Quiet, colorful little mountain villages, the best, most underrated coffee, beautiful artisan crafts, delicious and cheap food, lovely waterfall hikes, and of course, many vibrantly colored flowers. All this and more is what you’ll find if you take yourself off the beaten tourist path and into the mountains of northern El Salvador to the Ruta de los Flores (the Flower Route).
I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty and simplicity of this area of El Salvador, and it made me wish a few things: first, that I would have given myself more than two days to explore the area, and second, that I could have brought my mother along. (Hear that, Ma? You’re coming to El Salvador with me sometime! You will love it.)
I didn’t leave much room in my travel plans for this tiny country. In fact, I had just planned on heading to El Tunco on the coast, relaxing for a few days on the beach, and getting up to Guatemala. What ended up happening was I got to El Tunco, immediately decided it was not the town for me (very touristy, very much not worth it unless you want to learn to surf, IMO), ran to the mountains as fast as I could, and fell in love.
It may have been the immediate drop in temperature, which after sweating through Nicaragua for over a month was so very welcome, or maybe it was the vast green mountains and bright pops of colorful flowers. Or maybe it was finally finding someone in Central America that knows how to brew a proper cup of coffee. Or it could be that I was finally in the land of pupusas. Or all of the above – who knows – all I know is I didn’t want to leave.
Ruta de los Flores is a series of five small villages in the mountains of El Salvador, stretching 36 kilometers from Sonsonate up to Ahuachapán. The center hub, and easiest place to find a hostel, is in Juayúa (why-yoo-ah). I followed the recommendation of a fellow traveler, and grabbed a $9 dorm bed at Hotel Anahúac, and immediately became extremely happy with that decision.
Comfy beds, great warm shower, and a wonderful woman named Maria who is willing to answer any and all of your questions, as well as cook up a fantastic breakfast! Not to mention this place is affiliated with one of the local coffee farms, Lechuza, so the reception area also serves as a coffee shop in which you can learn everything you ever hoped and dreamed of brewing the best cup of coffee.
Strapped for cash and time, I couldn’t do quite as much in the area as I would have liked to, but I did my best to hit up the main attractions. We spent one afternoon walking out to Los Chorros de la Calera, a series of gorgeous waterfalls with pools built around them. The water eventually heads down to feed a hydro-electric plant, but until then, it provides a delightfully refreshing swim only a short 30 minute hike from the center of Juayúa.
*Safety note* It is said you can do this hike on your own, but after talking to Maria, who told us of various recent attacks on hikers, we decided to go with a guide. Well worth it in the end, as it was only $2, and she was very informative on the local area.
That evening, we ventured out to nearby Nahuizalco to check out the evening market. Most markets in Central America tend to close down after sunset, but this one doesn’t actually get started until then, and word on the street was there were some delicious tacos de conejo (rabbit) to be had.
The market itself wasn’t actually anything to write home about – apparently it’s a bit more happening on the weekend – but it was fun to walk around, check out the sights and smells, and maybe taste a chicken foot or two.
The following day, we meant to go on a detailed tour of the Lechuza coffee farm, but the owner was busy planting trees, and couldn’t do a tour that day. So we headed up the road to check out Ataco, which is supposed to be the most colorful of the towns on the route. We were greeted with streets covered with beautiful murals, and a lively little section filled with artisan crafts and souvenirs. While there isn’t a whole lot else to do in the town, it makes for a nice afternoon visit.
The last, and probably more well known attraction of the Ruta de los Flores is the weekly food fair that happens in Juayúa on the weekends. I almost changed my whole plans to stick around for this, but alas, I had to get out of town Saturday morning while everyone was setting up.
I did, however, enjoy every meal I had in this town, especially the delightful and cheap Salvadorian pupusas (small filled corn tortilla cakes). You’ll see them everywhere you go in El Sal, but the best I found in my short time there were definitely at Tita:
Transportation – To get in between towns on the Ruta de los Flores, the best way is by the ever frequent chicken bus. Colorful old school buses leave from each town every 30 minutes or so, and never cost more than a dollar. Route 249 is the one you want to get anywhere from Sonsonate to Ahuachapán, just ask the driver which direction they’re headed. Also, if you go to the night market, or anywhere in the evening, the buses stop running right around 8 pm, so be sure to check with some locals what time the last bus passes through, and don’t miss it!
I feel like I missed so much in this area! Ruta de los Flores (and El Salvador as a whole), is definitely on my list of places to return to! Have you been? What are your favorite things to see and do in El Sal?