TRAVEL NEWS – PUERTO DE LA LIBERTAD, El Salvador – The string of fishing towns along the Pacific coast is witnessing a growing tide of foreign and domestic tourists searching for ideal waves for surfing.
The silvery coasts of El Salvador stand out on the global stage for their 3.66-meter waves, tropical landscapes and a gamut of culinary offerings.
The transformation started at the beginning of the 1970s, according to Marcos Pineda, a 64-year old fisherman who sells seafood in Malecón del Puerto, in La Libertad department, 32 km south of San Salvador.
“By 1975, we started to see the first surfboard-toting Americans on these beaches,” he said. “They were a rare sight, and the sport wasn’t that popular, but people liked it. Foreigners loved the waves – they’re long and strong, so they’re not for everyone.”
Those pioneers were captivated by the sea and decided to stay, Pineda said. Some started businesses to serve the growing surfing movement. The first generation of surfers gave way to a new group of enthusiasts who changed the character of coastal towns.
Among those foreign surfers hitting local beaches nowadays is Harvey Greene, a 25-year old U.S. resident who arrived from California in 2010. He traveled through dozens of Pacific coastal towns, but none caught his eye like El Tunco, in La Libertad department, he said.
“The waves here are fantastic, you can slide into a ‘tube’ for 15-20 seconds that is 60 to 80 meters long. The country’s climate is incredible and people are very nice. I’m delighted to have spent time here,” Greene said as he prepared to go surfing.
Although there are no official figures, the reputation of the nation’s beaches has brought tourism and investment to the roughly 200-km long Salvadoran coastline, according to the El Salvador Export and Investment Promotion Agency.
The coast is divided into two poles for surfing. The first is to the west in La Libertad department, where the main beaches are El Zonte, La Libertad and El Sunzal. The second is to the east in San Miguel department, where the surfing hotspots are La Ventana, Punta Mango and La Flor beaches.
The inflow of visitors seeking to catch a wave provides an excellent opportunity to promote investment in the hotel and restaurant trades, Minister of Tourism Napoleón Duarte said.
The coastal towns that cater to surfers and tourists offer cuisine that features ceviches, soups, consommés, fried fish and assorted drinks.
“Development of this area is key because it’s been able to position itself as a destination for extreme tourism and is an opportunity to generate new investment and create new jobs,” Duarte said.
On April 25, representatives of the Brazilian tour company Nivana Super Trips informed the Ministry of Tourism (MiTur) about its interest in building a surfer hotel during the World Travel Market Latin America held in Brazil, the principal promoter of Latin America to the world.
“We currently sell packages to El Salvador from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre,” said Nivaldo Olivedo, owner of Nivana Super Trips. “Over the past years, we’ve seen increases of 15-20% in package sales. We now have plans to build a hotel in the country because it is a major tourist destination and has great offerings to develop the shopping segment.”
In July 2013, El Salvador also served as the venue for one of the world surfing championships. For six days, the Reef Pro El Salvador tournament at Punta Roca beach drew more than 10,000 spectators and surfers from Germany, Australia, the United States, Brazil and Chile, according to MiTur.
Such events encourage youngsters to surf, and the sport is becoming more popular among Salvadorans.
“Young people get interested in the sport because they want to get away from the violence,” said Jaime Menjívar, an instructor at the AST Surf School on the Puerto de la Libertad Tourist Boardwalk.
Jaime Delgado, Salvadoran Surfing Federation president, echoed that sentiment.
“Children and young people who want to learn to surf are seeking to find a way out of the cycles of violence, and we want to help them,” he said. “There are currently 250 young people learning the sport, and the number continues to grow every day. We should put our money on developing surfing, because surfing can improve the country’s economy and solidify its status as an international tourist destination.”
How to get there
By car: take the CA-4 highway to the turn-off at the Shell gas station in La Libertad. Cross the coastal highway or CA-2 to your right and continue about 1 km.
By bus: Take route 102 from the Terminal de Occidente. You can also catch a direct bus from the La Bermeja Cemetery to Puerto de La Libertad. The fare varies between US$1 and US$2. Hotel accommodations range from US$40 to US$100 per night.