The Colonial towns on the Ruta de las Flores are famous for coffee farms, colorful murals, waterfalls, and hot springs.
But that’s only just to start – there are so many things to do on the Ruta de las Flores that you will be shocked at just how much fun you can have in this little corner of western El Salvador.
And each town along the Flower Route is worth visiting! There are activities in each of the routes seven towns: Sonsonate, Nahuizalco, Salcoatitán, Juayúa, Apaneca, Concepción de Ataco, and Ahuachapán.
Here are the best things to do on the Ruta de las Flores for those who want to travel the route independently as well as those looking to find the best Ruta de las Flores tours.
Towards the end of the post, you’ll also find information on where to stay, what to wear, what to pack, and how to get here!
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These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Find cheap flights with CheapOair.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
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For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.
Store your luggage safely with Radical Storage.
5 Most Popular Guided Ruta de las Flores Tours
Before you dig into all the Ruta de las Flores has to offer, here are the most popular guided tours for those who want to experience the route in one day.
Good to Know: Most tours have pick-up locations in San Salvador or other parts of El Salvador. Reach out to tour companies if you want a pick-up closer to the route.
The Best Things to Do on the Ruta de las Flores
If you want to travel the route independently, you can cobble together your itinerary from among these activities, food festivals, famous cafes, hot springs, and more!
See all Seven Towns of the Ruta de Las Flores
It might feel overwhelming to see all seven of the towns of the Ruta de Las Flores in one or two days, but you’d be surprised!
The towns are located in two different Salvadoran departments: the Ahuachapán Department and the Sonsonate Department.
The Flower Route, as it’s translated into English (also the Flower Path), is only about 45 km long and takes a little over an hour to drive without traffic.
Each little town has something special to offer, and together they help you piece together a greater understanding of this part of the world.
This list includes bucket list things to do in every town, but if you don’t have time to see them all, you can always come back!
See the Route’s Most Beautiful Colonial Churches
I’ll admit that what got me excited to visit this part of the world is seeing the Spanish Colonial-style churches that form the center of each town on the path.
I’ve explored other places in Latin America with colonial-era and colonial-inspired architecture, like Quito in Ecuador and Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, and I find the architecture beautiful and the stories they tell compelling.
Architecture gives you a way to learn about how complicated colonial and post-colonial history is.
You can learn about the horrors of Spanish rule, think about the violence that the local Nahuatl-Pipil populations faced, and yet see the pride with which locals care for and use what was physically left behind.
You can also tell the difference between what parts of this Spanish history in El Salvador have been dusted off to tempt foreign tourists versus what pieces have become internalized and are now truly part of the fabric of local life.
While most of these churches look colonial, El Salvador declared independence from Spain in 1821.
However, many of these churches were built in the Spanish style later in the nineteenth century.
This story about religion, power, and spirituality is a lot more complicated than just looking at pretty churches, but the churches’ beauty is telling and brings that tension to the surface.
The most famous historic church or cathedral in each town:
Sonsonate Cathedral (Sonsonate)
San Juan Bautista Church (Nahuizalco)
Antigua Iglesia de San Miguel Arcángel (Salcoatitan)
Iglesia Santa Lucia (Juayúa)
Iglesia San Andrés Apóstol (Apaneca)
Santuario Inmaculada Concepción de María (Ave Maria Cathedral) (Ataco)
Our Lady of the Assumption Church (Ahuachapan)
Not all churches will be open for visitors, but I still enjoyed stopping at each one, even the ones we couldn’t visit inside.
We were in Juayúa during a funeral service, so, of course, we could not interrupt to go inside the Iglesia Santa Lucia to see the famous Black Christ statue.
However, seeing the Iglesia Santa Lucia from the outside was still one of the highlights of my trip!
When you are visiting churches, keep in mind these are still active Roman Catholic Churches.
There is a certain etiquette to being a tourist at a Catholic Church. You should cover your shoulders and knees, and you need to be wearing shoes.
Don’t interrupt a Catholic Mass or other service unless you plan on attending the full service, in which case you should arrive ten minutes before the start time.
