Tica to San Miguel ELS, bus transfer to “Terminal” 20 cents, how to find bus to El Cuco, leaving immediately, tons of stops, ends in center, only hostel, only tourist in town, alone at hostel, German Nicole shows up, hostel review, town review, cocina, surfing lessons, food at Sofy & Pupuseria, use of Azul Surf Club, walking the beaches, other tourists arrive, lack of ATMs and supermarkets (convenience stores & fresh fruits/veg for sale)
After my success from Nicaragua to Honduras with Tica Bus, I decided to use them again, since I was going pretty far to get to El Cuco, El Salvador. They assured me that I could buy a ticket on the Tegucigalpa-San Salvador route but get off in San Miguel, since I wanted to go to El Cuco, in southeastern El Salvador.
El Cuco is a little beach town near areas that are famous for surfing. I wanted to visit El Salvador and wanted to try again at learning to surf, so I figured that this was a good combination for choosing El Cuco. The border crossing out of Honduras was relatively simple and covered what I expected. On the El Salvador side, we didn’t even get off the bus. Some border agent came on, and he instantly didn’t like me. My tattoos, my US passport, the tons of stamps & visas he saw in it…nothing made him happy about me. However, I had my shit together and knew where I was going, how long I had been in the Central America 4 (Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua & Guatemala have an agreement together, which includes no visas & 90 days for US tourists), so he couldn’t really justify messing with me at all to delay the whole bus. However, he really wasn’t excited about me at all. End result: I still got in, douchebag!
In San Miguel, I got off the Tica Bus near their office, which is in a small shopping center. Being here will NOT help you get anywhere else. After asking around, I was told that I needed to get to “el terminal,” which is where all of the regular buses leave from, and that it wasn’t in walking distance. If you wind up here, here’s what to do: stand on the side of the road closest to the shopping center (opposite direction Tica Bus came from) and catch nearly any bus that comes along. Ask them “Ir a terminal?” The answer to most of them will be “yes,” because that’s the start/end point for most buses in the city. Whopping price: 20 cents US (yes, their currency is US $).
It took about 30 minutes to get to “terminal,” and finding the bus to El Cuco was really simple. As you walk in, go to the right, and there are signs telling which buses are going where. The bus to El Cuco was backing out, and I jumped on at the last minute. This is always the best way. No waiting required. The price to El Cuco was $2, and the trip can last 1-2 hours, depending on how many stops you make. Stops add more delays than just the time stopping, because the bus is going through hills, so getting momentum again after stopping was quite difficult in the old, beat-up bus.
El Cuco is a cute little beachside town, and it had a nice charm. However, I would definitely choose to go somewhere else, if I had it to do again. El Cuco has NO infrastructure of any kind. There’s no ATM or supermarket, and I wish I had known this ahead of time. I had to hire someone to drive me back to San Miguel during my trip, in order to get cash. The ride cost $35, so I wish I had known some of these things.
The Casa de Canela is also the only hostel in town, and I think they suffer from the knowledge of “no competition.” The outdoor shower and toilet didn’t always work well and also had cockroaches, so that was interesting. I was the only person there the first night, so that was a weird experience, also. They didn’t even seem to know that I was coming, despite making a reservation online.
The first afternoon, I walked down the beach to the Azul Surf Club, which is owned by the same people as the hostel, and people staying there can use the pool/facilities at the surf club for free. I asked about info for surfing lessons and things to do in town, and the staff there were super helpful. After that, I walked down to the Cosmic Cocina, next to the super-touristy (directions from a local: “walk until you see all of the gringos”) Tortuga Verde. This is the only vegetarian restaurant in the area, and it was quite delicious, though obviously more expensive than other places in town. The spring rolls were AWESOME, the veggie burger was OK, and the grilled vegetables that came with it were great.
Walking back alone on the only road after dinner, it was getting dark, and a truck passed me then stopped, backed up, and instantly made me wonder if I was about to get offered a ride or get robbed. Both seemed equally plausible. The guy was going through town and out to the beaches on the other side, and he offered me a ride (and I told him several times before getting in that I didn’t have any money for gas). He dropped me off near my hostel (he assumed I was staying there, as the only white person in town) after a free ride, so that was pretty awesome. Being alone at the hostel (even the employee leaves at 6pm) was super odd, and the internet requires sitting outside to leech off of the neighbor, so it was just a strange experience altogether.
A German girl showed up the next day, and it was awesome to have some company. We walked along the beaches, found some lunch in town (after explaining that I wanted the “plate of the day but without the meat” the lady turned her answer from saying they don’t have vegetarian food to understanding what I wanted and being super friendly) then walked back down to the surf club to confirm my surf lesson for the afternoon. We lay in the hammocks for an hour, then we dropped off the German girl at the hostel before driving to the beach the guy wanted to use for my lesson. The lesson was so awesome. Despite not wearing a shirt or rash guard (and therefore irritating the hell out of the skin on my chest & stomach), I learned a lot, the instructor was great, and I really, actually learned how to get up on the board. We stayed past the end of the lesson, because he wanted to show me extra tips and help me improve, so that made it even better.
After the lesson, I paid for my ride up to San Miguel to use the ATM and then tried to find a remotely good vegan option for dinner at the mall, because everything in El Cuco would be closed by the time I got back. The steamed veggies & white rice at the Chinese place was mediocre, but it was food. It was also overpriced.
Back in El Cuco, I met up with the German girl at the hostel, and we made fun of our current life situation in this little town at this mediocre hostel, and the fact that I had to pay someone to drive me to an ATM. Commiserating together is a great form of bonding.
The rain started hard during the evening, and it lasted until probably 9am. I mean RAIN. The 1-2” of standing water on the ground dried up by 10:30, though, because of the strong heat/sun, so then we ventured out for the day. We walked around the beaches again, got lazy in the hammocks at the surf club again, and ate at the same place for lunch again. Those ladies were PUMPED that we liked their cooking enough to come back. In the evening, we decided to try pupusas, and despite the original “no” to vegan options, I found out that a typical option for pupusas is beans & cheese, and they can easily make it without cheese, so it’s “yes” on vegan options. I should also mention that food is SUPER cheap in El Salvador. Pupusas are 50 cents each!
I gathered up some info on getting to Copan Ruinas in Honduras the next day, which was going to be an insane day of traveling. The first bus out of El Cuco was 4:30am, but I didn’t want to start that early, so I decided to aim for the 5:30 bus and set my alarm/said goodbye to the German girl before going to bed. Of course, I did the “wake up thinking you overslept” thing a bunch of times during the night.
My El Salvador experience was good, overall, but I’d make some changes to it. Unless you’re really wanting to get off the map and just do nothing but surf, I’d go somewhere other than El Cuco. We saw some other foreigners arriving on my last day, but there wasn’t much community/company to be found in town or at the hostel. That’s one of the best things on traveling/staying at hostels, plus needing to guess how much cash you need in advance is something I wish I’d known.
Next up: marathon travel to Copan Ruinas, Honduras.