Sonsonate and around

Sonsonate, 64 km from the capital, is the country's chief cattle-raising region. It also produces sugar, tobacco, rice, tropical fruits, hides and balsam. The city was founded in 1552 and is hot, dirty and crowded, but worth checking to see the colonial architecture in the city centre. The beautiful
El Pilar
church (1723) is strongly reminiscent of the church of El Pilar in San Vicente. The
Cathedral
has many cupolas (the largest covered with white porcelain) and was badly damaged in the 2001 earthquake but is now fully restored. The old church of
San Antonio del Monte
(completed 1861), 1 km from the city, draws pilgrims from afar (fiesta 22-26 August). There is a small
railway museum
, look for the locomotive at the entrance to the city on the highway from San Salvador (Km 65). An important market is held each Sunday. The market outside the church is quite well organized. In the northern outskirts of the city there is a waterfall on the Río Sensunapán. Legend has it that an indigenous princess drowned there, and on the anniversary of her death a gold casket appears below the falls. The main annual event is
Feria de la Candelaria
in February. Easter Week processions are celebrated with particular fervour and are probably the most impressive in the whole country. On Easter Thursday and Holy Friday the streets are filled with thousands of members of the cofradías (brotherhoods).

Around Sonsonate

Route CA 8, northwest to Ahuachapán , has spectacular scenery along the
Ruta de las Flores
, with frequent buses from Sonsonate (bus 249 and 285, two hours) covering the 40-km paved route. The road goes just outside the indigenous village of
Nahuizalco
(population: 49,081). Some of the older women here still wear the
refajo
(a doubled length of cloth made of tie-dyed threads worn over a wrap-round skirt), and various crafts are still made, including wood and rattan furniture. Although use of the indigenous language is dying out you do still encounter people who speak Nahuat. The night market, unique in El Salvador, opens at dusk and has traditional local food on sale. There's a religious festival 19-25 June, with music,
Danza de los Historiantes
and art exhibitions; also 24-25 December, with music and
Danza de los Pastores
.

Salcoatitán and Juayúa

A little further up the mountainside at Km 82 is Salcoatitán (population: 5484) at 1045 m above sea level, a colonial village with a beautiful park in front of the colonial church. This cozy village used to be only a drive-through on the way to Juayua or Apaneca but has experienced a tourist revival lately with several new restaurants, art galleries and artisans shops.

Further along, the road branches off to Juayúa 2 km further north and the same bus from Sonsonate takes a detour into the village and back. Juayua is the largest city in Ruta de Las Flores - the name means 'River of Purple Orchids' in the local Nahuatl dialect - and sits nestling in a valley dominated by volcanoes. It's a peaceful spot where you can watch people at work and kids playing in the semi-cobbled street. The surrounding region is blanketed in coffee groves; the bean was introduced to the area in 1838 and today the town produces about 10% of the coffee exported from El Salvador. Its church houses an image of the
Cristo Negro
(Black Christ) carved by Quirio Cataño at the end of the 16th century.
 Gaby and Julio Vega, the owners of
Akwaterra Tours
, www.akwaterra.com
, run a mountain cabin at Finca Portezuelo named
La Escondida
. Now they have coffee decks, a camping site. They're fluent in English and offer a wide range of activites at Portezuelo Adventure Park such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, ATVs and paragliding.

There are a number of excursions you can do in the area to see wildlife including river otters, toucans, butterflies and many other animals. In the dry season
Laguna de las Ranas
(Laguna Seca) dries up, attracting numerous reptiles as it shrinks. There are also trips to the 30-m high waterfall at
Salto el Talquezal
, the 50-m high
Salto de la Lagunilla Azul
and several other waterfalls in the region seven in one day if you take a tour, with swimming and picnics on the way . Every weekend Juayúa celebrates the Feria Gastronómica, an opportunity to try a variety of traditional dishes, often accompanied by local events, music and shows.

The
Feria Gastrónomica Internacional
is in January and celebrates with dishes from all over the world; other festivals include
Día de los Canchules
(31 October), when people ask for candies and
Día de las Mercedes
(17 September), when the houses are decorated with branches and candles leading up to the procession of the Virgen de la Merced. Another local attraction is the newly opened
Museo del Café
, of the coffee cooperative
La Majada
, www.cafemajadaoro.com.sv
, located in San José La Majada, just outside Juayua on the road to Los Naranjos. Tours include information on coffee processing and a trip to the processing plant. A coffee shop offers local brews and iced coffee.

Los Naranjos and around

Moving northeast of Juayúa, swirling up a scenic mountain road connecting Juayúa with Santa Ana you arrive at Los Naranjos, a small traditional coffee village located at the mountain pass between Santa Ana and the Pilón volcanoes. The lines of wind-breaking trees preventing damage to coffee trees are particularly beautiful, while the high altitude makes the climate cool with the scent of cypress forests. A series of restaurants and small cabins for lodging has popped up in recent years and is an excellent option for cool climate and countryside relaxation.

At Km 82 on the Carretera Salcoatitán to Juayúa is
Parque y Restaurante La Colina
, www.lacolinajuayua.com
, with hammocks, arts and crafts, and horse riding available.
Apaneca
is a short distance uphill from Sonsonate .

Several
waterfalls
and other sites of natural beauty can be found in the Sonsonate district. To the west, near the village of
Santo Domingo de Guzmán
(bus 246 from Sonsonate), are the falls of
El Escuco
(2 km north),
Tepechapa
(1.5 km further) and
La Quebrada
(further still up the Río Tepechapa), all within walking distance of both Santo Domingo and each other. Walk through the town, then follow the river, there are several spots to swim. Santo Domingo de Guzman is also known for its
alfarería
(pottery) of
comales
, clay plates used to create torillas and
pupusas
over open fire, and its many Nahuat speaking habitants. There's a festival in Santo Domingo, 24-25 December. A short distance north is
San Pedro Puxtla
(bus 246), with a modern church built on the remains of an 18th-century edifice. From here you can visit the
Tequendama Falls
on the Río Sihuapán. Bus 219 goes east to
Cuisnahuat
(18th-century baroque church), where the Fiesta de San Judas takes place 23-29 November. From there it is 2 km south to the Río Apancoyo, or 4 km north to
Peñón El Escalón
(covered in balsam trees) and
El Istucal Cave
, at the foot of the Escalón hill, where indigenous rites are celebrated in November.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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