La Ruta de las Flores (The Flower Path/Route) is a 36km stretch of mountainous towns located in the countryside of El Salvador, running from Sonsonate in the south to Ahuachapán in the north. This route gets its name from the scenic drive between towns which include colorful blooming flowers! Our base for our adventure on La Ruta de las Flores was the town of Juayúa.
Juayúa is a good base for exploring this area due to its proximity to the main towns, the 7 waterfall hike, and its wonderful food fair at the weekends. We spent 5 nights in Juayúa staying in the beautiful Casa Mazeta. This hotel/hostel is run by two guys from England and has both dorm and private rooms. What we liked the most about this hostel is that you are never bored inside it, there is a great common area with games and a great selection of board games. The outdoor garden area is a beautiful place to relax and read a book also if you like!
Church of the Black Christ in Juayúa
How we got to Juayúa
We were in Antigua, Guatemala and asked around about shuttles to Juayúa. From Guatemala it seems that tourist shuttles only go to either San Salvador or to the beach of El Tunco. Both of these destinations are past Juayúa and we didn’t fancy having to backtrack. Having looked into the chicken bus route however we didn’t fancy the estimated 11 hours it was going to take so we asked around the shuttle companies in Antigua and we found a solution that suited us.
First we got the shuttle going to El Tunco but we were going to get out about 2 hours before, at Kilometro 5. This is basically just a service station and you can use the restrooms and stack up on snacks here if you like. Our journey was relatively straightforward except for the fact that our driver had no I.D. on him, so after an hours delay, another person drove our bus over the border while our driver illegally entered El Salvador by wading through a river!!
At kilometro 5 we got a $0.35 collectivo to Sonsonate (30 minutes) and then in Sonsonate we got another chicken bus to Juayúa for $0.50 (also 30 minutes).
Overall this journey was very straightforward and in hindsight it would have been quite easy to just get chicken buses the whole way from Antigua to Juayúa, but we know for next time!
What to do
Ataco and Apaneca
Ataco is probably the best town to visit other than Juayúa in order to sample the best of La Ruta de las Flores. We got the local bus from Juayúa and it cost $0.50 and takes about 30 minutes.
“Happiness is the balance between good, hope and love”
Ataco is a perfect town to walk around and explore. There are numerous colorful murals painted on the walls of building, each telling their own story. Parque Central is also a good location to sit and people watch with a papusa in hand.
Some of the murals of Ataco, each telling their own story
There is a strong weekend tourist trade in Ataco, from locals to foreigners alike. Due to this there is a variety of restaurants to choose from, European and Salvadorean style! You will also see some funky coffee shops offering everything from cafe negro to frappuchinos!
A visit along the artisan market is also worth it. You get the chance to see some locally made products and even purchase 1 or 2 if you like!
The Ataco Artisan Market
Ataco is also home to alot of coffee plantations and it is possible to take a tour of these plantations if you like. We decided to skip this but if you want to go we have heard that it is best to visit in the early morning when all the harvesting machinery is still in full flow.
Apaneca is the town between Ataco and Juayúa and is about 15 minutes from either. From Ataco to Apaneca it cost us $0.25. Less colorful and less designed for tourists, Apaneca is probably best know for the hike to La Laguna Verde. We arrived too late in the afternoon to do this hike as it takes about 2 hours round trip, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time!
The other highlight of Apaneca is the food court it has, just off of the Parque Central. Here you can get stuff from local artesan products, to pupusas, tacos and even hamburgers with papa fritas! Make sure to check out this lively place when you are in town!
Every weekend Juayúa hosts its famous Feria Gastronomica, and its definitely the main reason for tourists to base themselves here! Although we have been in Juayúa during the week and the weekend, and both are good, the atmosphere during the weekend is much more enjoyable. You can eat anything from rabbit, to steak, to shrimp and wash it down with a cool Pilsner or Golden! The best thing is that the food will cost at most $5, with the beer an extra $1. There are also dessert stands where you can get a slice of cake and a coffee for $1.50! The street is also full of stalls selling clothes, phone covers and even a guy with a python offering pictures for $1!
The 7 Waterfall Hike
We booked the 7 waterfall hike through Casa Mazeta and it cost $20 per person. You can start the tour anywhere between 6 and 8 am, we decided to start at 8am due to being in full lazy mode!
The tour started with a walk through a coffee farm before finally seeing our first waterfall after about 2 hours. From this part on things started getting wet so Aoife put on her sandals while I sacrificed my Nike runners.
The coffee farm terrain we hiked through
First our guide Carlos took out two safety helmets and the rope he had been carrying. Our first introduction to a waterfall on the 7 waterfall hike was going to be rappelling down it! Aoife and I had never rappelled before, so, with a bit of trepidation (and a fear of heights), I caught the rope and started bouncing down the waterfall. We had two different stops going down the 40 metre cascade before eventually reaching the bottom. There was only 2 of us in the group so we only had 1 guide, which meant Carlos had a lot of climbs up and down to guide us through this!
Rappelling down the waterfall!
The waterfall we had to rappel down!
After the rappelling we had to wade through a small river, all the while encountering waterfalls every 100 metres or so. We took some photo stops at each waterfall and began the hike up the mountain again. When we reached the top we encountered another waterfall and this was also our designated lunch stop!
Our lunch spot!
After lunch we reached the famous Los Chorros waterfalls. Here we had the opportunity to swim and splash about! There is a jumping platform for the more adventurous and a small cave system to explore at Los Chorros.
Los Chorros Waterfalls!
Overall we really enjoyed the 7 waterfall hike, which took about 6 hours in total. We would recommend you bring sunscreen, insect repellent and some good shoes to wear in the water. Flips flops aren’t recommended by us as you do need good stability when rappelling down the first waterfall!