Good to Know: Most churches have public bathrooms that you can use for a small fee (usually about 0.25-0.35 USD). Follow signs for baños or sanitarios. You will pay this fee in coins or cash to the local attendant.
Eat at Weekend Food Festival or Two
These aren’t just picturesque towns, the towns of the Ruta de las Flores are known for their cuisine!
Weekend food festivals (in Spanish they are Ferias Gastronomia or Gastronomic Fairs) have become quite popular in El Salvador, and not just with foreign tourists!
(In fact, we were some of the only obviously foreign tourists we met during our trip to the region. Most tourists that we saw were from San Salvador coming to the mountains for the fresh air and festivities).
The Juayua Food Festival was the first to kick off this trend, and it’s also the largest and most famous.
This food market happens every weekend, so don’t think of this as an annual festival so much as a big street party that happens every weekend.
There’s music, people walking around selling souvenirs, drink stands with local beer and cocktails, and of course, many food stalls offering grilled meat, ribs, ceviche, and more.
You can usually see examples of what’s on offer at each stand displayed out front, though it will be easier for you if you speak Spanish and can ask the vendors about their dishes and platters.
Festivals go from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, so this is where you want to go to lunch (or brunch) during your weekends in the area.
Enjoy Your Meals with a Volcanic View
We decided to stay at the Hotel Juayua because of the view of the volcanoes from the back garden, and we were not disappointed.
They were so beautiful that we kept going back whenever we had free time or found ourselves a bit hungry while in our hotel.
I write a lot of travel guides, and typically something I do at my hotel doesn’t make it into a “things to do” post for the area, but in Juayua, enjoying meals in the garden was one of my favorite things to do!
We returned every day to spend at least some time soaking up the views, typically with a meal from the hotel restaurant.
Seeing the garden and the volcanic mountains at different times of day, in changing light, made it feel like a home away from home.
And yet, we kept saying, out loud to each other, “I can’t believe how beautiful this is,” I can’t believe we are here right now,” and “Wow, we are so lucky.”
Nothing says you’re traveling quite like breakfasting under a volcano!
Visit a Local Coffee Farm
Coffee used to be 90% of El Salvador’s export earnings. Internationally, it had earned the nickname The Coffee Republic.
This history isn’t a delicious one, but rather quite dark.
The government’s dependence on coffee exports raised an insidious group of coffee barons, created coffee plantations that relied on forced labor, and was a cultural disaster for the Indigenous populations who were exploited (and sometimes massacred) to keep the money rolling in for the elite.
By the 1980s, human rights groups campaigned against buying El Salvadorean coffee, nicknaming it “Death Squad Coffee.”
Today, coffee production is declining, thanks in part to less-expensive coffee available on the international market.
However, coffee is still vital to the history and the economy of these historic coffee towns, and visiting a coffee farm (or coffee finca) is still one of the most popular things to do on the Ruta de las Flores.
In fact, the quality of locally grown coffee has vastly improved, making coffee tourism here much more popular (and tasty).
Today, most farms in the area are independent producers or coops, and fair-trade coffee is on the upswing.
Many of the ones you can visit here were established specifically for visitors and to support the local economy, not line the pockets of rich industrialists.
If you go on a tour, you can expect to learn about the shade-grown coffee process, a little bit about the history and culture of coffee in the region, and a coffee tasting.
El Carmen and Portozuelo Coffee Farm are both popular options.
Stay at a Coffee Lodge
You can do more than tour a local coffee farm, you can stay at a coffee lodge!
These guest houses and hotels on adjoining coffee farms allow you to enjoy seeing how the coffee you’re drinking goes from red berries to luscious beans to your coffee mug – all without it leaving the estate!
Drink Your Coffee with a View
If you are just not that into coffee tourism, you can still enjoy a great cup of coffee while enjoying the views of lattice-work coffee farms high up in the mountains.
I prefer ice coffee, which many places are happy to serve.
Good to Know: If you aren’t a regular coffee drinker, one cup might be all you need! I found Salvadoran coffee to be an extremely strong cup of Joe that I wouldn’t want to drink too late in the day!
Shop at the Nahuizalco Night Market
If you’re wondering what to do on the Ruta de las Flores at night, I have a few ideas on this list for you, but the one must-do at night is to visit the Night Market in Nahuizalco.
