Just like the reeling lefts of Peru, Spain, and the Bukit Peninsula haunt the dreams of the world’s goofy-footers, the tiny Central American country of El Salvador (the smallest in the region) does the same for those of the opposite stance. There are two dominant surf regions along El Salvador’s Pacific coast: the western coastline, centered on the coastal city of La Libertad, and the so called “wild east.” Both offer a dose of world-class waves, a hot and humid jungle setting, Paraffin-melting water, and local people that are as warm as the beaches’ black sands.
El Salvador’s surfing culture is most prevalent in and around La Libertad, San Salvador’s major coastal suburb. There are numerous surf-based resorts and camps in and around La Libertad, which is only a twenty-minute taxi ride from the airport in San Salvador (your likely port of entry unless you travel via burro and machete). La Libertad’s close proximity to the nation’s capital makes some crowded lineups by Central American (and anyone’s) standards, but the quantity of spots and lengthy swell season provides an ample supply of waves. It also helps that there are waves on all sides of the port city. If you’ve never been there before, it can be a good idea to use a guide, which can be arranged through one of the many surf resorts and camps or local tourism agency.
In the 1980s, political upheaval led to a civil war that pitted the rural peasants of the east against the “urban” west. That was years ago, however. Today, surf camps and resorts are proliferating along the El Salvadorian coastline as the country makes a huge push to stimulate the economy with tourist dollars. Remittances, money earned abroad and sent home, is El Salvador’s largest economy, and sugar cane is its dominant natural resource. World-class waves may rival that soon.
The coastal boom is most striking in the surfing region of the “wild east,” where the steamy jungle meets the sea and the dusty coastal roads aren’t driven upon after dark for personal safety reasons. Near the town of El Cuco there are several surf camp/resorts, the most prominent being the Las Flores and Mira Flores surf camps. The “spot out front” is a sand-bottom right-hand realer that offers some frothy tubes and rippable walls. Within quick boating distance (the beaches at Las Flores and El Cuco are littered with pongas and locals willing to get you tubed for a few bucks) are several other good rights, the most prominent being the boulder point of Punta Mango (pronounced punta mawngo). The surfing bug has bitten the locals in and around El Cuco, so be prepared to be next in line every once in a while. New accommodations are popping up each year and the “wild east” is losing some of its wildness, but there is still no shortage of empty waves (just maybe not in the morning), big-ass bugs, civil-war sentiments, and lush, volcanic landscapes.
El Salvador is not only full of world-class waves, it is oozing with culture as well, an aspect overlooked by most surfers. If the swell is lacking, don’t sit around in your air-conditioned room and watch Wedding Crashers for the 50th time. Go check out the Montecristo Cloud Forest; the colonial towns of Apaneca, Juayua, Panchimalco, and Suchitoto; the giant Mayan pyramid at Tazumal; and one of the country’s many active volcanoes. For another cultural experience go tromp around San Salvador, grind some pupusas, have a couple of Pilseners, rest your arms and let your rashes heal before another jacuzzi water marathon session.—Zach Plopper