The Ruta de las Flores is arguably one of the most magical regions in El Salvador. Tucked away in the western highlands, this scenic destination is one of the most popular places in the country.
The long, winding road snakes along lush green hillsides and coffee plantations, connecting the colourful towns that dot the countryside. During spring, vibrant flowers bloom in every colour along the route — giving la Ruta de las Flores its name. In the distance, volcanoes stand ominously over the horizon.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Ruta de las Flores?
Rainy season in El Salvador runs between May and October. So visiting November to April is the best time to avoid storms. Though as dry season passes, so does the colourful vegetation.
The Ruta de Flores is in bloom from late November to February. During our first visit, we came in mid-January, and most of the flowers were already shrivelling and falling off. Most recently, however, we visited in mid-December and everything was in full, colourful bloom. Each year will vary slightly, depending on the climate.
Where to Stay?
There are seven villages along the Ruta, all have accommodation options of varying price and quality. However, we would suggest staying in Juayua or Ataco. These are the two towns we’ve stayed in while visiting. They have great accommodation options, are fairly central, and both have comfortable, laid-back vibes.
If we were to suggest just one, it would be Ataco. Here there are wider options for both accommodation and restaurants for most budgets. Unless you’re looking to stay in a dorm, Juayua is the only town we know of with the option.
For more detailed information on the towns of the Ruta de las Flores, keep reading or click here.
What to Do in Ruta de Flores
Take in the Views
There are several spots to stop along the Ruta offering stunning views over the surrounding hills. There are two miradors (viewpoints) right off the main road (Ruta). If you are driving you can pull over easily to see them, or you can take the bus and hop off, just ask the driver to stop.
If heading south from Ahuachapan, the first is about 1km past Apaneca; and another is 3km past the Juayua turnoff, towards Nahuizalco. Both offer spectacular views over the valley. A third, offering somewhat less stunning views, is on the road to the thermal pools (see below).
In Ataco, climb up to the Mirador de la Cruz, above the church at the south end of town. This is a great place to capture the town and surroundings at sunset.
Where | Ataco and all along the Ruta
Take a Coffee Tour at El Carmen
You’re in the home of some of the best coffee in the world, this just makes sense. El Carmen is a coffee plantation and resort that offers a couple of great tours for coffee lovers.
The Traditional Tour – they take you around the mills and show you how the coffee is processed from berry to bean. You’ll also see a video of the entire process from growing the plant to drying and roasting. Then sit back and sip a fresh cup of coffee made in the traditional way using the Chorreador Dripper.
Cost | $6 per person
Duration | Around 1 hour
The Whole Tour – Start with a fresh coffee and a pastry from the original plantation house, followed by a tour of the farm. Then you’ll be shown the mill and learn the entire process from harvest through to exportation. This is followed by a coffee-tasting lesson before they serve you lunch.
Cost | $25 per person, includes lunch and a pound of coffee
Duration | 3 hours
Where | Ataco
Canopy Tour and Zip-Lining
Explore the scenic surroundings from 14 different cables, suspended high above the ground. Move through the jungle canopy between several platforms. Then fly through the air as you zig-zag over coffee fields and rivers in the valley below.
While some of the lines are fairly short and seem almost unnecessary, we’re told the longer zip lines make up for it. We ran out of time before we could give this a try. A fellow traveller told us “It was really a lot of fun, but would have been much better if it was ten dollars less.”
Tours depart from the main office at 9:30am, 1:30 and 3:30pm. Make sure to arrive 15 minutes before the time you want to start.
Cost | $35 per person, takes about 1.5 hours
Where | Apaneca
Check out the Colourful Murals
El Salvador as a whole isn’t know as a whole for having strong street art scene. Yet the villages along the Ruta de las Flores have an astounding number of brilliant murals ranging from religious to political and everything in between. Small businesses, hotels and abandoned properties have some of the most colourful and vibrant street art in the entire country.
Each town has it’s fair share of graffiti, but if you’re short on time, Ataco has the most in a small area.
Where | Ataco, Juayua, and Apaneca
Relax in the Hot Springs at Alicante Thermales
These hot springs are an amazing place to rest your body after hiking a volcano or surfing on the coast. Heated underground springs fill 13 different pools of varying temperatures, from slightly warm to almost-too-hot.
