I had never heard of Concepcion de Ataco when I booked a tour there. I was shockingly ignorant and (as reflected upon in a later post) simply called a lot of companies seeking an excursion including a waterfall. Having checked that off the list in Costa Rica, and made our way through Nicaragua, too, my expectations were already exceeded and I was shocked when a stop I’d barely anticipated became a highlight.
I’d skim-researched a few facts about El Salvador which returned mixed-results: some scare-mongering headlines painted the country in a light that even my naive-little mindset couldn’t believe conclusive, whilst tourist-specific info was unwaveringly positive. After finding a few testimonies of charming towns, intriguing architecture, friendly people and – as with everywhere in Central America – fabulous food, I felt relieved enough to sit back and stick to my plan of waiting to judge for myself.
I learnt upon arrival that Ataco is on the ‘Ruta de Las Flores‘, a series of villages in Western El Salvador. Beauty and ambience abound from every angle – from the surrounding green mountains and misty sky to its famous murals found on every wall. The cobbled pavements are such a pleasure to walk down, with bold colours merging each building together to form a cogent promenade. The murals themselves boast a fun, youthful aesthetic in an eye-catching illustrative style. Since I’d initially travelled for a natural escape, I was wonderfully surprised to stumble upon art, which I think could enter some interesting debates.
Beyond the endless enjoyment of the town’s decorative bliss, I’m in love with the form ‘mural’. I’ve always admired pictures which can portray several scenes at once, co-existing or as multiple steps in a story; it feels, to me, like the image is moving, whilst providing a more developed combination of factors than can be achieved in a single frame. The compositions in Ataco are busy, giving each mural this moving vibe, but stripped down to a semi-abstract flatness that just contains them in aesthetic perfection, letting the shapes and colours sing.
I also think the town itself enters some intriguing debates around the institutions of art, by spilling out of galleries and onto streets. The entire town is a curation, accessible for free, raising some philosophical questions about what a building, or an artwork, can be.
The murals decorate a variety of; homes, restaurants, and shops. A stand-out for me was the building with cats, which featured similar paintings for sale, inside – equally adorable but also almost as hard to transport back to the UK. I love their hypnotic eyes and the way they tilt their heads at you inquisitively, but without giving anything away. I’m also a big fan of their stylistic abstraction – the heavy 2D outlines and wacky patterns, giving off a humorous, chilled-but-trippy vibe.
We were also lucky enough to meet some live fluffy friends, including ‘Negro Gomez’ who, actually, wouldn’t leave us alone whilst we were trying to eat. The town is a little overrun by doggos but all seemed harmless and friendly.
Ataco also happens to have (*drumroll please…*) WATERFALLS! So, naturally, we took a trip. We all rode, standing, in the back of a little truck for this, up and around a curved mountain with a driver who never stopped laughing. The spot we found seemed pretty remote, and luckily the locals hanging out were very kind, and seemed happy to share with us their secret.