The border of Honduras and El Salvador is a stone’s throw from Tegucigalpa (by which I mean 2+ hours) and yet it took us almost 11 months to make it across. Not for lack of interest, of course. Honduras conveniently ran out of license plates a few months before we arrived and in typical Central American style, it took us nearly 8 months from the day our car arrived to receive our set. Now that we zip tied those suckers on the car (being the classy “diplomats” we are) we’re taking full advantage. We’ve already made two crossings down to El Cuco, a small fishing village nestled on the beach about an hour beyond the border.
The windy mountain road out of Tegucigalpa can be treacherous at times, though we were pleased to see some of the bathtub sized pot holes were filled in between our first and second journeys. Once you cross into El Salvador (a surprisingly easy feat if one possesses the coveted diplomatic passport), cows become a bigger hazard than pot holes.
While being the closest and most convenient beach for those coming by way of Honduras, for most Salvadorians, El Cuco is way off the beaten path. The cons, like a grocery store the size of a shoddy 7-11, are insignificant to the pros: a weekend on what feels like our own private beach. Best of all, it comes at a fraction of the cost of an actual private beach thanks to La Tortuga Verde.
Described by its owner, a New Yorker turned Central American conservationist, as a restaurant disguised as a hotel, La Tortuga Verde is a beach bum’s paradise. I’d describe it as a self-contained hybrid hostel, hotel, restaurant, bar, surf shack, and wildlife refuge. For travelers looking to be pampered at a beach resort (or anyone who can’t live without internet), look elsewhere. But for those who just want a comfy place to crash, disconnect, and enjoy a pristine beach and tons of food, La Tortuga Verde is your spot. Given the reality of where it’s located, the place is actually quite well appointed. $50/night gets you a canaleta, or an enclosed, air-conditioned room with a private bath and oversized screened-in porch with extra beds and hammocks. There’s nothing like rocking in a hammock at night listening to a huge storm roll in (after a beautifully sunny day on the beach, of course).
While cheap accommodations and an on-site restaurant are appealing, it’s that last feature that was most appealing to me: the wildlife. La Tortuga Verde re-invests some of its money back into El Salvador, and it’s noticeable. The beach is usually spotless for at least half a mile in each direction, thanks to the volunteers who exchange a few hours raking the trash for a free room. Volunteers also help the owner in protecting the area’s wildlife, including two resident injured pelicans who have laid claim to a few premium perching positions throughout the grounds of the hotel. They won’t hesitate to sit directly under your hammock to take advantage of the shade you provide.
And of course there’s the hotel’s namesake: the turtle. El Cuco is a popular nesting area of many species of turtle, but unfortunately the odds are stacked against them. Turtle eggs, you see, are a delicacy in El Salvador. No sooner than a turtle abandons its nest to journey back down the beach into the water do locals snatch up the eggs to sell. A recent law has outlawed the sale of eggs, but if living in Honduras has taught me anything, it’s that a law is only as effective as the people enforcing it. Fortunately the folks at Tortuga Verde have stepped in, buying up the eggs not to eat but to bury back in the sand and protect until they’re ready to hatch. We’ve missed baby turtle releases by just a few days on each trip, so I’m hoping the third time will be the charm.