Honestly, I think we picked the location first for its name: Juayua. Not only was the spelling aesthetically pleasing in its arrangement of letters, but the pronunciation—Who-ah-you-ah—had sent my wife Emma and me into fits of giggles. Strange how some words just do that. Whatever the case, we were fortunate that juvenile sensibilities had gotten the better of us. Juayua turned out to be just what we were looking for and more.
El Salvador is not exactly billowing over with internationally recognized attractions. If you surf, it’s known for having good waves. If you don’t, the beaches—at least the ones we visited—aren’t exactly the fun in the sun kind but rather rocky and rough (and full of surfboards). After that, probably the most popular backpacker destinations in the country is a strip called Ruta de Las Flores (Route of the Flowers), which is approximately 22 miles and famed for its roadside wildflowers.
After a couple of days in Playa El Tunco, one of Salvador’s most revered beaches, swimming “laps” in our hotel pool, roughly the size of queen-sized bed, Emma and I were after a change of scenery. Searching our guidebook, we discovered Ruta de Las Flores, which besides flowers is known for having several charming colonial villages along it. Juayua was one of these villages.
In Your Bucket Because…
- I love waterfalls. If you love waterfalls, imagine being able to go for an afternoon walk and see seven of them, and despite some details that may follow, it’s a very doable hike through the mountains and jungles of El Salvador. Doesn’t everyone want to say they’ve hiked through the mountains and jungles of El Salvador?
- You get to visit and probably stay a night in Juayua, which somehow manages to be both hip and colonial. It’s a great little city to explore: wild graffiti, good pupusas (Salvador’s tortilla specialty), and that old church-in-the-square, cobblestoned appeal.
- Great for lovers of waterfalls, nature, hiking, swimming, odd insects and possibly birds, as well as those who enjoy adventuring and mild risk-taking. Might not work for small children or elderly folks slowed by their age.
Orientation in Juayua
Juayua, despite being born in 1577, still remains fairly fashionable and inviting. The town square, as town squares go in Central America, has a nice thicket of greenery with benches and lazing locals. There is a large white church and a black statue of Jesus carved in the late 16th century. Circling the square are streets lined with little cafes and corner tiendas (stores similar to the ones found at gas stations, but much more cramped). In the distance lies the ubiquitous volcano, verifying that those Spanish conquistadors did indeed have good taste.
Modern-day Juayua has another claim to fame: Every weekend the city hosts a gastronomic food fair. Streets are blocked off in the city center and turned pedestrian. Stalls set up not just to sell food but also souvenirs and locally-produced goods like textiles, soaps, and wood carvings. The culinary offerings can be anything from chorizo to grilled eel, BBQ ribs to an off-chance of finding armadillo, a local delicacy. Sweets include shaved ice and super-sweet traditional pastries. In other words, the food fair might be worth putting in the bucket as well.
The Seven Waterfall Hike
The hike started off walking out of the city, only a few of us meandering our way through the mountainous fields of a coffee finca filled with incredible butterflies with translucent wings then onto a narrow trail that cut through the jungle. What a start! We hiked for over an hour before reaching any waterfalls, but then we did. It was below us. Our guide began to unfurl the rope he’d been carrying over his shoulder. Never having repelled, I slipped and twitched my way down then stood at the bottom concerned for Emma’s descent. As a former Girl Guide, she glided down with ease, stopping en route to take photos.
From here, the hike became more intense, or better to say soggy. The next leg of the journey was walking in a shallow river. Cascades began to appear every few hundred meters. Then, as we neared the end, we stopped at the foot of a waterfall, and the guides cut up cucumbers and tomatoes then gave us boiled eggs and baguettes to make sandwiches. For desert, we had pineapple slices. The penultimate waterfall where we’d stopped for lunch had a pool at the bottom of it, and once the food had settled we went for quite a chilly dip. After the swim, the guide took us around the corner for one last fall before an easy return to town.
The next day, we climbed aboard a chicken bus and headed north towards Guatemala, completing the Ruta de Las Flores and feeling as though we’d discovered a place to recommend. Juayua lived up to its billing, and that name still induces giggles when I tell folks to stop there on their way through Salvador.
- Give yourself at least a couple of days in Juayua. It was a nice little town to walk around, and we found some really interesting artsy, hole-in-the-wall bars on a second night there.
- On the hike, I rubbed in the fact that I had worn Crocs rather than hiking boots. Everyone else was stuck with wet socks and shoes while I dried off minutes after leaving the river.
- Remember your swimsuit. Few things are better than hiking to waterfalls, and one of those things is swimming at the pools created by them. (It is a little cold, though.)