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.
Meihoukai 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?