Massages are also available on-site, so we figured we should give them a try — for the sake of research of course. On top of all that, they also have a restaurant with a full local menu and cold beer.
You could spend a whole day here, but it’s not necessary. We went first thing in the morning and left before 1pm, recharged and ready to explore more.
Cost | $5 for the day; $15 for 1/2 hour massage
Where | South of Ahuachapan
Visit the Seven Waterfalls
This is possibly the quintessential experience for most backpackers visiting the Ruta de las Flores. I say most backpackers because we skipped this on both visits because we’re gluttonous and would rather be stuffing our faces at the food festival (more on that below). But everyone we’ve spoken to about this trek speaks praise.
Hike through coffee fields beneath towering trees. Sample tropical fruit, straight from the trees of the tropical jungle, with stunning views of the three local volcanoes. The journey passes several of the regions best waterfalls, eventually leading to El Bebedero, where you’ll repel down the cascading face.
The tour ends with a swim in a beautiful crystal-clear pool and a light picnic lunch.
Cost | $20 per person
Duration | 4-5 hours
Where | Juayua
Dune Buggy Tours
If you’re looking for something a little different, you can explore around Apaneca by dune buggy. Why would you want to do this? I can’t answer that, but a lot of people seem to love it.
2-hour tour | $70 per buggy, up to 2 people: Green Lagoon, Colonial Church, Mosaic Street and the new tourist plaza in town.
1-hour tour | $55 per buggy, up to 2 people: Green Lagoon
Tour schedules are Mon to Sunday 9am, 11am, 1pm, and 3pm
Honestly, if you’re going to do this, save yourself some money and stick to the 1-hour tour. The Church and Mosaic street are a 5-minute walk from each other right in the centre of town. The Laguna Verde (it’s a pond) is probably a fun off-road ride on the buggies, so that might be worth the cost. But an extra $15 to see three places in the centre of town seems silly to me.
Where | Apaneca
The Juayua Food Festival
Honestly, during our first visit to El Salvador, we knew very little about the Ruta de las Flores. We found out about it by accident. Our whole point of coming to this region was because we’d heard about some food festival.
Look, I know there are waterfalls and volcanoes and art and culture. And those are all great and wonderful, but we’re cooks, we like to eat.
Every single weekend of the year, Juayua hosts a huge food festival. Locals from all over the region come to town and sell all sorts of delicious food. Trust me, you want to be here for this.
Where | …Juayua
Get Lost in the Labyrinth
For something out of a fairy tale, head to Cafe Albania, on the outskirts of Apaneca, and get lost in the labyrinth. This maze, of natural hedges, is a lot more challenging than you might think.
When we visited the first time, we were caught off-guard at how tricky it was to navigate. I think we spent a good half-hour trying to reach the centre, and were only able to with the help of a few kids.
When you’re finished, head up to the cafe and grab a coffee. Sit on the patio and watch others struggle in the labyrinth below.
Cafe Albania has expanded significantly since our first visit. They now offer several activities, including a zip-line, “tightrope bicycle,” and zorbing. As well, there’s a fairly extensive souvenir and gift shop on-site, making it almost a one-stop tourist attraction (trap).
Personally, though, I’d stick to the labyrinth and coffee.
Cost | $3 for the labyrinth
Where | Apaneca
Try Local Delicacies a the Nahuizalco Night Market
The Mercado Nocturno Nahuizalco is a lively market featuring indigenous arts and crafts. They are well known for their wooden handicrafts but the main attraction is the exotic food market in the evening. Sample river snails, local rabbit tacos or iguana! It makes a perfect addition to the Juayua food festival!
Cost | $10 per person if taking the tour (minimum 2 people)
Duration | 3 hours, 6-9pm
Where | Nahuizalco (Juayua if taking a tour)
Los Choros Waterfalls
If you’re short on time or money, this is a great way to see some of Juayua’s beautiful waterfalls without committing to a full tour. Since we always visit during the food festival, we opted for this rather than the big tour so it wouldn’t cut into our eating time.
The cascading falls make for some excellent photos and the pools are the perfect way to cool down in absolutely gorgeous surroundings.
Local police will provide an escort free of charge, or you can hire a local guide. On our recent trip, we learned that on weekends during the day it’s usually fine without a guide. Because so many people visit for the food festival, the police make themselves present near the waterfalls throughout the day.
