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El Salvador Shopping and nightlife

Shopping in El Salvador

The best souvenirs are handicrafts, including ceramics (especially in Ilobasco), handpainted wood (La Palma) and wicker furniture (Nahuizalco). A great gift is the ubiquitous sorpresa (surprise), a little ceramic orb originating from Ilobasco. Often, these are decorated to look like eggs, apples, pine cones or animals. Lift the top to reveal a miniature diorama, such as a baker at work, a musician or dancing girl. Also popular are models of El Salvador’s chicken buses, miniature house facades in bright colours, and hammocks. Kids will enjoy a capirucho – a hand-held wooden toy made up of kind of donut and stem. The object is to flip the stem (connected by string) into the donut hole: it’s tricky and strangely addictive.

In San Salvador, you can pick up bargains at the Mercado Cuartel (though you should only go there if accompanied by a Salvadoran) or at the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías. For clothing and accessories, a trip to a shopping mall is a good bet. Major mall chains include Multiplaza, Galerias, Metrocentro, Gran Vía, Hiper Mall and Cascadas. With over 500 outlets, Metrocentro is San Salvador’s biggest mall – though a little downmarket. There are more recognisable designer outlets at Multiplaza or Galerias, though Central American brands still predominate.

Shopping Note

Don't expect to pay with a credit card if shopping at craft markets, and if paying anywhere by card, keep it in sight as skimming is widespread.

Shopping hours

Vary. Mostly Mon-Sat 0830-2000. Malls 1000-2000. Limited opening Sundays. Some local shops, especially those selling food and drink, open until late.

Nightlife in El Salvador

San Salvador's best bars and nightclubs are in the plush Zona Rosa district, west of the city centre. Drinks are expensive and entry charges are common. Less expensive and a bit more funky are the streets around Boulevard de los Héroes, just north of the city centre. Here, La Luna Casa y Arte is something of an institution and a good starting point if exploring the area. The atmosphere is artsy and relaxed with sofas, live music and exhibitions, but it still attracts those who dress to impress. West of Zona Rosa, the centre of the Santa Tecla district has recently been cleaned up and turned into a new ‘cultural zone’ with pleasant pavement cafés, restaurants and bars.

In San Salvador, openly gay and lesbian nightclubs are thin on the ground, but Scape and Millennium are two of the best known clubs, and just few metres away from each other.

It’s quite common to find nightclubs in shopping malls, and cinemas too – many of which show English-language films with Spanish subtitles. The capital's theatres include the Teatro Presidente in Zona Rosa and the beautifully restored Teatro Nacional in the downtown city centre. Other evening entertainment venues are the Feria Internacional for concerts, and Estadio Cuscatlán and Estadio Mágico Gonzalez for football (soccer) matches and concerts.

Downtown San Salvador has little to offer in the way of late-night entertainment and you should not walk around in this area after 1900. Outside the capital most places of entertainment (even hotels) close around 2300.

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