El Tunco is typically known for two things. Visitors typically pop in as a quick stopover point after crossing into El Salvador from Guatemala, or for surfing. Considering the rocky coastline and our lack of surfing skills, we fit into the first category. However, we soon learned that there was a third option: Cliff jumping!
When we first planned to visit El Salvador, there were no plans. Though in this case, we found ourselves in El Tunco out of pure convenience. We had the option of a few short hours on a bus from Antigua to El Tunco, or five chicken buses over an entire day to get to anywhere else in El Salvador. That and the fact that nearly three months into this journey, we hadn’t yet seen the ocean. It wasn’t a tough decision.
Cliff Jumping in El Salvador
While most of the non-surfing crowd tend to move on fairly quickly, we were looking for more. Two Germans we met in town had heard about a little waterfall that was supposedly quite beautiful and definitely worth checking out. They asked if we wanted to tag along with them for the hike. For us it was a definite yes. We’re always looking for these new and unique experiences.
Reaching the waterfall was a journey in itself, the starting point being in the town of Tamanique roughly 20km from El Tunco. The simplest way to get there is to take the #187 chicken bus for fifty cents. However, we quickly learned that hitchhiking was much more exciting – and free. It took less than five minutes for the first pickup to pass. We simply waved him down, told him our destination and hopped in the back. Though he said he could only get us half-way, it was good enough for us! Not only is it incredibly common practice in El Salvador, but it’s much quicker. As a bonus, it makes for stunning views while hanging out in the back of a pickup on windy mountain roads.
After waving down a second truck, we made the rest of the way to Tamanique. Irene, our German friend, had been in Central America for almost a year at this point, so her Spanish was the best of the four of us. She spoke with a few locals asking about directions or possibly a guide to reach our destination, after a few minutes of negotiation, we had a guy about our age offer to take us down for $5 per person. It seemed a little steep at first, but once we got walking, we realized it was more than worth it.
Not an Easy Hike
Roughly ten minutes out of town down a dirt path, we cross through an opening in a barbed-wire fence and begin the steep descent into the valley below. By steep, I mean we don’t have any pictures because your hands had to be free to grab anything you can while climbing. In the rainy season, this hike would probably not be possible. We did what we could to avoid thinking about the climb back. Soon enough though, after maybe twenty minutes of mostly unmarked trail (this is where paying a guide is worth it), we reach the valley bottom and are greeted with the cool sounds of falling water.
The stream itself is fairly small, from the upper section you’d never think there would be a swimming hole, let alone a spot for cliff jumping. But sure enough we quickly came across a group of local kids jumping from the rocks into a small pool, no more than eight or nine feet across but deep enough at one point where taking a leap off of the 16-foot cliff wasn’t an issue. The group of us spent a good half hour jumping from the cliffs, sliding down the small ‘slide’ and generally cooling off in the pool. We hiked down a little further, just beneath the pool we had been swimming in. The edge dropped off into a small but beautiful waterfall that formed another pool, this time completely shrouded by cliffs. Another half hour was spent here relaxing in the cool waters, taking refuge from the hot midday sun.
The Gruelling Walk Back
The inevitable soon came and we decided it was time to begin the trek back. Thankfully there was an alternate route back into town which while still quite steep, was a cakewalk compared to what the other option would have been. If it wasn’t for the scorching sun and lack of shade, it wouldn’t have been such a bad walk, but by the time we finally returned to Tamanique, the four of us were completely exhausted.
With no energy to bother hitching a ride, we grabbed the chicken bus and relaxed for the ride back to El Tunco. We finally sat down for a much-needed, very late lunch and some perfectly refreshing beer. A little later we wandered to the beach for a stunning sunset over the ocean before parting ways with our new friends. Once again on the following morning, it was time to get back on the road.
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