The locals know what a special hidden gem it is. In fact, they are not interested in it being the next hot surf spot, because that’s what makes it such a genuine place to be.  Framed by the rugged bluffs of El Salvador’s virtually undeveloped coast it sits quietly off the grid. Low vibration, super chill and very ‘local’ feeling.

A quaint, quiet village with minimal amenities, a consistent surf wave and stunning sunsets, this is the place to go when you need to slow your life down. Because frankly, nothing happens fast here… and that’s just fine.

The days are hot (30+ degrees Celsius), but  despite the humidity, there is always a refreshing ocean breeze.  A visitor’s experience here may vary depending on the season. November marks the start of their summer, when the beach rocks magically disappear overnight and the sand fills in, the water becomes a welcoming blue and the surrounding foliage is bright green from the preceding rainy season. There are more tourists and the energy picks up. The dry season runs until April when the rainy season begins.  From May through October the rains are hard and short and primarily come overnight. The surf is big and uncrowded and the local roads are muddy. Even less happens, so it is the perfect time to come and uber-chillax.

In spite of what the media might portray, El Salvador can be a safe place to travel to and remains an incredible option for a true non- touristy Central American experience. Salvadorians as a whole love newcomers in their country and are typically not pushy, do not barter (which I personally loved as a quicker way to get through the market) and are quite sincere. We always felt very safe, but we did not wear any jewelry or advertise expensive tastes. Like any country, it has areas to avoid, but we did not feel remotely limited in our options of things to see and places to go from El Zonte.

My husband, 2 children and I spent 3 months here, volunteering at a small school, Escuela Libre El Zonte. It was an incredible experience and we had the wonderful chance to be a part of the community. This is our account of how we viewed El Zonte and a few recommendations of how to get the most out of what this area of El Salvador has to offer.

While You Are Here:

1. Take a surf lesson:
Surferos and Puro Surf run regular surf lessons and camps for all levels. It is well worth the time and money as the instructors offer incredible expertise and local knowledge.  Get the most out of your time on the water and the chance to explore more local beaches down the coast.

2. Join a Yoga Class:
Zonte Yoga offers a mix of vinyasa flow surf-yoga Monday through Friday at 8:30am at Esencia Nativa and Olas Permanente  by native Canadian certified yoga instructor, Alex. Everyone welcome and drop-in is by donation. Alex is also passionate about helping dogs be healthier and happier one dog at a time. Check out El Zonte Dogs for more info.

3. Release a Baby Turtle:
Watching these little hatchlings manoeuvre their way to the sea is magical. Releasing baby turtles regularly off the west beach of El Zonte, Zonte.surf allows a hands- on opportunity for tourists to hold and release the turtles and be a part of the conservation program.

4. Explore or Take a Tour:
El Zonte S-Cool offers all kinds of trips. Check out what the area has to offer: mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, Mayan ruins, coffee tours and more. Book a guided trip or use their rental car service and go explore! (Note: they will tell you where is worth going and where to avoid). If nothing else, stop into their beachside shack  and check out the selection of locally made products.

Where to Stay:

Accommodations are available for every budget. Most have pools and wifi and all have personalities.  A few of our favourites are:

A great area to chill and work from on your laptop (or just laze around in a hammock), it is immaculately kept and located next to the river and across from the beach. It has a nice pool and is kid friendly. Their restaurant is known for their pizza and they also make a great frozen blended coffee beverage. The owner and head surf instructor, Alex Novoa, will welcome you with his big warm smile and is known for amasing large groups of volunteers to clean up the beaches.
Located directly in front of the El Zonte surfing point, Horizonte is a great inexpensive beachside accommodation, boasting 2 pools (one rooftop) and cheap local eats.  It is kid friendly and comes with a harmless blind iguana named Paco, multiple parrots and plenty of friendly personality from Saburo, the owner.
A brand-new Eco friendly boutique hotel on the beach, it offers an upscale experience and provides a more catered service. The suites definitely have a luxury feel (spacious, vaulted ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, rain head showers, infinity pool) and their beach-side lounge is the perfect atmosphere to grab some drinks and try their outstanding seafood inspired menu.

The first in its class, Puro Surf offers a full gym, yoga studio, lap pool, skateboard park, physical therapy services, video analysis room and surf academy that will take all surfers to the next level as well as supports young local surfers.  The detail oriented interior design of the hotel will not disappoint and their restaurant is the perfect place to end the day with an upscale dining experience.

