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, our reason for visiting was much more specific. Every weekend of the year, this town celebrates La Feria Gastronomica: the Juayua Food Festival!
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 sampling from others. Even better is that over the first two weeks of the year, the food festival combines with the annual Festival del Cristo Negro, coming to a climax on the 15th of January. We just happened to be there for that final weekend.
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.
Day One: Grilled Everything
During our first round through the festivities, we picked up a giant skewer of assorted grilled meats including three massive 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 it at only six dollars.
Day Two: Soup and Sausages
The following afternoon and final day of the festival, we ventured out once more to the centro to sample some more amazing Salvadorian cuisine. This time we started with a small bowl of bean and pig skin soup – it was essentially a watered down and heavily salted version of pork and beans typically found back home. Although quite delicious in its own right, our next selection was truly phenomenal!
Our second main selection highlighted a very 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, 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. This plate was one of the most delicious meals we’d had since leaving Mexico several weeks prior.
A Fine, Refreshing Cocktail
Before heading back to the hostel to hide from the mid-afternoon heat, we stopped and picked up a fantastic little cocktail from the side of the road. For a whopping $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 consuming you 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.
A brief siesta followed in preparation for the main event and ensuing chaos, which was to begin shortly after dark.
Onto the Unique Celebrations
Latin America loves to take celebrations to extremes, often throwing caution to the wind – and Salvadorians are no different. After a fairly standard parade featuring fabulous floats and beauty pageant contestants, the real excitement begins.
Men wearing makeshift wooden bulls covered in fireworks run through the streets as people duck for cover, never knowing which way the roman candles and bottle rockets will fly. Once the bulls tired out, the crowd rearranged themselves for the spectacular fireworks display. First, it was a towering pyrotechnics display at the end of the main street followed by roughly twenty minutes of colourful overhead explosions, launched from mere feet away from the crowd.
While the full-blown bedlam of the Festival del Cristo Negro is only once a year, the quiet village of Juayua, in the wonderful Ruta de las Flores, comes to life every single weekend of the year to celebrate the fantastic flavours of Salvadorian cuisine. Easily accessible from the popular tourist trail of Central America, the Juayua food festival should be on every itinerary.
have a look at our Complete Guide to Backpacking El Salvador!
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 only two hours north from the beach town of El Tunco, via chicken bus. 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. The journey should only cost a few dollars.
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. 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.