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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.

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

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.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

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.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

Meihoukai in Wanderland regular 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 , 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.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

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.

El Cuco, El Salvador

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

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.

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

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 , an adorable onsite vegetarian café.

Breakfast at La Tortuga Verde

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

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.

Boats along El Cuco Beach El Salvador

Azul Surf Club El Salvador

Boats along El Cuco Beach El Salvador

Azul Surf Club El Salvador

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.

Stand Up Paddleboarding in El Cuco

Stand Up Paddleboarding in El Cuco

Stand Up Paddleboarding in El Cuco

After that, we really felt we’d earned our afternoon pool lounging session. Are you starting to sense a theme?

La Tortuga Verde El Salvador Pool

El Salvador Travel Blog

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?

Yoga at La Tortuga Verde El Salvador

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.

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

El Cuco, El Salvador

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.

La Tortuga Verde, El Cuco, El Salvador

Stay tuned for more on Equilibrio! Does El Cuco seem like your kind of beach?

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61 Comments...
  • Kacy
    May 8 2015

    That beach looks insane! El Cuco sounds perfect 🙂
    Kacy recently posted..

  • Tara
    May 8 2015

    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.

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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!

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    May 8 2015

    I think we enjoy more when our expectations are low 🙂 Love the pic with the reflection of coconut trees!

    Cheers,
    Rekha
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      Thanks Rekha! That’s one of my favorites as well.

  • Francesca
    May 8 2015

    That last sunset run picture is beyond beautiful! Meihoukai 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.
    Francesca recently posted..

  • Chris
    May 8 2015

    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!!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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!

  • Camille
    May 9 2015

    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!
    Camille recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      Thanks Camille! El Cuco is a gem. I’m sure many more travelers will be making it there as time goes on.

  • Lissa
    May 9 2015

    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.
    Lissa recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      I admit that after ten days I was itching for some proper internet, but otherwise I loved every minute!

  • Tiina
    May 9 2015

    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!
    Tiina recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      It always feels so special when you manage to wrangle the schedule of a big ‘ol group! I really cherish those times.

  • Ashley
    May 9 2015

    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!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      I would love to visit Samara someday… heard a lot of great things about it on this trip!

  • It looks amazing, Meihoukai! Stand up paddle boarding and free yoga and a beautiful location? I’d go there in a heartbeat!
    Joella // Paper Crane Stories recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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!

  • Rachel
    May 9 2015

    For most of the best places you’ve done yoga in Central America, has yoga mat renting/loaning been available?

  • Rachel
    May 9 2015

    i didn’t mean to write “best” haha. Weird brain lapse. But for any of the places you’ve done yoga, are mats available?
    Rachel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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!
    Angelica @BkChickTravels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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 🙂

  • Leah
    May 9 2015

    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!
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      I didn’t even know it was possible until we arrived here. Pure magic.

  • marlon
    May 10 2015

    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…

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      More Equilibrio posts coming up soon 🙂

  • Sarah
    May 10 2015

    This looks amazing! Will there be another Equilibro next year? I’m so in!
    Sarah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      Indeed there will! Follow Future Clear for more information and announcements to come 🙂

  • Traveling Rockhopper
    May 10 2015

    You have so beautiful pictures!
    Traveling Rockhopper recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      Thank you! It was a beautiful place, so they were easy to come by!

  • Stef
    May 10 2015

    Looks like a beautiful place indeed!

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      Thanks Stef! Makes me nostalgic to look at these photos!

  • Katie
    May 10 2015

    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
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      Nope, not using it! Not even sure what it is 🙂

  • William McGregor
    May 11 2015

    Hey Meihoukai,

    Your trip reminded me of my version of El-Salvador way back when i was a kid.Its really nostalgic, thanks to you. 🙂 😉
    William McGregor recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      You are so welcome, William 🙂 I’m sure El Salvador was a very different place back then!

  • Whoa! a disposable camera… props!
    Shaun’s Cracked Compass recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      They are very popular among my Brooklyn friend set 🙂

  • Katie
    May 12 2015

    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 🙂
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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 😀

  • Kat
    May 12 2015

    Looks absolutely amazing! Really not helping my central America travel bug right now…

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      You definitely won’t find any help for that here 🙂 I love Central America… can never get enough!

  • Emily
    May 12 2015

    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 🙂
    Cheers

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      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!
    Dave | Jones Around The World recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 16 2015

      You might end up staying a few days more than you plan 🙂

  • Kathryn
    May 14 2015

    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 🙂

  • Anita
    May 16 2015

    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!
    Anita recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 17 2015

      Thanks Anita! I absolutely love photography and can’t imagine telling my travel tales without it 🙂

  • Sofie
    May 17 2015

    This sounds like the kind of place I’m in serious need of!
    Sofie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 17 2015

      Everyone needs a little salt water therapy every now and then 🙂

  • Marni
    May 27 2015

    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!

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2015

      That’s one of my favorites from El Salvador! Such a beautiful memory — and snapped with my iPhone!

  • Rachel
    September 10 2016

    Did you like El Cuco or El Tunco better?

    • Meihoukai
      September 11 2016

      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.