Juayua is a small village on the Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador, a popular tourist route consisting of several small villages in the cool highlands of the country. The main draw to the village for most backpackers are the hikes to surrounding waterfalls in the area. Aside from that, however, the biggest reason to visit Juayua is to eat. Every weekend of the year, this town celebrates La Feria Gastronomica: the Juayua Food Festival!
We had such a great time during our first visit a couple of years ago, we decided to return; to get our feast on and to help you make the most of your visit!
What to Expect at the Weekly Juayua Food Festival
Every single weekend, the small town hosts a fabulous food festival. People from villages all around the country converge either to sell their specialty, or to enjoy a sampling of others’.
Two main streets around the town square are lined with canopies and the air is thick with the smell of charcoal smoke. Dozens of individual makeshift kitchens fill the canopies, each offering a sampling of three or four traditional Salvadorian dishes. You will find everything from soups, to grilled meat platters, seafood, desserts and cocktails.
Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, this is a fairly meat-heavy event. Even if you order a dish of vegetables, it’s highly likely that they’ll be cooked on the same grill as meat. That said, there are restaurants throughout Juayua that offer such options. (post coming out soon)
How Much does the Food Festival Cost?
The Juayua food festival is an open-air event in the centre of town. It costs absolutely nothing to wander the streets and see all of the fantastic food on offer.
Unlike some culinary festivals, there are no food tickets involved. Everything here is cash-based, and food is purchased directly from individual stalls.
The food is not the cheapest when compared with Salvadorian standards. Though you’d pay far more elsewhere in Europe or North America, and the portions are fairly large.
Prices range from $1 for a cup of spiked ponche, a milky drink that comes out of a heated cauldron, which you add your favourite booze to, to $3 for a boozy pineapple cocktail, $4 for a soup, and $6 to $9 for a plate of grilled meat and/or seafood with all the fixin’s.
- We suggest trying to gather a small group of people from your hostel and sharing plates between you. This way you won’t fill up so quickly and will have the chance to try even more.
- If you happen to be travelling solo, don’t worry! Many of the plates have a lot of fillers and carbs, such as rice, potatoes and tortillas. Most stalls will substitute these for extra veggies and salad if you ask!
What are the Opening Hours
This is a bit of a tricky question, as there don’t seem to be any specific hours of operation. Technically, the festival is during the daytime on Saturday and Sunday, with some starting Friday evening. Some stalls set up first thing in the morning, while others take their time. Most will be done serving food around 5pm, but again, some stay open later.
If you happen to be visiting during another festival, the hours are considerably longer. Our first visit to Juayua was during the insane Cristo Negro celebrations in the first two weeks of January, and many stalls served food until late in the evening.
Your best bet, if you want to have the most options and the freshest food, is to visit the festival late-morning to mid-afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays. We noticed most food stalls were open from 11am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday.
What to Eat at the Juayua Food Festival
Start off with a Cool, Refreshing Cocktail
Before diving into all the fantastic culinary treats, stop and pick yourself up a fantastic little cocktail from the side of the road. Who cares if it’s only 10am, you’re at a food festival!
For around $3, a giant pineapple gutted and the sweet flesh is blended with a little ice and a generous splash of rum and poured back into the hollow fruit. Before enjoying, sprinkle to your personal taste a little bit of salt, lime juice, hot sauce and dried chilies – adding a complex but brilliant twist to your average rum and juice. Also, this is really tough to drink without a straw, so if you have your own carry with you straw, bring it!
Try some Incredible Grilled Seafood
Even though Juayua is in the Salvadorian highlands, the ocean is less than two hours away. So you’ll find some of the freshest seafood in the country at the Juayua food festival. And being a lighter fare, we prefer to start off the day with seafood, saving the heavier food for later in the day.
You’ll usually find a few options, one of our favourites is a plate of juicy, grilled prawns in garlic. It’s one of those classic dishes that is hard to beat. Four large prawns with the typical sides cost $7.00.
Delicious Local Soup and Sausages
There are several options for lighter snacks, with soup seeming the most common. For $3, we tried a bean and pork-skin soup. The broth was quite salty, but tasty, and very rich – mostly due to the melted pork fat. The downside was that unlike with chicharron, the pig skin in this case was soft, which made it a little tricky to chew.