The Nahuizalco Night Market (Mercado Nocturno in Spanish) is a lively evening affair, with food booths, a farmer’s market, and artisan booths.
The town of Nahuizalco is one where you’ll hear the local language Nahuat spoke as often (or more often) than Spanish, and the local Nahuatl culture is thriving, cited often as one of the oldest and strongest indigenous communities in El Salvador.
The night market is a testament to this, and when you see the candles come out, you know you are experiencing a Nahuatl tradition.
The night market is open daily from early evening until well after dark.
Visit the Largest Hot Springs in Central America
I love a good soak, but this is NOT the kind of hot spring you want to jump into.
The Ausol Santa Teresa makes for a great photo spot on your way to our next location, and the sign that states it’s “el más grande de Centro América” also boasts a camera icon to remind you in case you forget.
The second sign, also in Spanish, translates as “Danger: do not enter the ausoles area without a guide.“
It’s complete with a nice little skull and crossbones to emphasize the danger.
And if you can’t read Spanish (or understand the implication of the skull), the bubbling water and billowing steam should keep you at bay.
Soak in the Thermal Pools
While you don’t want to jump directly into the Ausol Santa Teresa, you can go for a soak at the nearby Termales de Santa Teresa.
Bring cash for your entry fee. We paid $11 each, but it was confusing so I’m not sure I can safely report that this is the entry fee.
This fee gives you entry to the thermal pools, which you can use for the day.
The water temperature varies in the different pools, so try as many as you’d like!
Touting itself as the Fountain of Youth, this resort spa has services that can be scheduled during the day, like massages, mud treatments, and a stone path foot massage.
The price of these treatments varies.
There are restaurants and cafes on site. We ate dinner at the Manhattan Bar & Restaurant. Sipping sangria and chowing down on a steak with a chimichurri sauce was a fabulous way to end our day of relaxation!
Another option is the nearby Alicante Termales.
Good to Know: Our original plan was to go to both, but we ended up spending more time in the towns than we anticipated. They are just so cute and fun!
So we didn’t make it out to this Alicante Thermales; however, I’ve heard the experience is similar at both.
Appreciate the Flowers of the Flower Path
The towns are connected by scenic highway CA8W, and it’s the flowers on this main road that earned the region its name.
So you would think that a top-five thing to do on the Ruta de las Flores would be to see the flowers on the Flower Route.
However, this is a seasonal activity.
The best time to see the flowers that appear on the route is from December through February.
During our trip in late March, they were already gone.
However, because of the climate, there are nearly always beautiful flowers and flowering trees in the towns along the route.
So while you may not see the “Flower Route” flowers, you won’t be at a loss for beautiful blooms during your trip here!
Stop at the Route’s Best Viewpoints
There are many places with beautiful views in the region, but there are a few official Ruta de las Flores viewpoints, or miradors, that you want to seek out.
You can ask your bus driver or driver to stop for them, and most are well-known and well-marked.
There are the official viewpoints on the route:
Mirador de La Cruz (Ataco)
Mirador El Rincon de Carmen (Ataco)
Mirador Turístico Apaneca (Apaneca)
Observatorio Turistico de Salcoatitan (Salcoatitan)
Mirador Ruta de Las Flores (Between Salcoatitan and Nahuizalco)
Pro Tip: If you only stop at one, my favorite is the Mirador Turístico Apaneca.
Fill Up on Pupusas at a Pupuseria
A pupusa is a thick, stuffed griddle cake that is popular in El Salvador and Honduras.
Both El Salvador and Honduras claim to have invented it, but it’s the official national dish of El Salvador and even has a dedicated holiday!
National Pupusas Day is every second Sunday of November, in case you’d like to join in the celebrations.
Pupusas can be made from corn or flour and stuffed with cheese, vegetables, plants, or meat.
A pupuseria is a restaurant that specializes in pupusas (are you shocked?). You need to visit at least one of these local spots during your time in El Salvador!
Go on the Seven Waterfalls Hike
To be completely candid, I decided to skip this six-hour hike in favor of sipping coffee and just enjoying the view of coffee fields rather than hiking through them.
