We’ve all been there. We’re so excited to visit a place. We have visions of what it will be like and the things we’ll do, and everyone tells us how much we’ll love it.

Then we arrive… and it’s a bust.

That’s what happened to me when I went to El Tunco, El Salvador.

I was really looking forward to El Tunco. Since returning to Central America, I haven’t spent any time near the ocean, and many people I’ve met on my travels raved about El Tunco. So, imagine my disappointment when I arrived after a 12-hour shuttle ride to a rocky beach with crappy weather and a weird vibe.

Disappointment is an understatement.

Leaving Nicaragua for GuatemalaEl Tunco, El Salvador: A Complete Disappointment | A Wandering Foreigner

There are various options to get from Nicaragua to Guatemala, depending on your time, money, and interests.

  1. Take an international bus: With TicaBus or NicaBus, you’ll go from Managua to Guatemala City. Based on my research, this will cost $80-$100, takes about 16-hours more or less, and you have an overnight stop in Honduras or El Salvador.
  2. Fly from Managua to Guatemala City: Depending on time and the cost of flights, this is always an option to consider.
  3. Take a tourist shuttle: This is the most popular route for backpackers and my method of transportation for this journey. Shuttles run almost daily from Leon, Nicaragua to Utila, Honduras; El Tunco, El Salvador; or Antigua, Guatemala. The trips cost is anywhere between $35-$55, depending on where you’re going.

After weighing all of the above options, I chose to go to El Tunco. If I had to do an overnight stop somewhere, I figured I’d do it on my terms at a beach I’d never visited. Since Guatemala is not exactly known for its beaches, I thought this would be the perfect way to break up the trip and get some beach time before heading inland. It was also the fastest, most direct way to Antigua, Guatemala.

A Disappointing Arrival (on Many Levels) in El Tunco

I boarded my shuttle at 2 AM in Leon with three other people. Twelve hours later, after a two-hour wait at the Honduras-Nicaragua border and two border crossings, I arrived in El Tunco.

It was rainy, gray, quiet, and I was missing Nicaragua already.

El Tunco, El Salvador: A Complete Disappointment | A Wandering Foreigner

What I wanted…
Photo credit: Alex in Wanderland

El Tunco, El Salvador: A Complete Disappointment | A Wandering Foreigner

My reality in El Tunco…

The town of El Tunco is about two streets big and a popular destination for surfers, backpackers, and San Salvador locals.

I can handle an overly touristy town if it has something I enjoy, but the beach at El Tunco was completely covered in rocks. There was no place for a girl to lay down her towel and enjoy a good book while working on her tan. I was heartbroken.

I stayed at Papaya Lodge, which was fine for what it was, but the pain of being away from Nicaragua and my Ometepe/InanItah family set in that night.

It was my first night in six months back on the road solo, and I struggled to connect with other travelers. I didn’t want to converse about where I’d been, what I’d been doing, where I was going, and my “life story.” I was uninterested in everybody and wanted to be alone on the beach with the sun, ocean and my thoughts.

My desires did not create my reality.

El Tunco was dirty and felt like I was transported to Cabo San Lucas or San Juan del Sur – two places I prefer not to spend my time, for various reasons.

After an hour of being there, I couldn’t wait to leave.

El Tunco to Antigua, GuatemalaEl Tunco, El Salvador: A Complete Disappointment | A Wandering Foreigner

Upon arrival, I began an inner battle with myself about whether to go straight to Antigua or go to Utila for my beach fix. After considering all of my options, I decided to stick with my original plan and go to Guatemala.

Had I been in a different headspace, who knows, maybe I would’ve loved El Tunco. For me, it was a sad disappointment that left me anxious and questioning my decision to leave Nicaragua. As I sat with my uncomfortable melancholy feelings, I quickly realized it was time to keep moving. There was no sense in trying to make a place be something it wasn’t.

I learned that evening, as I booked my shuttle to Antigua for the next afternoon, that El Salvador’s beaches get rocky in the rainy season. Rainy season starts in May and goes until November-ish, and the rocks come in with the tides during the rainy season. When the season changes, the rocks move out with the ocean, and the beaches return to being beautiful and pristine.

Don’t Let the Disappointments Ruin Your Experience

My timing was off, which is fine. I won’t write the place off, and I certainly won’t write off the country, but I wasn’t in the mood to continue trying to find the picture-perfect beach I craved.

I realized as I was leaving El Tunco that I should’ve gone to El Zonte. Further north up the coast, I hear it’s a smaller, quieter version of El Tunco. In theory, it could’ve been perfect for me, but El Salvador was not meant to be for me on this trip. And that’s ok.

This is the way it goes when traveling – there are the hits and the misses. It’s something I forgot because I loved almost everything about Nicaragua. This experience was actually a very powerful reminder that I won’t fall in love with every place I visit.

So, with that, I put one foot in front of the other, adjusted my frame of mind, and kept moving forward because if we let one place and one experience throw us off, what’s the point of traveling?

It’s experiences like these that make us so appreciate the places that capture our hearts and make us fall in love over and over again.

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  1. Brian

    May 18, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    heey casey. totally understand your dissapointment. we also went to el zonte and el tunco. we expected something different. this problems with those expectations.. now im in santa ana, did the vulcano hike to the beautiful crater lake (were lucky to have good weather). and we also went to the little town “Ataco” just amazing. but totally understand. different moods leads you to different places. sometimes it takes longer to arrive. i think el salvador is one of those places. =) hope to meet you again while travelling. keep posting good stuff =D

    1. Casey Colesworthy

      May 18, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks, Brian! Glad you’ve found some amazing things in El Salvador and would be so great if our paths could cross again soon! Hope all is well in your world!

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