious room. Privates here are $30 per night, with Agua Mediano showers (not hot and not cold). It has quite a nice patio area for eating and relaxing with hammocks and a couple of sofa chairs. There’s a communal kitchen that can be used and even a well maintained, but small pool. The beach is literally outside the front gate not even a 1 minute walk from your room and you can hear the waves rolling in as you sleep if you so desire.

Casa Garrobo Guesthouse - Los Cobanos

Casa Garrobo Guesthouse – Los Cobanos

As soon as we’d settled in, we quickly changed into our swimming gear and headed to the beach. This is one of the first beaches I can ever remember with so much activity in the shallows. There were countless shells moving around with crabs inside them. Rodora was quickly trying to adopt one to take on our future travels, but maybe hadn’t figured out our inability to carry a beach with us.

Rodora playing with a crab on the beach

Rodora playing with a crab on the beach

The turtle sanctuary

This was actually the number one selling point for Rodora and the main reason we had come. Turtle season at its peak is in September/October/November from what we can understand. We knew we were at the trail end of the season but were hoping to get lucky, which we did. Thankfully we bumped into another guest who had done exactly what we wanted the day before and she was able to give us the details. The actual place is less than a 2 minute walk west along the beach from the accommodation. It looks like the below photo and from what we understand, it rarely has people there.

Turtle Sanctuary, Los Cobanos

Turtle Sanctuary, Los Cobanos

One of the staff at our hostel knew the phone contact details and was quickly able to arrange a guide to come meet us at 5pm (within the hour). Our guide, Santiago, arrived and took us on a short walk to what we assume is their main office. It had a small 1 room museum with some relevant turtle and marine life stuff inside. We got given some explanations, but it was all in Spanish, so we didn’t understand everything. Apparently they offer snorkel and whale tours if you’re interested.

Santiago then took us back to our previously visited sanctuary where he had between 40 and 50 baby turtles that had hatched that day ready to release. It was only the two of us and Santiago on the beach to release them. Rodora got a real thrill out of this and thought they were extremely cute. I might still need to double check our bags to see if she smuggled one in there somewhere.

Turtle Sanctuary - Our batch for release

Turtle Sanctuary – Our batch for release

Our instructions were simple, take them from the bucket and put them on the beach. The time was around 5.30pm, with the sun setting and some small but powerful Pacific Ocean waves coming in. It quickly became apparent that these guys needed to be in some deeper water to swim rather than getting washed around by the waves. Some of the turtles had made their escape, but the weaker ones we started picking up and carrying out into deeper water. These little guys really were quite cute.

Turtle Sanctuary - Rodora getting a closer look

Turtle Sanctuary – Rodora getting a closer look

Turtle Sanctuary - Rodora made some new friends

Turtle Sanctuary – Rodora made some new friends

Turtle Sanctuary - Holding a baby turtle

Turtle Sanctuary – Holding a baby turtle

Turtle Sanctuary - Turtles getting to the water

Turtle Sanctuary – Turtles getting to the water

According to statistics on one website; apparently only about 1 in 1000 of these will actually survive into adulthood. The program helps avoid the normal next exiting problems of dehydration, predatory birds and crabs as they enter the water. Once in the ocean, animals such as sharks, big fish and birds can all eat baby turtles. It cost us $7 per person to do this and was worth much more. The program from what we understand is now voluntary because the government has no money to give them. What they are actually trying to do is stop locals from taking these turtle eggs from the beach in the first place. Sadly, they are used as food, just like a normal chicken egg. If you care just a little bit about nature and think turtles are amazingly cute like us, then please take the time to support them. The money paid goes back into the program to help more and more turtles.

The next morning we decided to have a look at the turtle sanctuary to see if any eggs had hatched overnight. Santiago (our guide from the night before) saw us from the beach and came over and showed us the new turtles that had hatched overnight (around 50). After this, Toby went for a snorkel, and as it was a little bit choppy, didn’t see anything but sand. We then went for lunch, and of course we chose fish after passing many comedors in the morning with buckets of fish that was caught that morning. We chose grilled fish with prawns. The fish was covered in foil so when we took the foil off, steam flowed out of the foil with the smell of fresh fish. The fish was stuffed with prawns and a garlic salsa flavour that was absolutely delicious. It wasn’t our cheapest meal with a cost of $8 for this meal but it was worth every penny as there is nothing like eating fresh fish while admiring an ocean view.

Los Cobanos - Catch of the day

Los Cobanos – Catch of the day

Los Cobanos - Fish for lunch

Los Cobanos – Fish for lunch

Los Cobanos to El Zonte

Originally we had planned to head to El Tunco, but through the grapevine from other travellers, reports were El Tunco was filled with foreigners, and El Zonte was more of a local beach. This was another journey only really possible by chicken bus, but we didn’t get to the bus stop until 1.35pm. It turns out this bus runs exactly to schedule (unlike many things in Central America) and it had departed exactly at 1.30pm. While I was waiting in the extreme heat on the side of the dirt road I decided I needed a drink and went to the store and bought a coke. Since I wanted to take it away and it was a glass bottle they put the coke in a plastic bag and I drank the coke out of a straw from the bag. This is common though, as we had seen many people drinking liquid from plastic bags all through Central America.

We took the 2.30pm bus to Sonsonate which took about 45 minutes ($0.45ea). We took it all the way into Sonsonate instead of stopping midway at the intersection towards El Zonte for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we wanted a seat on the bus as there were only 2 buses per day and we were expecting it to be full. Secondly, if we couldn’t get on the bus, we would go the alternative way via San Salvador and La Libertad. The schedule is for a 5.30am and a 3.30pm departure from Sonsonate to La Libertad.  We asked the conductor to let us know when to get off as we had no idea where we were going and knew that El Zonte wasn’t the last stop. The cost to El Zonte was $1.50 per person and took about 2 hours.

