Planning Your Time in Western El Salvador

A 40-kilometer winding road framed with wild flowers and punctuated by charming towns, Ruta de Las Flores is El Salvador’s perennial favorite. Beginning in Sonsonate and ending in the colonial town of Ahuachapán, the route includes the five towns in between, each with its own distinct appeal.

Parque Nacional El Imposible in western El Salvador. Photo © Jaime Jacques.
Parque Nacional El Imposible in western El Salvador. Photo © Jaime Jacques.

Coming from Sonsonate, the first stop on Ruta de Las Flores is Nahuizalco, a small town with strong indigenous heritage where the streets are lined with handcrafted baskets and furniture and the only night market in the country serves up traditional Mayan food. Salcoatitán, the tiny town in between Nahuizalco and Juayúa, offers a picturesque parque central full of vendors selling yuca and the famous Salvadoran quesadillas (a dense, sweet cake made with rice flour and cheese).

Just three kilometers down the road, you enter Juayúa, with its traditional charm and modern conveniences. This friendly mountain town is a long-standing backpacker favorite. Surrounded by volcanoes and coffee farms, the hills have beautiful hiking trails teeming with brilliantly colored butterflies, wildflowers, and waterfalls.

Apaneca, the highest town in El Salvador, offers a cool climate to enjoy canopy tours and hiking or cycling to the nearby crater lakes. Finally, Concepción de Ataco is quickly turning into a trendy weekend getaway where the streets come alive with an artisanal market, live music, and an eclectic mix of excellent restaurants.

As you travel between the towns, stunning views of coffee plantations, jade-green volcanoes, and the flowers that have sprung out of their rich volcanic soil make the entire route a visual delight. Cooler temperatures and cute cafés are the trademarks of this area, enticing the masses from congested San Salvador every weekend for leisurely breakfasts or mid-afternoon coffee and dessert in one of the route’s many picturesque gardens. This is the perfect region to exert or indulge yourself; and most people do a little of both.

Santa Ana's crumbling colonial buildings and narrow streets create a romantic, Old World feel. Photo © Jaime Jacques.
Santa Ana’s crumbling colonial buildings and narrow streets create a romantic, Old World feel. Photo © Jaime Jacques.

Nearby Santa Ana is the fourth-largest city in the country and is quickly becoming a popular stopover for travelers; many even use it as a base for exploring the western part of the country. The center is full of beautiful colonial architecture including the famous Catedral de Santa Ana, a striking neo-Gothic-style church that sits in the parque central. Volcano hiking is just a quick day trip away, and the nearby ruins of Tazumal are just a 30-minute bus ride from the center of the city. Farther south, Parque Nacional El Imposible offers extreme hiking with spectacular views of the Pacific coastline and Guatemala, ancient rock art, cool rivers, and dozens of endangered species of plants and animals.

Planning Your Time

Four to five days is a good amount of time to really enjoy this area. Flowers are in bloom between November and February, making this the best time of the year to visit the region. The best way to explore Ruta de Las Flores is to make Juayúa your base and do day trips from there. It’s a good idea to arrive on Friday, as the towns on the route don’t come alive until the weekend. One day in Juayúa and one day in Ataco make for a great weekend. On Monday there will be nothing going on, so it’s a perfect time to head out on a hike in Juayúa and check out restaurants between Apaneca and Ataco, or end the day in the hot therapeutic Aguas Termales near Ahuachapán. Allow yourself two days to explore Parque Nacional El Imposible.

Travel map of Western El Salvador
Western El Salvador

Buses run frequently from San Salvador to both Ahuachapán and Sonsonate, the main transportation hub for travel around the region. Sonsonate’s large, bustling bus terminal provides transportation to everywhere in Western El Salvador, and also has many comedors inside the terminal serving up tasty, cheap food. From Sonsonate, buses leave daily for Ruta de Las Flores and Cara Sucia (to go to Barra de Santiago or El Parque Imposible). Ruta de Las Flores buses run frequently, however if you are planning on heading to Barra de Santiago or El Parque Imposible, it is necessary to arrive on time for one of the two daily departures.

Moving between the towns on Ruta de Las Flores is straightforward, as there are buses that run the length of the route every half an hour from 5am to 6pm daily. These buses leave from the entrances of the towns, or alternatively can be waved down at any point on the route. There is also a bus that travels daily between Juayúa and Santa Ana, passing through Los Naranjos, a misty mountain town with beautiful views and a few roadside cafés. Finally, if you are at one of the western beaches and want to head directly to Ruta de Las Flores, this can easily be done without having to backtrack to San Salvador. Just walk up to the Carretera Litoral (coastal highway), and wait for one of the two daily buses coming from San Salvador to Sonsonate.

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