For those desiring a more private option, be sure to check out this Air B&B:
Only steps away from the surf (literally walk down his stairs and you are on the beach), you have access to a great pool and a stunning view of the sunsets from this beachfront palapa on the bluff. Situated in a quiet area where the only noise you’ll hear is the sound of the waves, you will surely sleep like a baby.  Included is a private kitchen and 3 bedrooms with private bathrooms that can accommodate individuals or groups up to 6 people.

Where to Eat:

Not to be underestimated are the restaurants of El Zonte.

Jeisi’s Pupuseria
Street pupusas, (traditional Salvadorian stuffed tortillas) are a must-try. There are many Pupuserias in El Zonte, but a local favourite is Jeisi’s, located in the little open shack on the main street across from the church. Pupusas range between .35 cents-$1. Eat up!

After dinner, try another local favourite, the Choco-bananas at El Taller (clothing and gift store) and support the local venders and consigners while you are there.
Vikingo offers some of the best eats I have ever had (and I’m very fussy).  A Belgian husband-wife team whip up savory and satiating plates that are perfect for hungry surfers or anyone with a healthy appetite.  The menu is primarily comfort food (lasagna, Pad Thai, pulled pork and their famous ribs), but evenly accommodates meat lovers and vegetarians. The vibe is social and the owners are upbeat and engaging.

Directly above Vikingo restarant is a newly opened tattoo parlour called Calacas –perfect if you are looking for a surf inspired local artist.

As mentioned above, several of the local hotels have tasty meals worth checking out. Our favourites include: Esencia Nativa. ($5-15)- try the nachos!,  Olar de Mar at Palo Verde Hotel ($8-$30) – the steak and octopus are definitely worth the visit and Covana at Puro Surf Hotel ($8-$16) – always a delicious catch of the day and an assortment of local craft beers and 100% Salvadorian rum.

 Like several of the little towns along the coast, El Zonte is separated by a river. The west side beach has the longest, sandiest stretch of beach and is perfect for sunset viewing.  It is the place to be as the sun goes down and offers shallow water for a swim and plenty of room for a spontaneous game of beach soccer.  Be aware that the majority of the restaurants are on the east side and crossing the river in the rainy season can be slightly more difficult due to the levels of the water, however access can always be achieved by walking up to the main road (about a 10 minute walk).

A few accommodations to check out on the west side are: Hotel Michanti and El Dorado.

As much as it is great to chill in El Zonte, there are some cool spots to check out nearby.

Other Places to Check Out:

Tidal pools in El Palmacito: Only a few kilometres down the road,  it is a neat place to hang out and relax for an hour or two in the huge man-made salt water pools.  

El Tunco: The place to go if you want shopping, nightlife, a variety of restaurants and the largest selection of beer around. For the surf driven, it provides an incredibly consistent and forgiving wave in Sunzal (most western point) and more advanced riding as you move east.  Sunzal Surf Company offers a great quiver of board rentals as well as a yoga studio and retreat center. Ten minutes from El Zonte by local bus, the ride will cost you 25 cents and provide an entertaining and culturally enriching experience (chickens may or may not be included). We enjoyed Tunco’s energy, but also loved returning to El Zonte for a good night’s sleep.

La Libertad: the biggest and busiest bustling town near El Zonte,  it provides far more amenities including a large street market and a bustling fish peer. It is also the closest decently stocked grocery store. 30 minutes by bus or 20 minutes by taxi.

 

The mountains: I would highly recommend a trip north west. We went for 3 days and 2 nights and felt like we got a great taste of that area. It’s cooler and drier so bring warm clothes (pants and a sweatshirt). We loved Juayúa, renouned for its coffee plantations and really enjoyed our stay in Hotel Anahuac. Buy your coffee there and visit the waterfalls.

We also visited Ataco, which has a great street market with many locally made products. Relatively, it is more expensive and far more touristy, but makes for a fun day trip or overnight. While you are in the area, I would also highly recommend making a trip to the Santa Theresa hotsprings.
We were happy to travel and see what other treasures El Salvador offered, but we were also happy to return to the slow pace, warm air, quiet nights and friendly smiles of El Zonte. With beautiful uncrowded stretches of beach, waves for all abilities of surfers, a nice little community and spectacular sunsets, El Zonte is an easy place to melt right into and stay a while.

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Written by Dawn Joseph
Dawn Joseph is an Online Personal Trainer who focuses on form and function! She loves to travel and kite board. Train with her online or ask her a question here.