However, truly avid hikers should head out on this trail.
Make sure to find a guide in Juayua at the tourism office before you leave. The path isn’t always well marked, and there are fairly steep sections.
The hike goes by 7 waterfalls, obviously.
But it does so by winding through coffee fincas and offers stunning views of the three towering volcanoes: Izalco, Ilamatepec (Santa Ana), and Cerro Verde.
Good to Know: there are many other beautiful waterfalls in the area, like the Las Golondrinas Waterfalls, so if you can’t get enough, ask your accommodations about seeing some of the other Ruta de las Flores waterfalls!
Or Just Visit One Magnificent Waterfall: Los Chorros de la Calera
If you want to see a waterfall near Juayua, but you don’t want to spend most of your day hiking to waterfall after waterfall, you can visit Los Chorros de la Calera.
Get a guide to take you out, because this path out is a target for local petty thieves who have been known to wield machetes.
The guides ensure this doesn’t happen, and you safely make it to one of the most beautiful places in El Salvador.
Good to Know: El Salvador has a bad reputation for being dangerous, but the Ruta de las Flores is one of the safest regions in the country.
You will probably see a security guard presence that may seem alarming, but it’s there to keep the route safe. And it works.
As long as you use common sense, don’t flash your cash, and listen to local safety warnings like when to hire a guide and when something is safe to do independently, you will stay safe on your trip to the Ruta de las Flores.
If you are worried about theft, make sure to get a travel insurance policy before your trip.
Hike at a Scenic Mountain Lake
The volcanic mountains in the area are part of the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Range. In this range, there are many beautiful mountain lakes you can visit during your trip.
Laguna Verde (the Green Lagoon) and Laguna de las Ninfas (Ninfa’s Lagoon).
Both offer opportunities for hiking and picnicking.
Zip Line among the Volcanoes
While I watched people zipline in Apaneca, I’m afraid that I’m a little too chicken to do a canopy tour myself.
However, for people who like that sort of thing (read: adrenaline junkies), Apaneca is heaven.
If I had the courage, I think this would be a great place to go zip lining since you aren’t just zip lining in an empty field. As you fly through the air here you whiz past coffee fields, rivers, and beautiful rainforest.
Go on a Dune Buggy Tour
Apaneca isn’t just known for ziplining, they also have Dune Buggy tours!
You can drive a dune buggy out to Laguna Verde and back.
This one-hour trip is more about getting to drive the vehicle than sightseeing as you’ll be zipping through the woods at a high speed, so everything will probably look like a blur!
Or Get Lost in a Labyrinth
The hedge maze at the Cafe Albania in Apaneca is one of the most photographed spots on the Ruta de las Flores.
You can pay to enjoy the labyrinth and make your way through it, or you can appreciate the beautiful view from the viewpoint above the maze.
Take a Day Trip to Santa Ana Volcano and Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
If you will only be staying on the Ruta de las Flores and want to hike the Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec) or see Parque Nacional Cerro Verde now’s your chance!
About ninety minutes from Juayua, these make for a great day trip. You can arrange a private driver to take you or try to find a group tour at one of the local tourism offices.
If you go on your own, start with a drive to Lake Coatepeque in Cerro Verde National Park.
The Santa Ana volcano hike takes about four hours and offers stunning views once you’ve made it to the top.
You can use this overview for doing the hike, including safety tips for getting on a tour with a guide once you’ve arrived.
Seek Out the Most Colorful Murals
While most of the churches on the Ruta de las Flores are a beautiful, stark white, the towns are bursting with colorful buildings…and street art!
If you love seeing vibrant, beautiful murals when you travel, then you’ll love spending time on the Flower Path, since the flowers aren’t the only things adding pops of color!
Some of my personal favorites are in Juayua and Ataco but keep your eyes peeled since you’ll be stunned at how many small corners are adorned, from tunnels to restaurants to public parks.
The themes and subjects of the murals vary widely. There are murals showing town landmarks and icons, murals celebrating Día de Los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), and slices of local life.
Visit a Local Museum
There aren’t many museums on the Ruta de las Flores, but the ones that pique your interest here are worth visiting!
