The Ruta de las Flores is a serene and verdant area of El Salvador, perfect for a few days of hiking, village-hopping and food experimentation. The 'Flower Path / Route ' - christened so because of the flowers which line the countryside in the right season - is a nice change from the more touristy beaches, is a world away from the built-up gritty cities like the capital and still feels like a little secret.
Here are five things you can do on your visit.
#1 indulge yourself at the food festival
Held every weekend in Juayua, the small Feria de la Gastronomia is a huge draw for both locals and travellers. Although some of the more unique foods are no longer easily found (such as guinea pig and snake), you'll still salivate at the barbecued meats, chorizo, shrimp sticks and fish on offer, all washed down with a cold Pilsner or hot pineapple atole. A plate from any of the colourful stalls costs around $5 and it's often a huge portion.
On the day, there's a good buzz around town with entertainment (although this may consist of one odd man with a portable speaker) and craft stalls.
Even if you're here when the food fair isn't on, you'll still find some of the best pupusas in the country at a couple of restaurants in town. Ask any local and they'll point you in the right direction.
#2 take a coffee tour
El Salvador produces delicious coffee, and would probably be more renowned for it globally if not for the chaos and disruption caused by the civil war. Taking a $5 tour at the 'El Carmen' coffee farm in Ataco is a really worthwhile introduction into how everyone's favourite morning drink is produced, from bean to cup.
The mill is a big employer in the area and uses much of the same equipment and traditional processes as when it was founded in the 1930s. Although most of the coffee is exported for roasting, it has also started roasting its own brand on site. The tour lasts around 90 minutes and we'd recommend it for a morning activity.
#3 check out the picturesque towns
We'd recommend basing yourself in Juayua (Casa Mazeta is a fantastic hostel, there are some awesome pupuserias and a few cool bars in town) during your time in Ruta de las Flores, and visiting the surrounding pueblitos from there by bus, which leave around every 30 minutes. Although the towns may be lacking buzz, all of them are pretty with colourfully painted houses, street murals and are pleasant for discovering a different side of El Salvador.
Nearby Ataco is probably the pick of them, which has some lovely murals, churches and artisans in situ. If it's a sunny day, make your way up to the cross on the hill for a view of the coffee fields. We highly recommend checking out the European influenced menu (including the prices) at Tayua restaurant.
It's possible to visit Ataco, as well as one of Apaneca or Ahuacapan, in one day.
#4 get wet at the seven waterfalls
A challenging six-hour hike through 'Los Chorros de la Calera' offers some spectacular scenery - with jungle, butterflies, coffee farms and volcanoes amongst the sights - and that's all before you even see a waterfall. Tours cost around $12 (including lunch) and are recommended so that you don't get lost in the middle of nowhere. Although the water will never be the warmest, there are some nice spots for rappelling, jumping and diving into the water whilst the brave (read stupid) might be tempted to head in to the underground tunnels.
If you don't fancy the full hike, there is a lovely waterfall around 20 minutes walk from Juayua.
#5 zipline over the forest
For around $30 you can take a canopy tour in Apaneca - with 14 lines flying your over the lush green valleys. Lines start off as short and manageable, working their way up to a 250m long one, it's a nice, less crowded alternative to other zipline options in Central America.
where to stay on the ruta de las flores
Hostels are popping up all along this route, however if there's space, there's one place you simply have to stay - Casa Mazeta in Juayua. An amazing kitchen (seriously, it's better than our parents!), lots of comfy spots to hang out in, a great garden, adorable dogs and free beer on arrival. We actually an't recommend in t highly enough. Why not take a look at our short review or if we've convinced you already, check out availability and up to date prices here.
how to get to the ruta de las flores
It's a relatively easy journey from from La Libertad. Catch the 287 to Sonsonate (2.5 - 3 hours / $1.50) and from the big station there, you'll find the 249 bus which goes through Ataco and Apaneca to Juayua (30-45 minutes / $1).