You will probably amass a vast array of art, furniture, textiles, ceramics, and clothing if you're a shopper spending time in El Salvador, and Nicaragua may test the patience of even the most understanding airline on your return trip home. Stock up on genuine handcrafted goods at bargain prices, which can be purchased right in the workshops where they come from. Below is a specialized itinerary for those who cannot resist taking home a little piece of each country.
Days 1 & 2: San Salvador: The City of Malls
The Salvadoran capital has some of the biggest malls in the Americas, complete with faux cobbled streetscapes, designer stores, and cheesy country-themed restaurants and bars. If you are looking for something more genuine, visit the sprawling chaos of the Mercado Central, which sells everything and anything, including the kitchen sink -- literally. For something more subdued, check out the tourist-oriented Mercados de Artesanías, a good spot to catch all the country's handicrafts in one place. Art lovers should beat a path to Arbol de Dios, the gallery and workshop of El Salvador's most famous living artist, Fernando Llort. Stay in the Hotel Radisson in the upscale neighborhood of Colonia Escalón.
Days 3 & 4: Suchitoto Arts
The weekends-only This Is My Land Artisans' Market mixes up crafts and food in a picturesque village increasingly famous for its arts scene. Enjoy an Argentine barbecue at La Casa del Escultor, where you can pick up a piece of artwork by the owner. Enjoy the pool and lake view at La Posada de Suchitoto.
Day 5: La Palma and Concepción de Quezaltepeque
Take a day trip north to the hammock heaven known as Concepción de Quezaltepeque, a tiny hilltop village north of Lago Suchitlán. Continue towards the Honduran border until you reach the mural-filled mountain town of La Palma. Check out the colorful arts and crafts at Artesanías Kemuel and Placita Artesanal La Palma before returning south to Suchitoto.
Days 6 & 7: Ruta de las Flores
Every town along this picturesque country road has its own specialties. Nahuizalco's focus is on furniture and wicker ware, while Juayúa focuses on food. Apaneca does a thriving line in flowers, and Ataco produces premium coffee. All have a grand selection of handicrafts stores displaying art, ceramics, and souvenir knick-knacks. Try staying at the gorgeous villa known as Quinta El Carmen in Ataco, where you can also do a coffee tour and horseback riding.
Days 8 & 9: Managua's Art Galleries
The city may not be the prettiest, but its art scene is one of the most vibrant in all of Central America. Galería Solentiname has a colorful selection from that colorful archipelago, while Galería Añil is more avant-garde and cutting edge. Stay at the famous pyramid-shaped Crown Plaza Hotel and wander the city's many malls in search of top-notch rum and excellent cigars.
Days 10 & 11: Masaya and Los Pueblos Blancos
From the capital, take a 2-day foray into the handicraft mecca of Masaya. You can browse for everything under the sun within the gothic walls of the Mercado Viejo. Then, venture into the indigenous barrio and arts-and-crafts powerhouse known as Monimbo, where you can visit craftsmen in their backstreet workshops.
Days 12, 13 & 14: Solentiname Archipelago
This ground zero in Central American primitivist art is not so easy to reach, and it will require at least 3 days and a tour agency's expertise to get you around this group of jungle islands in the southeastern corner of Lago de Nicaragua. While there, you can visit the artists' community inspired by a priest and see their colorful works in progress in the many workshops and studios. Stay at the Hotel Mancarrón, located on the island of the same name.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.