The most famous is the Nahuat-Pipil Museum in Nahuizalco. This is the only place on the Flower Route that is also on El Salvador’s Route Náhuatl-Pipil.
Another local museum you can stop by is the Germinal Museo de la Imprenta in Salcoatitán.
Fill Up on Salvadoran Cuisine
Make sure you sample the best dishes from El Salvador during your trip!
While you should get your fill of pupusas and coffee, these two Salvadorian powerhouses aren’t the only food worth eating here!
A lot of travelers – myself included – have a hard time figuring out what to order in El Salvador. This can leave you walking away from a meal less than satisfied, but without a way to remedy it.
You can’t order a good meal for yourself if you don’t know what the best Salvadorian dishes are!
More popular dishes from El Salvador:
Mojarra Frita (Fried Fish)
Carne Asada (Grilled Meat)
Good to Know: Some dishes are called the same thing across Central America and Mexico. However, the local version might be prepared differently.
Embrace the Salvadoran way of making the dishes while you’re here, and you might find yourself googling the best Salvadoran food near you once you’re back home!
Experience the Vibes of the Each Town’s Main Square
Every town has a main square, or plaza, that has a life of its own.
This is where you’ll find families enjoying their day, iconic town signs and letter displays, and beautiful fountains to help you cool down.
Sometimes these areas are designated as a park, or parque, while other times they are vibrant concrete jungles.
Try to visit the main square of each town, which won’t be hard since they are usually right by the town’s main church.
Watch as Many Sunrises and Sunsets as You Can
The sunsets and sunrises here are intense in bright pinks and oranges that light up the sky above the volcanic valley.
In El Salvador, the mountains and water are fiery, so the sky doesn’t want to be left out!
Scheduling your day to enjoy sunset outside at dinner (or from a thermal pool) is not a bad way to spend your vacation!
And waking up early, even if just for a few minutes, to snap some pictures of the sunrise is worth missing the z’s for!
Pro Tip: If you happen to watch the full sunset while driving on the Ruta de las Flores, try to pull over and grab some pics! This is one of my biggest regrets from my trip!
I snapped some pics from the window, but I missed some of the best views because I didn’t want to bug my driver to pull over since we were in a hurry to get to Nahuizalco for the night market.
Find the Most Instagrammable Photos Spots on the Flower Route
I came home from my trip so in love with the people, architecture, and colors of the region that I edited all my photos right away and put together a photo essay about the Ruta de las Flores.
And I never ran out of places to take pictures. Instead, I had to force myself to put my camera down!
Here are my recommendations for the top ten best Ruta de las Flores photo sptots:
- The fountain in front of Iglesia Santa Lucia in Juayua
- The impressive Iglesia San Andrés Apóstol in Apaneca
- The roadside Mirador Turístico Apaneca
- The purple-and-white Santuario Inmaculada Concepción de María in Ataco
- The back garden at the Hotel Juayua
- The Labrynth at Cafe Albania in Apaneca
- The clocktower in the main square in Ahuachapán
- The yellow-and-white fountain in the main square in Salcoatitán
- Mountains with coffee farms in Apaneca
- The photo stop at the Ausol Santa Teresa in Ahuachapán
Shop for the Best Ruta de Las Flores Souvenirs and Handicrafts
I left El Salvador with souvenirs for myself and gifts for my family.
Shopping on the Ruta de las Flores is a fun experience! You can easily find locally-made goods and handicrafts, and not just mass-produced items.
Between the artisanal goods at the Nahuizalco night market, the artisan fair at the Juayua Food Festival, and shops that specialize in local Salvadorian goods, you should be able to find a souvenir or two for you that’s a perfect reminder of your trip.
A few of my favorites that I took back to the states with me include Salvadoran coffee for my family, a Salvadorian soccer kit for my son and husband, and some locally made jewelry for myself.
If I had more room in my suitcase (and a larger trip budget), I might have justified bringing back a few locally-made ceramics and hand-painted leather goods.
Where to Stay on the Ruta de las Flores
We stayed in Juayúa because the Hotel Juayua looked like it would be a special place to stay, and it did not disappoint!
I know I’ve stated already that we loved the back garden, but we also had a great room. We booked the Deluxe Double Room with Balcony since we wanted to enjoy a spacious, beautiful room.
