Ruta de las Flores

Published: January 10th 2017
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Our next stop was Juayua (confusingly pronounced why-oo-a). This is the first town along the route of flowers, and is famous for its gastronomical market every weekend. Juayua is also famous for its nearby waterfalls.
As soon as we got in to town we headed out to the waterfalls. We were told that we need a guide here as there have been a few robberies lately, but as there were 5 of us we instead opted to not take any valuables and risk it! The waterfalls were beautiful, and the only locals there were very friendly.
The next day we headed to the famous culinary market. This was rather disappointing! We were expecting a range of foods to try, but instead there are just stalls selling fairly large plates for $6 each. Quite pricy when you can get 3 Papusas for $1.50. The food markets are also famous for selling frog and Iguana - Iguana is now illegal as it's a protected species, and there was no frog available, we were told it's the wrong season.
Day 3 we went to explore the Ruta de las Flores with a group of people from the hostel. This is very easy and cheap to do on chicken buses. Our first stop was Apaneca. Despite it being the weekend the town was very quiet. There are a couple of tourist information signs, assuring us we were in the right place, but other than the closed tourism office, one overpriced touristy shop and a market consisting of 7 stalls, there really wasn't much to do! After a look around we headed on to Ataco.
Ataco is a bigger town, with slightly more going on! Our first stop was a mirador or viewpoint. After walking up a steep hill with a big open drain half constructed taking up half the path, and through some coffee plantations, we arrived at a white cross. This signalled our arrival at the viewpoint. From here we had a good view of the town, and could see a bustling weekend market taking up one of the streets. After enjoying the view this is where we decided to head. The market was mostly bustling Papusa and sweet stalls, with a large food court by the towns main square. Still no frog, but we were offered Iguana eggs. Intrigued we asked to see some - they're tiny yellow eggs. Definitely didn't look like much of a meal!
The main square was bustling with a lot of locals and some musicians, as it was the weekend. To one side there are a few fairground rides, mostly aimed at children, but we decided to go on the Ferris wheel! Thinking that for $1 we would just get a couple of loops and a nice view of the town, we handed our money over and the engine was started up. Jess, Andy and I were packed in to one carriage and 3 of the ride operators got in to the opposite carriage. We then proceeded to whizz around very fast about 30 times one way, before switching to go backwards! It was fast enough to lose our stomachs on every drop, and definitely much more fun than we anticipated! The others from the hostel who mocked our childishness for wanting to ride the Ferris wheel definitely missed out on all the fun! We must have started the trend too as once we got off many more people started heading towards the Ferris wheel!
Next stop was a coffee plantation we had heard of. Unfortunately no body really listened when we were told about the coffee plantation, so we didn't quite know where to go! We asked a couple of locals in our broken Spanish, and got pointed in the right direction. When we arrived at the coffee farm we were told we could look around, but it was immediately apparent that this wasn't the touristy coffee plantation tour we were expecting! After awkwardly wandering through the coffee plantation we left, awkwardly walking past the family operating it who were all staring at us!
On our way back to Juayua on the bus we drove past the coffee plantation that does tours! If only we had done proper research we would have known! (Not having much interest in coffee I had presumed someone else was listening!)
Whilst it was a nice way to spend a few hours I feel as if the ruta de las Flores is a bit overhyped, unless you want to splash out on an Atv or zip lining adventure which both looked good.
In the evening a lady came to the hostel to run a Papusa making class for us. This was good fun, and surprisingly easy to make them! We had a wide variety of fillings we could select for them, and made way more than we could ever eat!
Day 4 we went on a 7waterfalls hike. This is run by the same family who run the hostel (they have quite the tourism monopoly in town!). The tour involved walking through the countryside up and down hills, through coffee plantations, to find beautiful hidden waterfalls. These are all waterfalls that seep out of the rocks, rather than from a river. Hidden away in the dense undergrowth they are very beautiful.
When we got to the biggest waterfall we had to rappel down it! We were given hard hats, and I tried not to look at the way they were attaching the ropes and just trust that they do this often with no accidents! Luckily the ropes did hold, and as I was the first down the waterfall it was beautiful and serene at the bottom, splashing about in the pool and drinking in the jungle around me.
The waterfall tour finished up at the waterfalls we visited on the first day. These have swimming pools built at the bases, and a tunnel connecting two of the pools. After a swim the guide invited us to go through the tunnels - I went with Andy and I'm glad I wasn't alone! You can breathe through most of the tunnel but it's very dark, and there's a patch where the ceiling was too low and you have to go underwater - great if you would be able to see where you can come up again!
It looks like a lot of money and effort has been put in to developing these last waterfalls, with paths and pools made, but they have an abandoned feel to them, with hardly anyone using them. I guess this is testament to the whole of El Salvador - the country is set up for tourists, but they don't come as it has a bad reputation in western media. Having said this one of the reasons I love El Salvador so much is because it isn't overrun by tourists! The tourists here are the more sensible ones, not the sheep who follow the drinking and drugs route like a religion... Word will spread about the beauty of El Salvador, and tourism will pick up (Its recently dropped from 1st to 3rd place in world homicide ratings!), meaning now is the perfect time to visit.
We wanted to spend Christmas at the beach, so headed down to El Tunco which is famous for its surfing, and bound to have fellow tourists to spend Christmas with. Shortly after arriving here we met 3 people we'd met in Juayua in a bar. They were an uncle who was taking his 2 nephews on their first trip outside of Mexico/cancun. He is trying to plant the travel bug in them - and it certainly looks like it is working! The next day they were headed to Joya de Cerén, a Mayan village preserved under ash from a volcanic eruption, and invited us along. One of our pieces of travel advice to the nephews was to make the most of opportunities, so of course we said yes! It was very interesting to see, much like a mini Pompeii, and gives a good insight in to Mayan life.
El Tunco is home to amazing sunsets, without fail! Every evening people flock to the beach to watch the sun go down, some even coming from San Salvador specially. On Christmas Day I did get up for sunrise, and whilst it was pretty it was nowhere near as stunning as the sunsets.
Next stop - back up to the Caribbean coast to dive in Utila over New Year, then Nicaragua!

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