Any time of the year, the mountains that split at the seams of my tiny country, El Salvador, call out with the promise of fresh air and cold weather.
If you head west to Guatemala, you’ll pass through Santa Ana and Sonsonate, before reaching the high altitudes around towns like Juayua, or Concepción de Ataco.
If you spend the night nestling in cool afternoons that become cold evenings, you’ll make the most of your visit.
Waking up in Ataco
We were driving to Santa Ana but also wanted to take our time. I was comfortable one morning in Concepción de Ataco, in the department of Ahuachapán. It gets cold up in the coffee-growing mountains, that time of year.
I can’t remember what we did the night before, but for sure it was to prepare for that wonderful feeling of sleeping in, snuggling under layers of sheets and covers. Our room was tiny, and you could hear the drizzling rain outside.
“What did you do?”, someone asked. In all honesty, nothing eventful. We read in the morning and over breakfast I wrote while he sketched. We watched something on Netflix—a movie? a series?—until it was time to check out of Misión de Ángeles, such a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place. You can tell how the clouds move and hug the mountains, from there.
On the road to Santa Ana
The drive from Ataco to Santa Ana is almost as cozy. Green mountains surround you the whole way down. You can see the shape the trees make when they surround the coffee plantations. You can taste the fog that sticks to the windows of your car.
There are interruptions though. Like stopping for a dip in the cold waterfall, the Cascadas de Don Juan. How cold is too cold, on a chilly Sunday?
I’ll hang by the rocks, before continuing the ride, saying hi to all the mountains. We can stop for snacks in the town, we can hit up a convenient gas station. I’ll suggest we make a stop in Chalchuapa. I’ll never tire of snacking on yucca in front of the archeological ruins. Here, have some; and let’s go in, even if we’re quick.
Comfort food and go-to places
And then, as we negotiate the chaotic roundabouts that encircle and confine the city of Santa Ana, we decide today’s a good day for pizza.
So we drive to the center of the city, bow in front the theater – because we respect its 19th-century architecture – and walk to the terrace of Simmer Down. They say we’ll like it, they say it’s great; and they were right.
We scoff down Hawaiian, thin-crust pizza; thick garlic knots, and also slices of pizza prosciutto and arugula, because why not? The restaurant, busy even on a Sunday, serves good food with a side of postcolonial views. The cathedral is next to us, whitewashed, a sign of renovation and preservation of the Neo-Gothic, once-grayish structure. Ain’t it nice when you can just relax in Santa Ana? Not every rainy day is this eventful.
Coffee then home
And there is one last (very important thing) we need to do before we go: we can’t miss out on Pastelería Ban Ban. This bakery is as much as a landmark as the cathedral and the theater. We walk in a rush and clash with the slow Sunday ritual of locals having coffee and pastries. Let’s have a little of everything… peperechas, those are a must. The joy of Salvadoran pastry crumbs, with coffee, is coming home to San Salvador with me.
And if you want to seal your Sunday with pupusas, there are great spots. At Pupusería Rosita you can try something different like garlic and cheese filled pupusas. Take them home with you. You’ll be hungry again soon.
I almost make the trip for the scenery alone. Between Santa Ana and San Salvador, before the valley of Zapotitán, the trees and leaves let you see virginal landscapes, mysteries that don’t appear on the maps.
If you make the trip, keep your eyes open and look out the window. You wouldn’t want to miss the rocky outcrops.
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Patricia Trigueros is a free spirit, writer, and translator from El Salvador. She has the habit of drinking too much coffee and writing in English, French, and Spanish. Check out her blog here and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.