The bathroom was clean and modern, with a great shower (though the water could have been a tad hotter).
The beds were very comfortable, and the air conditioner easily kept the room cool during the heat of mid-day.
The hotel also helped us with airport pickup and arranged a driver to take us where we wanted to go outside of Juayua so we could maximize our time seeing as much of the region as possible.
The rates were great (this was not a sponsored stay), and I would book this hotel again if we go back!
If you’d prefer to stay in Ataco, the Casa Degraciela Hotel Boutique is a very popular option.
Good to Know: the beloved backpacker hostel in Juayua, Casa Mazeta, is now permanently closed.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to El Salvador
Lonely Planet Central America is available as a paper copy or in a Kindle edition. You typically won’t find major guidebooks once you land, so get yours ahead of time.
I used this to plan my last trip to El Salvador, and I held onto it so I can use it for my next trip to Central America!
Mosquito Repellant is the single most important thing you’ll want on you as soon as dusk hits. Have enough to at least get through the first night if you’re packing light.
Full-Sized Travel Towel Unless your accommodations provide them, you will want to bring your own. I always bring my towel to Central America.
This is the best travel towel in the world. It’s pretty enough for the beach, large enough that you forget it’s a microfibre towel, and quick-drying, which is crucial in super humid parts of Central America.
A Go Pro for underwater and action photography. Why go all the way to El Salvador and not be able to capture some of the most exciting parts of your trip?
This is perfect for those spending time at the beach or waterfalls!
A Dry Bag for your stuff when you go on a boat or to the beach. You can get a larger one to use for a group or if you plan on taking a larger camera.
Otherwise, I use small ones with lanyards to hold my cell phone, money, and credit cards so I could take them with me swimming when traveling solo.
I used these when at the hot springs in El Salvador so I could get great cell phone pictures without risking having my cell phone out by the thermal pools.
You might also want a separate waterproof holder for your passport. I’ve seen people who weren’t allowed to board their flights home because their passports got water damaged at the beach.
A Portable Charging Bank in case your phone dies. Having a portable charger for your phone is crucial.
This is a safety issue since you will want to be able to contact someone in case you end up in an unsafe situation.
A Lightweight but Durable Backpack – My Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack was a steal for the price. It’s survived 17 US national parks as well as my time in Mexico and El Salvador!
It won’t last forever, but it has more than proved its worth so far.
How to Get to the Ruta de las Flores
We got to the Ruta de las Flores by flying into San Salvador and hiring a private driver from our hotel for airport pickup.
This was a really simple way to get to a corner of the country that’s a little bit out of the way.
However, most people come to this region from other parts of El Salvador, like Santa Ana, El Tunco, and La Libertad.
In this case, you’ll most likely want to use public buses.
El Salvador shares a land border with Guatemala and Honduras. The Ruta de las Flores is a natural first stop in El Salvador for those coming from Guatemala and western Honduras.
If you are coming directly from Nicaragua or Costa Rica, that would be a very long bus ride! You might look at flights instead of traveling by land unless you aren’t phased by spending an entire day on the bus.
After years of traveling the Balkans by bus, I prefer to fly or drive whenever possible.
How to Get Around the Ruta de las Flores
There are a few ways to get around the Ruta de las Flores.
We used a mix of local buses and a private driver to get between the small towns.
The buses are called chicken buses, and a ticket to explore the route locally is less than $0.75 per person per ride.
Compare that to hiring a private driver, which can be around $90 per day, and you will save money using the bus!
So why did we also use a private drier? So that we could see as much of the route as possible instead of spending most of our vacation waiting on busses and walking to and from the edges of the towns.
If you have a lot of time to travel slowly and explore, the buses are the perfect way to get around.
However, if you are limited on time and want to do as many Ruta de las Flores activities as possible, then having a driver gives you speed and flexibility.
More El Salvador Travel Resources
Before Your Trip to El Salvador – Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road.
I love World Nomads for traveling in Central America, and I happily recommend them.
It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be enjoying water activities, spending time on beaches, or visiting towns and cities where petty theft occurs.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads as far back as 2016, and I happily recommend them.
If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.