El Sal­vador

Excelencias from the Caribbean & the Americas - - Contents - BY FRAN­CISCO ALTUNAGA PHO­TOS JOSE CAR­LOS DE SAN­TI­AGO

Con­cep­cion de Ataco

Fa­vored by abun­dant wa­ter, lav­ish na­ture and the cer­tainty of be­ing the only place where peo­ple can ac­tu­ally live in peace when it comes to the be­ing in the far­thest spot on the face of the earth, the first dwellers of these lands set­tled down in this lo­ca­tion in the Ahuacha­pan prov­ince.

As time rolled on, the first Span­ish ex­plo­rations washed ashore and the first set­tlers came in, mix­ing their blood with that of the indige­nous in­hab­i­tants, build­ing a shrine to wor­ship the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion and shap­ing that place into some kind of main square and main street. This pic­ture-per­fect small town throve thanks to cof­fee plan­ta­tions –pen­ciled in among the finest in all Cen­tral Amer­ica– and put it­self on the maps with the weav­ing of mot­ley fab­rics in homemade looms, as well as the mak­ing of earth­en­ware ar­ti­facts and other hand­crafts.

The Sal­vado­rans say this is the only place in the en­tire coun­try that pre­serves its cob­ble­stone streets and where the mil­lenary cul­ture of the Nahualts –the na­tion’s orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants– is best ex­posed. And this is owed to iso­la­tion and the up­hill trek they em­barked on for cen­turies, leav­ing moun­tains and rivers be­hind, sauntering down long path­ways jam-packed with snags, sprin­kled by ex­treme mois­ture and con­stant rain­fall that seemed to get worse off with each pass­ing year.

To­day, the town can be reached through an ex­cel­lent thor­ough­fare –the CA 8– de­signed to put all those draw­backs in the back of the trav­eler’s mind. The ride lets visi­tors watch typ­i­cal towns on both sides of a road the coun­try’s tourism pro­mot­ers first mar­keted as the Route of Flow­ers, a clear al­lu­sion to the stroll’s ma­jor val­ues: na­ture and land­scapes.

Place of High Springs. That’s the name the Pip­ile In­di­ans gave to this city of north­ern El Sal­vador, in the heart of the Apaneca Sierra, and that has lived out as one of the most charm­ing places to feast eyes on in this en­tire re­gion.

What to See in Ataco

The first thing that meets the eye in Ataco is the vivid col­ors the neigh­bors paints their houses with –many façades are dec­o­rated with flower mu­rals and other de­tails like tiles. Even the lamp posts have been ar­tis­ti­cally in­ter­vened.

It’s a small city dom­i­nated by a lovely church on one side of the main park, a bustling place al­ways teem­ing with lo­cals who gather there to jaw it up and en­joy the quiet and pleas­ant at­mos­phere. A beau­ti­ful foun­tain spruces up the heart of the plaza, fea­tur­ing a statue of the Vir­gin of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion.

Peo­ple are hum­ble and friendly, there’s abun­dance of man­u­fac­tures and hand­crafts that are di­rectly sold in porches and small in-house stores. There are restau­rants dish­ing out great food at un­beat­able prices and many out­lets where trav­el­ers could sip a cup of cof­fee in a va­ri­ety of recipes. There are also small and in­ti­mate ho­tels with ev­ery­thing it takes to make you feel at home.

In ad­di­tion to an ar­ray of trails, na­ture-ori­ented tours and vis­its to cof­fee-mak­ing es­tates or other towns in the vicin­ity, Ataco’s list­top­ping at­trac­tions are the so­called Atzumpa Pools, a place boast­ing breath­tak­ing wa­ter­falls and ponds of crys­tal-clear wa­ter in


the mid­dle of the trop­i­cal for­est, yet out­fit­ted with all nec­es­sary ser­vices and con­ve­niences to spend the whole day there.

An­other must-see is the so-called Cruz del Cielito Lindo (The Pretty Lit­tle Sky Cross), a watch­tower that lets visi­tors watch the city and the sur­round­ing scenery all day long. The Pio Pi­etrel­cina Square is one of kind due to its height and cu­ri­ous ori­gin. It was built by the Caliche Mo­ran fam­ily atop the Ila­mate­pec Apaneca Sierra in ap­pre­ci­a­tion for a mir­a­cle granted as a space for both re­lax­ation and wor­ship­ping, closer to heav­ens, by the town’s saint pa­tron.

De­spite be­ing a hum­ble city, the nights of Ataco are as charm­ing as they get. The down­town area opens its va­ri­ety of bistros, the colo­nial lamp poles light up around the main park, visi­tors walk out of their ho­tels and peo­ple from any part of the planet show up, as prob­a­bly no­body ever thought that could ac­tu­ally come to pass just a few years ago

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