El Zonte and Accommodation

We were dropped off on the side of a dirt road. It seemed like we were no-where near the beach, as there were shacks and comedors at the side of the road. With no signs, we asked how to get to El Zonte beach and were pointed towards a smaller dirt road, with noting on it. We walked down this road for 5 minutes and finally reached the beach. At first we tried Escencia Nativa which was the hostel we heard about along the way, but unfortunately it was booked out. While we walked along with our backpacks someone told us of a hostel that was round the corner. The hostel was called Canegue and our room was $15 for a private. This place isn’t the cleanest in the world and is a bit run down, so we opted to not use the kitchen, but the atmosphere makes up for it. The hostel is owned by a local surfer, who has a group of surfer friends who make you feel welcome straight away. We enjoyed drinking beer with them in the evening sharing travel stories. They have a really mellow chilled out vibe.

Learning to surf

The next day we took a surf lesson from the other hostel (Escencia Nativa), as they offered one on one lessons. Wow… surfing is really hard. After getting dunked in the water over and over again for little reward I was exhausted. I could get up on the board but had problems balancing. It is definitely not like snowboarding. Toby was having similar issues with learning to surf as it was first time ever on a surfboard. The instructors were quite patient with both of us and gave us all the details on technique. The problem is that you need to be quickly into a near perfect position or you lose your balance and fall off. It’s quite funny though that two Australians came to El Salvador to learn how to surf. We would later talk to a lot of others who were trying to learn or had been surfing for quite a while and it seems that it does take a lot of practice to get somewhat good at it.

Rodora learning to surf

Rodora learning to surf

Exploring La Libertad

After our exhausting surf lesson we decided to go into La Libertad as we needed money and groceries. While we were waiting for our bus, our surf instructor (the owner of the other hostel) drove past in a minivan with a group of others and offered us a lift. We ended up having lunch with him and his friends, and he took us to his favourite ceviche place on the waterfront. The ceviche was amazing, and fresh.

La Libertad - Ceviche for lunch

La Libertad – Ceviche for lunch

Chilling out in El Zonte

El Zonte has a really chilled out and relaxed vibe. With not many tourists, it means you can have a peaceful relaxing vacation. We were there for a Saturday night and one of the bars/hotels had a live band that came all the way from Chicago. This is very rare apparently, so when we went to see the band, we noticed the whole town was there as the town was completely deserted. The fiesta began with freeing sea turtles. I have to admit my experience in Los Cobanos made this look like a complete circus. They let out about 100 turtles but as there was no cost involved there were about 100 people standing around watching. This didn’t leave much space for the turtles to crawl to the ocean safely. What was extremely sad was there were a couple of dogs running around that stepped on a few of the turtles. The sad thing is most of them don’t really stand a chance but with people or dogs stepping on them, the chances are basically zero. I got really angry with one of the dogs so held it back to give the turtles a chance.

El Zonte Turtle Release

El Zonte Turtle Release

El Zonte Turtle Release

El Zonte Turtle Release

Later on in the night there was a large bonfire and everyone was singing and dancing on the beach with the band playing music.

Bonfire on El Zonte beach

Bonfire on El Zonte beach

Two unplanned days in El Tunco

We had tried to get a shuttle to Leon, Nicaragua and for some reason this was harder to organise than what we expected. The shuttle we wanted had booked up by the time we were finally able to get to speak to someone at the shuttle company. The next departure was for Tuesday morning, so we decided to move on to El Tunco for those two days. The shuttle will cost $45 per person to Leon; but it is the fastest and most direct way to do it. The other options of a shuttle from San Salvador or public buses (chicken buses) would not be much cheaper as both would need at least 1 overnight stop somewhere along the way along with taking a much longer time.

The first thing we did upon arrival in El Tunco was to book the shuttle as we didn’t want to wait another 2 days. We then picked our accommodation – Posada Luna, which had a kitchen, Wi-Fi and pool for $20 a night in a private room with balcony and hammock. As our room wasn’t ready yet, we headed back into La Libertad for a cheap lunch at a comedor and to buy fresh fish from the market to cook for dinner. The local comedors here are awesome as we ended up spending $4.50 for a whole fried fish meal for Rodora and a fried chicken meal for Toby.

Next we went to the fish market across the road. This consists of a long wharf full of the fresh catch of the day. We ended up buying fresh 1lb of jumbo prawns and 1lb of fish fillets for a total of $5.

La Libertad - Fish market

La Libertad – Fish market

When we got back we chilled in the pool and on the beach. The beach here is a little bit rockier than El Zonte so you have to be careful of where you step. The sand on this side of El Salvador is also black due to the volcanic rocks in the ocean and not white or yellow like we are used to in Australia.

El Tunco and the black sand on Rodora's feet

El Tunco and the black sand on Rodora’s feet

Playing in the black sand of El Tunco

Playing in the black sand of El Tunco


Before we knew it, it was sunset beer o’clock time again. The silhouetted rocks made an amazing opportunity for photos.

Sunset over El Tunco

Sunset over El Tunco

Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates.


One comment on “The beaches of El Salvador – Los Cobanos, El Zonte, El Tunco [Day 137]

  1. Paul
    January 1, 2016

    Great to see you had a good time in El Salvador………’the land of smiles’.Got some great info,and ‘gracias’ for supporting the locals.Cheers,Paul- Edmonton,Alberta,Canada.

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