Concepcion de Ataco, El Salvador
Concepcion de Ataco is a town situated in the western mountain ranges of El Salvador. It is located in the department of Ahuachapan across the popular Flowers Route (Ruta de la Flores).
You don’t have to use the full town name. Everybody knows the place by Ataco. To me, this is the most beautiful town in El Salvador. Not that I have seen all the towns in El Salvador but we human beings love to make bold statements like that.
Ataco was founded by the Pipiles (a pre-Columbian Indian group) in the Apaneca Mountain Range. The name comes from a Nahuat word that means “place of elevated water springs”.
The town started to gain popularity around 2004 when it entered a government sponsored competition (Pueblos Vivos or Towns Full of Life). The residents gave a total makeover to the city. Some started to paint murals all over town. That idea paid off and Ataco is known today for those beautiful pieces of arts adorning the streets. Not only that, artisans, chefs and artists started to open craft stores, galleries, restaurants and looms. All of this magic resurgence has taken place under the vigilance of the coffee growing in the nearby mountains.
Like I said in the previous paragraph, murals adorning shops and houses are what started to give a new life to this town. What I like is that the murals perfectly describe how life is lived in a town like this (or in the surrounding countryside). Some traditions are also highlighted in the many murals.
Let’s take a look of what you can see around Ataco.
This first mural showcases the tradition of preparing carpets for Holy Week (Semana Santa). This is a tradition mostly associated with Antigua, Guatemala. However, other Central American countries create great carpets too.
This next mural depicts a scene of the Salvadoran countryside. Take a look at the girl balancing a large water pitcher over her head. A lot of Salvadoran women are experts in carrying heavy loads over their heads. They carry everything from fruit baskets to bags full of firewood. Usually, they place a rolled piece of cloth over their head before putting the load. The girl in the mural has a blue piece of cloth between her head and the pitcher.
In this one, you can see ladies separating coffee seeds. The area where Ataco is located is famous for producing the country’s best coffee. If you visit, make sure to stop by one of the cafes. This is a must!!
I love this next mural because it shows some ladies getting a bath in the river. It is common to see this practice in rural areas (or ladies washing clothes topless).
And here we have the Torito Pinto. This is a folkloric song and dance invented in the country. It is kind of an imitation (some say mocking) of the Spanish bullfight. A group of dancers dress in bright colors and use hats adorned with paper flowers. One man, wears a bull-head cap. He dances inside a circle made by the dance group. All carry a red handkerchief and the “bull” showcases its bravery when disturbed.
Other murals were painted to add grace to restaurant facades. See the Mexican restaurant below. Drunken jalapeños in El Salvador?
El Boton is another colorful painted café and restaurant. It is owned by a French guy who makes his own goat cheese. Good place to visit if you are around town.
Even the store selling chocolate covered bananas is painted in an unique way.
By the way, you can enjoy a wide array of international meals in Ataco. The town contains French, Spanish, Chilean, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Central American and Salvadoran restaurants. A gastronomic festival takes places during the weekends in the main plaza. This is a good time to eat (maybe exotic foods) and buy handicrafts.
Talking about crafts and all things creative, fantastic sculptures, ornaments, weaves, candles and much more can be found all over town.
My favorite craft store in town is Diconte and Axul. Artists Cristina and Alvaro operate their store from a big corner house. They sell crafts from all over El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries. They also sell crafts with their characteristic style (my favorite ones). This is a store you don’t want to miss. Everything is awesome in here. Also, take a look at the weaving made on the in-house looms. Don’t forget to have a snack (or meal) at their café. Their desserts are to die for.
Here is an example of Diconte & Axul characteristic style. These are their famous gatos.
It is time for a little recap.
What to do in Ataco?
- Stroll thru the central park
- Walk the colorful streets
- See how many murals you can find
- Eat an international dish at one of the restaurants
- Browse the crafts’ shops
- Visit a gallery (like Galeria Zorro)
- See a loom at work
- Buy exotic fruits at the central market
- Have a cup of coffee in one of the interesting cafes
- Visit the weekend gastronomic festival
- Talk to the locals
- Take tons of pictures
And remember, the town is going to be really quiet during the week. If you want more action, visit during the weekend. You can combine Ataco with other towns in the Flowers Route. Additionally, there are tons of waterfalls, lagoons and trails nearby.
Hope you have enjoyed Ataco as much as I did!!!!
Now, you may understand why is my favorite town in El Salvador.
What beautiful off the beaten path towns have you visited?
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