Locals love malls – Centro Comercial El Retiro and Centro Comercial Andino are the best – but Sunday flea markets are more inviting attractions. Also look along Carrera 9, south of Calle 60, for Chapinero's antique shops.
For cutting-edge Colombian fashion, there are boutiques in Chapinero on Carrera 7 between Calles 54 and 55.
Some of the world's highest-quality emeralds are mined chiefly in the Muzo and Chivor areas of Boyacá. Colombia is the world's largest exporter of emeralds, making these precious stones a coveted item on tourists' 'to buy' lists when visiting Bogotá and surrounding regions.
In years past the beauty of Colombia's emeralds was overshadowed by the dangerous conditions in which they were mined. Some locals compared Colombia's emerald market with the diamond industry in Africa. In 2005 the government abolished tariffs and taxes associated with mining, effectively ending the power of the black market and associated elements.
Travelers can now buy emeralds in good conscience. In the capital, emeralds are sold in the flourishing Emerald Trade Center, where dozens of comisionistas (traders) buy and sell stones – sometimes on the sidewalk. You will also be offered emeralds on the street. Don't do it: glass imitations these days look a lot like the real thing (and even if they're genuine emeralds, you'll surely overpay). Serious buyers should consider a two-hour city tour with Colombian Emerald Tours that will introduce you to the comisionistas and educate you on cut, quality and the like inside the Emerald Trade Center. There's no pressure to buy, but if you do, the COP$80,000 tour price will be credited back. The outfit also offers a long day trip into the emerald mine in Chivor, Boyacá (COP$1,700,000 for two people all inclusive; the price lowers with bigger groups), an ecotourism initiative run by the community there.
Tips to keep in mind while shopping for emeralds:
- Inspect the person selling you the emerald as closely as the emerald itself. Find a seller that you feel comfortable with. You'll be surprised at how obvious it is to either run away or relax when you devote some attention to the seller.
- Gems and jewelry are very subjective; often when looking at emeralds in the shops or with dealers your first impression is the best and most reliable one. Don't be in a hurry when buying. The quality of the gem in any Colombian shop is regulated by the tourist industry, so just concentrate on the price. Don't be afraid to walk away if you feel that the price is too high.
- Assess the harmony between a stone's color, clarity, brightness and size.
- If you find a jeweler or dealer you like, invite him or her for tea or a tinto (black coffee). You'll hear good stories and will have an ally in the emerald business.