El Salvador may not top your list of Central American surf destinations, but it should—this is according to a woman who spends weeks out of the year introducing eager surfers to the tropical paradise.
"El Salvador has amazing waves, plain and simple," says Holly Beck Obermeyer, the founder of Surf With Amigas, a surf coaching and yoga retreat company that hosts week-long, all-inclusive vacations for women in Central American hot spots like Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
And while El Salvador is fairly new to the list of locations on the Surf With Amigas roster, it offers the most "user-friendly and rippable waves" Obermeyer has ever surfed. So if you're up for an adventure your friends probably haven't had yet, or you just want to perfect your skills on long, clean rides, follow Surf with Amigas' cue and book a ticket to El Salvador—here's how to do it.
Fly into El Salvador International Airport, collect your bags, and forget about exchanging money—the U.S. dollar is the local currency. "If you travel with Surf with Amigas, you won't need a car," says Obermeyer. "We provide all the transport. But if you're going solo, you'll definitely want to rent one in order to explore." El Salvador's surfing sweet spot is during the spring, when weather is favorable and the swells consistent, so aim for a visit during late March or early April if possible—but don't worry if you can't make it then. Just hook up with Surf With Amigas on one of their fall retreats for a slighter rainier but less crowded experience.
Check into your room at Kayu Resort overlooking the world-class wave Sunzal. This boutique hotel on El Salvador's west coast has gorgeous views overlooking the ocean, a lush tropical garden, colorful, light-filled rooms, and a pool. Obermeyer says Surf With Amigas landed on the resort because it's close to other surf spot favorites as well as the local nightlife.
Unpack your suitcase at the hotel, making sure you brought along plenty of sunscreen, surf wear, comfortable sandals, and a USB digital storage device to take home all the video footage and photos you'll be taking. Surfing booties may be a good idea if you're wary of stepping on urchins along some of the region’s rocky pointbreak spots.
Brush up on your surf skills—El Salvador is not for first-time beginner surfers (try Surf With Amiga's Nicaragua trip if you're new to the sport). "You must be able to paddle yourself out and into waves," says Obermeyer. "You don't have to be awesome at it. That's what the retreat is for—making you awesome!"
Paddle out with the Surf With Amigas crew. "We start with the main spot of Sunzal, right out front of the hotel," says Obermeyer. "It's never flat and it also holds plenty of size—it's a fun right break with a big channel." Obermeyer says the takeoff can be scary, but not to worry—the waves offer a sloped drop to a very long wall. The lineup can get busy here, but since the hotel is right across the street, it's easy to schedule surf sessions around the crowds.
Or go it solo at La Bocana, which offers a "punchier" breach break just down the beach from Sunzal. If the swell is big enough, Obermeyer says there is a slew of secret surf spots within range, but you'll have to join her to find them. San Salvador, La Libertad, and its main wave, Punta Roca, are staples of the surf scene on the Costa del Balsamo, and if the crowds are impeding on your space, a short drive is all it takes to find some empty water. There are also some remote breaks that require boat access, so ask around locally to find a guide.
Grab a bite to eat at Café Sunzal, a cabana-style restaurant right on the beach with local dishes, cold beers, and quality seafood (try the shrimp pizza). Obermeyer suggests ordering pupusas, an "El Salvadorean staple, basically a patty of ground corn with a filling, like beans, cheese, meat, or veggies. They are topped with a carrot cabbage slaw and are super yum." Stop by Sharkey's, a hidden gem with reasonably priced food, where you can chow down on juicy burgers and hot pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven.
Relax on the mat after your surf session—Obermeyer says her retreats offer daily yoga classes to relax and rejuvenate. "We'll cruise to a waterfall, explore the cloud forest, do some shopping, and explore the area," she adds. Plan a day trip to Parque Nacional Los Volcanes, a park that includes three major volcanoes (one of which started spewing ash as late as 2005), or to Parque Nacional El Imposible, a tropical mountain forest named for the dangerous gorge that killed farmers and mules moving coffee to ports along the Pacific.
Don't leave without checking out the Ruinas de Tazumal, incredible archeological remnants of the Mayan civilization that first settled here around 5000 B.C.
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