Stories on the walls of Ataco, El Salvador

Article updated May 18, 2022
Text and photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

A surreal scene of black cat on the roof of a house with windows shaped as coffee beans attracts my attention. Overlooking it in the garden, a pink owl is resting in a tree. Cherry blossoms flower and villagers are cheerfully at work, from drying coffee beans, to washing clothes in the river. The bright yellow sky shines fiercely above the cute houses. A street dog is sound asleep….

I am walking the streets of Ataco, a tiny village situated along the Ruta de las Flores (the route of flowers), a 36-kilometre-long (22.4 miles) route between Sonsonate and Ahuachapán in the West of El Salvador. Famous for its colourful and meaningful murals, Ataco surprises us with its touching and cheerful wall paintings.

A mean of expression at first, certain murals are a strong reminder of the civil war and convey a clear political meaning. Others focus on bringing educational values to kids and parents, and describe a peaceful environment, with joyful coffee harvests, local ceremonies and bucolic scenes.

While most of the paintings are created by a few artists contracted by the city, more and more decorate the walls of businesses to attract customers and cultivate the image of Ataco. Wandering in the village rimes with marvelling at the different paintings and styles. At a street corner, we meet one of the local artists: Julio Cesar. With the help of his right-hand Frank Marroquín, he is colouring a pencil sketch on a 10-meter-wide wall (30ft). We are witnessing his pocket sketchbook taking life as a mural on a store of Ataco. In about two weeks, this street corner will look completely different abhorring new bright colours.

Beyond its wonderful murals, Ataco is a great hub to explore the Ruta de las Flores, enjoying delicious locally grown coffee and traditional pupusas while browsing through the colourful handicrafts that are widely displayed throughout the village. Easily accessible from San Salvador, Ataco is very popular amongst Salvadorians, especially on weekends when the town gets loud with music and locals visiting the food festival. Still, the black cat, pink owl and sleepy dog will need more to leave this lovely village!

Travel tips:

  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!

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