It’s a travesty that there’s a place in Central America which often gets overlooked by backpackers stamping out the usual trail down (or up) through the often forgotten Americas region. To be fair, I was never even meant to go either… until I got drunk at a rave on a desert island in Honduras, and made some friends who persuaded me it was a good idea. It’s history has been quite fraught to say the least, but a short distance south from Guatemala, El Salvador is one of the most authentic and untouched regions you’re likely to visit. A stunningly beautiful country, with the friendliest of people eager to meet foreigners, albeit with a widely poor knowledge of English which made it difficult for a novice Spanish pupil like myself.
I was going to do one article covering my entire time there, but it was in danger of becoming a novel. So this is the first of a series of short articles I wanted to publish with a focus on El Salvador, and the amazing places that reside within it.
Ruta De Las Flores:
Literally translated as ‘The Flower Route’ because of it’s beauty and, well, abundance of flowers. Home to El Salvadors famous coffee region, the Ruta is well known locally as one of the most picturesque parts of the entire country and one that looks as if it’s been cultivated entirely differently to the rest of Central America. Dotted with small local villages from beginning to end, you can spend days slowly traversing through the small settlements en-route (pun intended) and soaking up the peaceful, friendly vibe. The perfect antidote after the week of partying in Utila.
Getting there & where to stay:
Departing from Santa Ana at around 9am, we headed to jump on a local bus towards one of the first major towns on the way – Juayua. Collectively we had conversations with all sorts of locals on the way, including a friendly enough (yet kind of intimidating) tattooed ex-con who was regaling us with stories about his time in prison. The drive itself is something to look forward to, as you slink in and out of the snaking roads through coffee plantations, mountainside forests and small local villages. Our accommodation for the next few days was a quaint, homely English ex-pat run guest house called ‘Casa Mazeta’ equipped with fresh coffee, hammocks, and a DVD selection that would make Netflix blush. There are a number of other guesthouse options locally with a ‘staying at your Salvadorian grans house’ feel to them, but book ahead to ensure you get the pick of the bunch.
Things to do in Juayua:
Juayua is a great base to go off and explore an array of local towns, waterfalls and tours, including coffee plantation tours which tend to run all year round – although if you want to see the actual coffee making process, you would have to be there during harvesting season (loosely Oct – March). These tours are two a penny, and most guesthouses will be able to organise something for you. I decided I couldn’t be bothered, as I’d see it all in Colombia further down the line. It turns out didn’t, which was a considerable fail.
There are plenty of side streets and cafes to explore around the town itself, if you wanted to take an afternoon to get your bearings at a leisurely pace. Not to mention the vast selection of street art you can see around every corner of town. A trip to Juayua is especially fun on one of their renowned street food festival days, where the place comes to life with music, dancing, and well, food.
One of main reasons we were so excited to reach Juayua was due to it’s famous local food market –Feria Gastronomica – which takes place on a Saturday afternoon each and every weekend. Much of the festivities seem to centre around the charming main square, overlooked by a fantastic old white colonial church. The mostly cobbled streets were packed with food stalls of all shapes and sizes, with rows of plastic chairs places outside them, next to plastic table-clothed tables in long rows. For the princely sum of $5USD you could get a mountain of food which included salads, BBQ’d veg, and grilled meat. We certainly didn’t leave hungry, and once you’re full up you can wander around some more and visit the number of non-food stalls which are mainly concentrated around the market adjacent to the far end of the main square; selling all kinds of local arts & crafts for a bargain price. We were nearly corralled into joining some sort of slow dancing club at one point, which we politely declined. Didn’t have the right shoes for it.
Hike to the Seven Waterfalls:
As the locals will proudly tell you, another must see if you’re passing through are the ‘Seven Waterfalls’ a relatively easy going , short hike just out of town. Once there you are greeted by a wall of cascades which hang from the side of the rock face beside you. Localy families and friends seem to descend here en-mass particularly at weekends, and they were more than just a bit surprised to have encountered some eager gringos on their day out. The one downside with the falls: they’re really, really bone chatteringly cold. Make sure you pack a towel as well as plenty of warm clothes to put on very swiftly afterwards. Not as grand as some of the other waterfalls you might see in the region, but definitely worth a visit regardless.
One of my favourite trips from Juayua during our stay there was heading out in search of the mysterious Laguna Verde. We hopped on a bus heading North on the Ruta de las Flores, towards the next town of Apaneca; a very similar affair to Juayua but much smaller. the four of us got off just before the town itself at a small roadside bus stop which we hoped was the one we’d been pointed towards.
The hike to the lake took around 1 hr 45 minutes, with a gradual incline upwards through narrow dirt tracks lined by shrubbery and many small scale coffee plantations. After feeling like we might be heading in completely the wrong direction we reached a small village, to be greeted by a gang of excitable school children who happily led us to our intended destination.
The lake itself was nestled in-between a clearing amongst the surrounding mountain sides, and didn’t look like it should be there at all. The water was a brilliant emerald green, if a bit unclean looking, with locals casually boating across it at random intervals. The best part; it was Sunday, and we’d accidentally stumbled across some sort of village church service attended by all of the families in the area. We were promptly given plastic chairs to sit on and made the guests of honour for an exclusive performance from the makeshift church band. His voice wasn’t much cop, but we listened politely anyway.
After hiking back down we stopped off for lunch in Apaneca at the Mercado Saludable, opposite the small central park, for a very basic feed of meat, vegetables & rice. Another great place for local crafts, you could do a lot worse than giving yourself an afternoon to meander around the cobbled streets observing the sometimes star struck locals, and make sure you swing by the beautiful village church too. A great spot to finish off our mini trip through Ruta de las Flores.
Have you been to El Salvador or Central America recently? Let us know about your trip in the comments, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us more!