Colombia is famous for everything from fat emeralds and colorful hammocks to beautiful La Chamba black-clay pottery cookware. Rich traditions and favorable prices mean you can pick up excellent, high-quality souvenirs that you won't find buried in your closet a few years down the road.
What to Buy
- Emeralds Mined chiefly from the Muzo area, emeralds are sold in in Bogotá at the flourishing emerald street market at the southwestern corner of Av Jiménez and Carrera 7 and nearby Plaza Rosario, where dozens of negociantes (traders) buy and sell stones – sometimes on the sidewalks.
- Handicrafts Boyacá is the country's largest handicraft manufacturer, with excellent handwoven items, basketry and pottery. The Pacific coast also has an interesting selection of basketwork, plus the occasional blow-dart gun. Guapi is famous for its musical instruments, especially handmade drums. You may also find some good handwrought gold jewelry here. If you don't make it to the Pacific coast, the Parque Artesanías in Cali is a good place to shop.
- Woodwork Pasto is known for its woodwork – decorative items are covered with barniz de Pasto, a kind of vegetable resin. Ceramic miniatures of chivas (traditional buses) have become a popular souvenir.
- Pottery La Chamba pottery and cookware, forged from black clay, is a speciality of Tolima and is as beautiful sitting on a fireplace mantel as a stove.
- Hammocks These come in plenty of regional variations, from the simple, practical hammocks made in Los Llanos to the elaborate Wayuu-crafted chinchorros.
- Ruanas Colombian woolen ponchos, known as ruanas, are found in the colder parts of the Andean zone. In many villages they are still made by hand with simple patterns and natural colors. Bogotá and Villa de Leyva are good places to buy them.
- Mochilas The best and most fashionable mochilas (a kind of woven handbag) are the earthy-toned varieties of the Arhuaco from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the colorful offerings from the Wayuu in the Guajira. Authentic bags are not cheap, but are beautiful and usually of good quality.
IVA Tax Refund
If you make any purchases above COP$318,590 (equivalent to 10 units of the yearly-changing Unidad de Valor Tributario or UVT) but not more than COP$3,158,900 (or 100 UVTs), you can request the 19% IVA tax back. Use a foreign credit card, save your receipt and bring your passport and a copy of your visa stamp to the Dirección de Impuestos y Aduanas Nacionales de Colombia (DIAN) office at international airports before checking in.