One of our favourite things to try while at the Juayua food festival is a specific sausage that is only produced in this area: Chorilonzo. This wonderful treat combines the best of two staple sausages in both Spanish and Central American cuisine. Chorizo and longaniza, although both quite similar, they have some very specific differences. While I won’t bore you with the fine details, they essentially come down to a few spices, the grind of the meat, and size of the sausage. Chorilonzo combines the absolute best of these already-fantastic snacks.
Our platter featured a decent sized sausage that was served with cheese, rice and beans, salsa, pickled cabbage, and the always occurring tortillas. The whole thing cost $6.
Another option if you want a bigger selection, or are limited in time or money, is picking up a giant skewer of assorted grilled meats. This one includes prawns, beef, chicken and pork; alongside beans, tomato salad, rice, grilled vegetables and tortillas. Almost too much food to be shared by the two of us, it rang in at only $6.
Try Something a Little Different
Another local specialty is conejo; or rabbit. Some may find eating rabbit a little strange, especially North Americans, but it’s a very tasty meat. And surprise, surprise — it tastes quite a bit like chicken!
There are several places to find conejo around El Salvador, it’s not an uncommon dish. Though the Juayua food festival is the perfect place to give it a go. Two decent sized legs with all the sides (or in our case, we swapped starches for more salad so we could drink more beer), cost $6.
Stick to Something a Little More Familiar
You don’t need to be an adventurous eater to enjoy the food festival in Juayua – though it certainly helps. Aside from what’s mentioned above, there are plenty of more familar foods available. Try grilled pork ribs or roasted pork loin, chicken done in almost every way imaginable, or a simple classic of beef over charcoal. Most stalls rub everything with a mixture of parsley, butter and garlic before grilling, make sure to try and get a side of this sauce if possible, for dipping.
See, the thing about charcoal gilling is that even the simplest, most common foods are transformed. An entirely new dimension is added to already tasty foods. Sit back in the late-afternoon heat with a cold beer and a freshly grilled steak. There are few things as good as this!
Getting to the Juayua Food Festival
Hopefully, you’re already planning on spending a bit of time in the Ruta de las Flores. If not, it’s just under three hours from the beach town of El Tunco, via local bus. (Or 15 minutes less from El Zonte)
- Take bus #287 from El Tunco/El Zonte to Sonsonate. It leaves twice per day, at 6am and 1:30pm, costs $1.50 and takes around two hours.
- From Sonsonate, take bus #249 up the Ruta de las Flores towards Ahuachapan, running every 15 minutes or so. It will stop in Juayua, costs $0.60 and takes around 40 minutes.
If you’re up in Santa Ana or San Salvador, it’s just as easily accessed from either of those two towns. Chicken buses operate regularly to and from Juayua and surrounding towns.
- From San Salvador, catch bus #205 from Terminal de Occidente to Sonsonate, two hours, $1.50. From Sonsonate, connect to Juayua via bus #249 (see above).
- From Santa Ana, take bus #238 direct to Juayua. It costs $0.80, takes one and a half hours and leaves every two hours. If you miss this bus (as we did), take bus #210 to Ahuachapan for $0.90, one hour. At the roundabout in Ahuachapan, where you’re dropped off, cross the road and take bus #249 towards Sonsonate, stopping in Juayua on the way – $0.60, 40 minutes.
If you’re already staying in the Ruta de las Flores, buses connect the different towns and run throughout the day, usually for under a dollar. Bus #249 runs between Ahuachapan and Sonsonate every 15 minutes and stops in Juayua. Microbuses run between Ataco, Juayua and Apaneca at regular intervals as well.
It’s easy to pop in for a few hours during the afternoon and get back to your hotel if staying in another town. To make things easier though, especially if you happen to be here for the Festival del Cristo Negro, be sure to book a place in Juayua. That way you won’t have to worry about getting back home after the late-night festivities!
Centro Coasting is a really great place to look for the most up-to-date bus schedules across Central America. Be sure to let them know of any scheduling changes you might come across.