I FIRST WENT TO El Zonte a few years ago during a road trip to Panama. We planned on staying for one night, and a month later we were still there. El Zonte is a sticky place for travelers, but if you’re one to stick to schedules and have only 24 hours, here’s how to spend it.
My favorite place to be for sunrise is surfing the point, where crowds are minimal and the offshore winds are prevalent. From the shore watch a standup boogie boarder named “Zancudo” put on a show.
By the time early morning surfers are getting out of the water, the fishermen are landing their pangas with fresh fish that Tita, at her restaurant Marbella, will let you pick out yourself for her to serve. She cooks some of the cheapest, best food in town, and is also known to throw some big beach parties.
Another option is Christina and George’s restaurant called El Zontena for a desayuno tipico. El Salvador’s typical breakfast is eggs, beans, cheese, fried plantains, and bread. Be sure to get a fresh fruit smoothie to go with it. All this won’t set you back more than $3 or $4. Notice the art on the walls in El Zontena, as well as all around town; a guy named Nieblo paints all the images you see.
If you have energy left from the morning activities, take the chicken buses into the port town of La Libertad. The main attraction here is the bustling fish market; choose from dozens of outdoor restaurants that serve up some of the best ceviche you will ever taste. Don’t be surprised when tables of locals get up and start dancing to the mobilized mariachi bands, and don’t leave the market without buying some fresh fish for a BBQ back in El Zonte.
Within eyesight of the fish market is arguably the best wave in Central America, Punta Roca. The vibe around Punta Roca is the opposite of El Zonte. First to set the mood, you have to walk through a cemetery to get to the break. Sketchy, cracked-out dudes occupy the area and there’s a feeling of uneasiness.
Out in the water it gets worse; boulders lurk on the inside of the wave and angry locals don’t think twice about dropping in on you. This break has the horror stories that you hear about around campfires and is not for timid or beginning surfers.
Back in tranquilo El Zonte, explore the natural pool carved out of the rocks on the north end of the beach. Further up, join in on the soccer game that takes place most evenings. Bring your A-game. Or, if the tide is low, you can go even further up the beach around a headland / archway cave leading to a secluded beach.
Be sure to polish up your Spanish skills with Luis “Rivas” in his school called Spanish S-Cool. He does one-on-one lessons or group lessons for a cheaper price. Luis is a great teacher, and he’s absolutely hilarious.
Dinner + lodging
Dinner options may depend on where you’re staying. If it’s Hostel Canegue, cook up a feast with the other travelers. Canegue is the best option if you’re on a budget. It’s run by the standup boogie boarder Zancudo, and Caitlyn from Canada.
Esencia Nativa is a nice place to stay, with both dorms and private rooms. Hang out in the pool or enjoy the sunset from the roof as you wait for their staff to cook up great local foods.
El Dorado, owned by a French Canadian named Oliver, does communal group dinners every night for its guests. Visit El Dorado for beers, Ping-Pong and skating their mini ramp (in French).
If you want to go dancing, head to Playa Tunco 10km down the road. Saturday nights are the night to go, and there’s always a group venturing down for a big night of partying. Try to keep up with locals, as they’ll go deep into the night. Just don’t expect to have a big day the next day. Another option is heading to a mirador restaurant along the main highway. These are situated on top of huge cliffs overlooking the ocean.
If your timing is good, you might catch El Zonte when the carnival is in town. True entertainment is watching a couple of friends wrestle a greased-up pig. Riding the giant Ferris wheel was the best dollar I think I’ve ever spent, and the carnival parties are the stuff of legend. The locals love to have a good time and are as welcoming as can be.
Good luck holding to that schedule…