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Shopping in Colombia


Traveling through the Colombia, you will find plenty of souvenirs that represent the rich culture of this country. From a miniature figure of a chiva to a vueltiao sombrero or a pair of emerald earrings, there are endless choices at every price range and often with the possibility of bargaining.



What to Buy

Aside from being the largest producer of emeralds in the world, for which you can get the best bargains in Bogotá and Muzo, Colombia is known for making arguably the best-quality coffee. Pick some up at the Zona Cafetera, along with plenty of caramels and other sweets. Crafts like baskets, 3-D paintings, tagua (vegetable ivory) figurines and beaded necklaces vary depending on the region you are visiting, but generally are very similar in every weekly market. Ruanas (short ponchos) and other woolen clothing are made in small Andean villages, like Cumbal and Concepción. Colombia is also a good place for picking up quality and inexpensive leather items.



What Not to Buy

It is not possible to export animal and plant products from Colombia and most nations reject the importation of any of these three products. Avoid buying products made out of insects, feathers or endangered species of flora and fauna. It is not advisable to get involved in buying or smuggling cocaine, which is punished with severe penalties and indirectly contributes to the damage caused to communities caught up in the production chain.



Where to Buy

Although some crafts and traditional artifacts can be found throughout the country (and even international boutiques, as Colombians have migrated in considerable numbers, taking their culture with them), Southern and eastern towns in the country hold weekly markets. Cities in the Caribbean coast, Guajira, Llanos or the jungle rely on craft workshops and strip malls. Different towns and regions specialize in typical Colombian goods. Villavicencio offers comfortable chinchorro hammocks and magnificent musical instruments like harps. Traditional gaita flutes are made in Tubará on the Caribbean coast. Ráquira is known for its pottery. For elaborate woodwork and delicious candy, try to get to Málaga. Bogotá’s La Candelaria district holds some of the cheapest emerald shops. The indigenous nations of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and La Guajira are known for making resistant woven bags.



How to Buy

Practice your bargaining skills all over Colombia when you are buying souvenirs and other goods. Businesses like grocery stores and malls are not up for the bargaining game. However, if you are in a market, a souvenir shop in a small town or a crafts fair, prepare to offer about half of what the asking price is and start negotiating. Try to keep a good humor as you settle on a price, and consider the effort and time it could have taken to create the piece you have your eyes on.


All major credit cards are accepted in urban areas; however, as you get further away from major cities, it will be more difficult to find both businesses that accept credit cards and places to cash travelers’ checks and currency exchange houses.



When to Buy

Businesses are open Monday- Friday 8 a.m.-noon and 2-6 p.m., yet commercialstores stay open for a bit longer and a lot of them open on Saturdays. Generally, shopping hours are subject to the climate of each city; colder places like Bogotá are usually open for business Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., while warmer cities tend to close at lunch hours (11 a.m.–3 p.m.) yet open at around 9 a.m. In small towns, shops close at lunch, and close early in the evening. Take into consideration that Colombians see Sundays, holidays and lunchtimes as personal time, so try to shop around that.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Before You Go to Colombia, Don't Get Bitten!, Safety, When to Go, When to Go to Villavicencio, When to Go, When to Go, When to Go, When to Go and Etiquette and Dress in Colombia.

27 Sep 2011

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