Though if you are going early in the morning, it doesn’t hurt to hire a guide just in case, as the police don’t show up until 10 or 11. And helping to support locals is never a bad thing.
Cost | $5 for a local guide, otherwise free
Duration | 20-minute walk each way, stay as long as you want
Where | Juayua
Getting to la Ruta de las Flores
From Santa Ana
There is a direct bus (#238) from Santa Ana to Juayua operating several times daily. It costs $0.80 and takes around 1.5 hours.
Alternatively, you can take bus #210 to Ahuachapan ($0.75/1.5h). When the bus stops in Ahuachapan, hop off and cross the to the opposite side of the roundabout where you’ll find several micro-buses waiting.
This intersection can get a bit wild during busy times, so if you’re confused just ask around. Salvadorians are incredibly welcoming and more than happy to point you in the right direction.
From San Salvador
Head to the terminal de Occident, then take bus #205 to Sonsonate ($0.75/1.5h). From here hop on the #249 to Ahuachapan, stopping at every major village along the route.
From El Tunco/El Zonte/La Libertad
Take bus #287 to Sonsonate, which only runs at 6am and 1:30pm ($1.50/2h) each day. These are the times they leave La Libertad, so if you’re picking it up in El Tunco or El Zonte, it will be 15-20 minutes later than this.
When we took this ride a couple of years ago, they were blasting ‘90s dance music at stunning volume the whole way. It was quite the ride. Once in Sonsonate, hop on bus 249 to get to whichever town you choose along the Ruta de Flores.
The Villages of the Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador
Ahuachapan and Sonsonate are the major travel hubs of the Ruta, north and south respectively. Most visitors transfer buses in one of these two cities and move on. Second from Sonsonate is Nahuizalco, a pretty little town, known mostly for its cultural markets. However, most of the action is in the centre of the Ruta.
Of the seven towns on the route, we’re going to focus on the three best suited for basing yourself and moving throughout the area: Ataco, Apaneca and Juayua.
Concepcion de Ataco
Ataco is the second-largest town on the Ruta de las Flores, and the one most popular with visitors — both local and foreign. It has a comfortable vibe and there are heaps of places to eat, drink and stay.
Colourful murals blanket the walls of many buildings in the town centre. And you’ll find all sorts of unique gifts crafted and sold by local artisans. The town square is a safe and lively place to hang out and gather, surrounded by several decent cafes and restaurants.
Where to Eat
Ataco has incredible selection when it comes to eating. Here you’ll find everything from Mexican and Japanese, to French, Chilean, and American BBQ.
Fantastic little pupusa restaurant that was recommended to us by a local. Here you can try Tenquiqe, a tasty mushroom — also known as the Salvadorian truffle — that only grows in El Salvador. The bummer is that we arrived too late and they were sold out of the tenquiqe, as is sometimes the case with seasonal produce. The saving grace was that they still made some killer pupusas.
This is a simple, nondescript restaurant that offers a few delicious options each day at great prices. We had the meal of the day, which was three handmade meatballs in a delicious tomato sauce, with rice, salad and the obligatory tortillas. Adding (the also obligatory) two beers brought the total to $4.50.
Just pop in and ask for almuerzos (Spanish for Lunch) sit back and enjoy whatever comes out of grandma’s kitchen.
It’s hard to narrow down a cafe in coffee country, but this is one of our favourites. They serve great coffee and tasty desserts all made in-house. It’s a really small coffee shop, but they know how to utilize the different blends of coffee for each style of brew.
They are very proud of their coffee knowledge and will share with you everything they know if you ask!
Where to Stay
There aren’t a lot of shoestring options outside of Juayua, especially dorms. But the accommodation options are amazing, and we found nothing that was below average.
Keep in mind that prices fluctuate significantly depending on the day. Things get pretty busy on weekends and during festivals, so book in advance.
Hotel Casa Pino
This spot just opened mid-2019 and is run by a young local couple. There are four well-set up private flats that each have their own kitchen and bathroom, and share a relaxing back garden.
It’s located about a block away from the main bus stop at the highway. So you won’t have to carry your bags too far.
Las Casitas Hostel
Still want to get your hostel on but you have outgrown the dorm life? Las Casitas is where it’s at. It’s fairly relaxing during the week but things pick up on the weekend.
It has a bar, restaurant and games area where you can drink beer and play foosball into the wee hours.
