The main reason for coming to this area of El Salvador is to visit the small towns along the Ruta de las Flores. The three most frequented are Juayua, Ataco and Apaneca. I also visit La Ceiba (not to be confused with the city of the same name in Honduras) on a last second whim.
Today we’re taking the chicken buses to get between cities. The rides cost anywhere from $.25-.40. Overall, I think we pay around $1.50 for transportation.
Since it’s on the way and recommended by our hostel, we first stop at El Jardine Celeste for breakfast. The place is hoppin’ when we arrive, always a good sign that the food is decent. Especially at an out of the way, more upscale joint.
The gardens are quite extensive and you could spend plenty of time wandering around if you so desired. There are also farm animals you can pet, but they look a little sad to me, locked up in their pens. Are they on the menu?
Another 20 minutes down the road is the town of Ataco, which sounds like A Taco. Again in my lack of understanding of Spanish, I’ve been placing the stress on the ‘A’ instead of the “ta”. It takes the bus driver a minute to understand where it is we want to go, but fortunately we figure it out.
The picture below shows where the bus stop is located. Coming from Juayua, you disembark on the left, where the bus is. If you want to go back to Juayua, you wait where everyone is on the right. The bus will pick you up there. You can simply state the city you want to travel to, and the driver can tell you if you’re in the right place.
Emma and I have no plans for what we’re going to do while we’re here, so we head off down the street to see what there is to see.
Our hostel recommends a coffee plantation tour, but it’s closed for the season. Such are the woes of traveling in the off-season. Prices are lower and crowds are fewer, but often activities are no longer available, and as we’ve experienced nearly every day so far, the weather doesn’t always stay clear.
This picture doesn’t even do justice to how huge this spider is. And they’re everywhere. Don’t look up.
At this point, Emma decides she’s not feeling up for much activity. She still has the upset stomach that’s been bothering her since we’ve arrived in El Salvador, so I help her onto a bus back to Juayua and continue exploring on my own. I know there’s a little hike behind the church that leads up to a cross and some nice views of the town, so I set out to find it.
I’m not sure exactly what constitutes a “hike” here, if it’s a little trail cutting up the hillside, the main road or the path that looks like it leads into someones home directly behind the church. In order to play it safe, I head up the road first.
I eventually come to a dead end. Whoops. The road is definitely not the way to go. I head back downhill and decide to try the path behind the church. This looks a bit more promising.
Ick. More spiders. I don’t hate spiders at all. They kill mosquitos, which I do hate very much. But I’d very much prefer not to have any crawling on me. Please stay up there safely on your webs and everything will be just fine.
The hike (walk) takes less than 10 minutes. Straight across the parking lot (right next to the grey car in the middle of the picture below) is the last 50 yards before you come out to the viewpoint. I assume based on said parking lot and cars that you can possibly hire a taxi to bring you up here if you don’t want to/can’t do the walk.
As you can see, Ataco is not very large, but it is colorful.
I don’t stay long, maybe 15 minutes before I head back down to walk around town for a little while longer.
I think it’s market day, which accounts for all the people in the streets.
If you prefer to stay in Ataco, they have a nice looking backpackers hostel for $7/night. It even has a pool, and friends!
The next several photos are of the various murals painted throughout the town. I really enjoy the mystery of turning a corner and being surprised with a new wall of color before me.
All said, I spend about two hours in Ataco. If I were hungry, it would have been a great place to stop for lunch. Instead, I press on to Apaneca.
Fifteen minutes back towards Juayua is the town of Apaneca. I hop off the bus with only one other person, and literally no other people on the streets. It’s practically a ghost town. I make note of where I got off and head towards what I think should be the town center.
There are a few market stalls set up here, with music blaring out of speakers. It looks and sounds like a festive atmosphere, but there aren’t many people.
I keep walking just to see if there’s anything more.
This church looks pretty, but it’s all locked up. A rare occurrence, I’ve noticed.
I’ve been wandering for about 30 minutes when I see the chicken bus to Juayua. Deciding I’ve seen all there is to see. I flag it down and hop on, ready to head back to Emma. I’m glad I don’t have to figure out where I got off originally. All these little streets can be confusing.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t have any plans to visit La Ceiba. But that’s the best part of traveling – taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. While on the 7 Waterfalls hike, I meet a girl named Hannah, from Washington D.C. She’s only in El Salvador for a short time, so she wants to see as much as possible. After we return from our hike, she asks the hostel owner if there’s anything nearby he recommends we see. He suggests the really big tree in La Ceiba, 10 minutes away. Sounds like a plan.
Emma opts out of this journey, so Hannah and I hop on a local shared taxi-truck; standing room only, find something to hold on to. In the pictures below, you can see we have the truck to ourselves. On the way back, we cram in with 20ish other people, barely able to hold on to the back.
We can’t remember the name of the city, so we tell the driver to take us to the town with the big tree. He knows exactly what we mean.
There it is. The really big tree. I admit, it is pretty massive. It dwarfs Hannah.
The park literally only consists of the tree, so we set off to see the rest of the town.
This is a different park from the one with the big tree.
The sun behind the clouds is brilliant.
There might be even less to do and see here than Apaneca. But I hear the food is good. Unfortunately I’m allergic to bananas, so these are out for me. They’re tempting though.
So what’s my final verdict? Of the 4 towns, I recommend Juayua and Ataco. Juayua has the food festival as well as the 7 Waterfalls hike nearby. Ataco is good for a stroll, admiring the colorful murals. Plus in season, you can do a tour of a coffee plantation and other adventurous excursions. By contrast, both Apaneca and La Ceiba are sleepy towns with little in the way of tourist attractions. I’m glad I took the time to stop by. They are cute, but there isn’t much to do in either. If you’re looking to get out and try something different, they might be worth lunch or an afternoon coffee, but otherwise I think a morning in Ataco on your way in or out of Juayua is a more efficient use of your time.