Shopping in Colombia

The shopping centres and markets of Colombia are a great place to shop. Columbia is famous for its coffee and its emeralds. Other bargains to look out for include wooden and leather articles, cotton fabric, ruana (ponchos), woollen blankets, travelling bags and local handicrafts. Hotel shops usually have some fine reproductions of antique Colombian gold jewellery.

The local markets of Colombia make for some great shopping, as well as some excellent photo opportunities!

Find out what to buy and where to buy it from in our Colombia shopping guide below. We offer tips on how best to shop as well as some suggestions on places to grab a bargain or souvenir. Whilst shopping, you should also experience the delicious local food in Colombia at one the markets, street stalls or restaurants. Find out what the local shopping scene is like in the following destinations:

- Santa Marta
- Cartagena

Colombia Shopping Guide

Just like most cities in South America, the cities of Colombia are divided into northern and southern regions. The northern regions are more modern and cleaner, but are accordingly more expensive as holiday destinations. Here, there are large department stores, and the shops and buildings are more modern. For inexpensive souvenirs, CDs, shoes, clothes and food, head to the southern part of the city known as El Centro.

Markets

The markets in the city centres offer whatever your heart desires: absolutely anything you want, and cheaper too. You'll find the usual open air markets and stores here, as well as massive buildings with numerous small stands stocked with all sorts of merchandise. These centres are the oldest parts of the cities and are packed with places of interest, such as monuments and churches.

Apart from souvenirs, CDs (both original and pirated), shoes and clothes, the shops in the markets also sell make-up, and household items. But if you want an original Adidas or Nike, don't buy here because they may be fakes.

Emeralds & Precious Stones

In fact gold, semi precious stones and emeralds are big business in Colombia, which happens to be the world's biggest producer of emeralds. You are sure to find the most gorgeous stones, but remember that prices can vary. Even the experts are not unanimous when it comes to the value of emeralds.

Purchase these stones only from a reputable dealer or take a trustworthy expert along, as there are ways to make emeralds look even better than they are. In the Emerald District, you'll find many vendors trying to sell emeralds in little white envelopes that they keep ready in their pockets.

The good news about emeralds (‘esmereldas' as they are known in Colombia) is that they are very cheap and of high quality, famous for exceptional clarity and colour. In fact, Colombian emeralds are ranked as some of the most perfect you can find anywhere. An emerald-cut Colombian emerald (about 7x5mm, .65ct) is prong-set at centre stage in an exquisite pattern. There are many jewellery stores that specialise in emeralds. Even other gems are worth purchasing here as Colombia produces first grade stones.

In Cartagena, you'll find numerous jewellery stores, but if you buy your jewellery here, you'll end up paying two or three times more than in Bogota.

Local Handicrafts

If you're looking for leather and woollen goods, try the shops and markets in Bogota where all kinds of leather and woollen goods, ideal for wearing on the high plains, are available. There are the popular hand-woven ruanas. These ponchos are woven with wool rich in natural oils which make them quite waterproof. The artisans of Colombia are especially skilled at making goods with a kind of straw - a strong, native fibre called toquilla. This is used to make a wide range of shoes, handbags, umbrellas and hats.

Other crafts worth taking a look at are baskets and hammocks, textiles, ceramics, pottery, art, leather articles and antiques. But don't buy valuable items off the streets as they may turn out to be fake.

Flowers

Colombia is also known as an exporter of flowers (one of its biggest exports). There's a strong likelihood that the roses you buy in the States are grown in Colombia or in Ecuador. Even after exporting more than $1billion of these every year, there is still an abundance of roses in Colombia. You can buy them fresh and if you choose tight buds, you can be sure that these will take their time opening up and last for weeks. The streets are the best places for roses. A dozen will cost you just $4. The stores have bigger blooms, but these will not last as long and you will be paying the same price you pay back home for them.

Shopping Malls

Bogota has over 70 huge shopping centres where you will find a massive choice of stores and services. There are also many shopping areas, malls, shopping districts and chain stores across the city. The main shopping centres are in the north and northwestern parts of the city.

Shopping hours

Shopping hours are determined by the weather in Colombia. In cities with colder climates like Bogota, shops are open Monday to Saturday between 1100 and 2100 hours, while in hotter cities, you can shop Mondays to Saturdays between 0900 and 2100 hours.