Book Now | Booking.com
Casa Degraciela Boutique Hotel
Want to wake up in an amazing garden area, with the sound of tropical birds and the cool coffee mountain air? Us too. And with a private bar and room service, this is the place to be if you want to do the Ruta de las Flores in style.
Book Now | Booking.com
Not just another colourful coffee town (it’s that too), Apaneca is the activity centre of the Ruta de las Flores. Most of the more “exciting” activities are based around here, but not a lot of people actually spend the night.
The church near the centre of town is popular with some visitors, though the opening hours seem to be sporadic. Walk along the main street and check out the colourful mosaic in the intersection, and the many beautifully painted buildings.
What to Eat
There aren’t nearly as many options as Ataco, but you’ll still find a decent selection of typical Salvadorian restaurants spreed through town. The newest addition to the city centre is a tousitic market, with any different options.
A great cafe and restaurant with unreal paninis and Salvadorian craft beer. The cafe is a smaller area attached to a funky shop selling all kinds of things. From locally-made hot sauce to coffee, clothing and crafts made of repurposed garbage. They even offer weaving classes and other workshops.
Go for the coffee and stay for the vibes.
They also have an equally-amazing restaurant in Ataco. Be sure to say hi to the cooks, they’re a fun bunch!
Here, you can almost have it all. With over 20 different places to eat, its a semi-enclosed food court featuring, well, typical Salvadorian food. Each place is a little bit different, even though they all look much the same.
We had a large and very tasty plato mixto (mixed plate) for $6 and it was quite a lot of food for the both of us.
Where to Stay
Apaneca is a pretty sleepy town outside of daylight. Most people visit from elsewhere to take part in activities and sightseeing. As such, places to stay are, from what we saw, underwhelming.
We didn’t find any accommodation we loved enough to share with you guys. But if you find anything, let us know!
Although Ataco tends to be where most people stay, Juayua is probably the most popular town on the route; especially for backpackers. From waterfalls to food and a fantastically wild celebration in January, it’s my personal favourite on the route. It’s also the one we’ve spent the most time in over the years.
Where to Eat
If you’re lucky enough to visit for the weekly food festival, you’ll be laughing for options. But if your plans don’t align, there are a few other great options.
A local favourite, and probably the best in the area. We asked around with residents and Cony’s kept coming up. It’s a pretty large restaurant — compared with other pupuserias — and has a wide selection of fillings. Their curtido and tomato sauce are some of the best that we tasted in the country.
A close second for best pupusas in the Ruta de las Flores is Esmerelda’s, also in Juayua.
This is our favourite restaurant on the Ruta de las Flores. Occalli is a hip little cafe serving a more international-inspired menu. A new generation of Salvadorians are bridging culture gaps and making huge progress in the local culinary scene.
Start your day here with a coffee and some of their outstanding breakfast or brunch items. The hot sauce selection alone is worth the visit.
Where to Stay
Juayua is the only town along the Ruta that we were able to find dorms. This likely explains why it’s such a popular destination for backpackers. There are several options for dorms, although we’ve heard mixed opinions on most.
However, we’ve stayed at both of these places and highly recommend them:
With an amazing central chill area, large kitchen area and campfire nights in the garden area, this is the hostel to be at if looking to meet other travellers. The staff are great and the whole vibe here is everything I love about a hostel.
They offer dorms and private rooms at great prices. And the longer you stay, the cheaper each night becomes! The only downside we had was that our private room, across the garden, had an outdoor shower that didn’t pair well with the Juayua wind.
Book Now | Casa Mazeta Website
This is one of our favourite places to stay in all of El Salvador. Anahuac has a beautiful garden area with chairs and hammocks, each room has been decorated by a local artist, and the beds are really comfortable! The kitchen area is small but functional, and the staff are very friendly. Bonus points for the entrance doubling as a cafe!
The only downside to this place trying to get a hold of someone to book a room ahead of time.
Book Now | Anahuac Website
The Route of Flowers is stunning. It’s inspiring, tranquil, yet full of buzzing energy. Come to relax, to slow down and take in the fresh highland air. Get lost (maybe literally) in activity and culture. Experience the full spectrum of Salvadorian cuisine in the span of two days.
Or, if you’re like us, do it all. Experience everything the brilliant Ruta de las Flores has to offer.