In a late change to our original plan, we opted to travel through El Salvador, rather than Honduras, en route to Guatemala. We knew little about what to expect from Central America’s smallest (and most densely populated) country, but it turned out we were in for a treat.
Having spent the compulsory one night in the capital, San Salvador, we quickly noticed the presence of armed police. Like its larger neighbour, gang-related crime is a problem but it seems to be under control and we felt safe for all of our stay in the country.
From the capital we traveled west to Juayúa, in the heart of the Ruta de Las Flores, a series of artistic towns in the mountains. As with previous recent destinations, murals were ever-present.
Juayúa celebrates the Cristo Negro festival during the first half of January as its cathedral houses one of Central America’s many sculptures of the same name. The original being from the Guatemalan town of Esquipulas, where a wooden of Christ on the cross blackened over time and gained a reputation for being miraculous.
Images of Christ are also employed by businesses throughout most of the countries we’ve visited.
El Salvador is home to the fabulous pupusa, which is yet another way to enjoy fried cornmeal, but this time stuffed with choices such as refried beans, cheese, carrot, and chicken (the latter we obviously opted out of).
Juayúa, like many places in El Salvador, has an impressive food market offering an abundance of fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts. As we were staying in places with kitchens again for the first time in a while, this was of even greater benefit.
We took a day-trip to nearby Ataco, evidently the most brightly decorated of the Ruta de Las Flores towns. Furthermore, it happens to be one of the most tranquil and welcoming places we’ve visited since arriving on this side of the Atlantic.
It also features a plethora of standout murals, mainly depicting local life…
… as well as a mirador de la cruz allowing it all to be taken in from a distance.
We were on constant lookout for pupuserías, as pupusas rapidly became our evening meal of choice.
Our final day in Juayúa saw us take the guided ‘7 Waterfalls Hike’, which begins in the town itself. Coffee plantations were a regular sight as we descended into the valley and back up. We also got the occasional view of the magnificent surrounding peaks.
Until we reached the valley floor, it was easily possible to remain dry. However, once we started to encounter the waterfalls (did I mention there are seven of them on this hike?) – and at certain points having to near-abseil down them – we were pretty damp! Very much worth it though, they were all quite amazing and we were even able to take a dip at Chorros de la Calera, an additional waterfall at the end!
Our last stop before leaving El Salvador was Santa Ana, the second-largest city and gateway to Lago de Coatapeque, a 26 square kilometre crater lake. Many boats and jetskis plied its choppy waters on the day of our visit (winds were high, not to mention a slight chill in the air) but swimmers were limited to a few brave souls – and even then generally for less than a minute – ourselves not included.
The accommodation we chose in Santa Ana features a roof-terrace offering breathtaking views of the city with its surrounding mountains and volcanoes. A perfect ending to our time in the country.