Many people travel to shop and honestly I am not one of them. I travel to eat, I travel to drink, I travel to hike, I travel to take photos but shopping is just not one of my activities. To tell the truth, I am not a shopper at home either. That said, there are some things you just can't get back home and I can understand the lure of bringing such things back home. For those so inclined there are tons of bargains in Colombia and please enjoy your forays into the purchasing world.
What to buy: The only things I tend to buy when shopping is fruit. I don't buy many other groceries as eating out in the countries I tend to travel in is relatively inexpensive and I don't eat out much when at home so enjoy not cooking for the months when away. While there are countless ways to enjoy fruit in this very manner in South America with Colombia being no exception, there are times when vendors don't have what you are looking for so you have to head to a proper shop to get what you want. The lulo was one such fruit. We were lucky enough or perhaps I should say tenacious in our pursuit to find this tart fruit only grown in Colombia and it's immediately surrounding countries but not as often as we might hav liked. So, we bought the fruit and other ingredients to make luladas, a drink only known in the area around Cali and Popayán. Lulos were relatively cheap and I would have to say we would pay ten times as much now for the pleasure of making them again now back at home. Of course, bringing such loot back with you is not allowed and hence my not entirely enjoying the shopping experience like my fellow travelers.
What to buy: What is worthwhile buying in Colombia? Colombian coffee is good! The country is also known for producing textiles, baskets, hammocks, pottery and ceramics. And it is also famous for leather articles, art, antiques, gold and semiprecious stones and of course emeralds, a very important business in Colombia. It's better not to buy anything valuable in the streets because it will probably be fake.
The ’stone’ in question here is, of course, the emerald, which Cartagena is famous for. 98 percent of the world's emeralds are mined in Colombia.
There were many jewellery stores around the centre that sold emeralds. There was even one store called ‘Romance In The Stone’. A pun to the fun and funny treasure-hunting movie starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Clever.
This area has literally dozens of "opticas"
They all offer free prescriptions if you are buying glasses. I bought 3 pairs paying between $28 - $39 a pair. Glasses are made in under an hour. In the US, doing something like that costs about 10x more.
I?ve read some postings here that seem to recommend buying emeralds in downtown Bogota on the street.
First of all, for security reasons you shouldn?t negotiate or buy emeralds on the street, second, the people who sell emeralds on the street usually take advantage of the tourists and sell them fake emeralds, unless you?re an expert in emeralds don?t risk buying a piece of green polished glass.
Buy emeralds only in jewelry stores, there are many in the downtown area, specially along a small street east of Carrera Septima (the main thoroughfare that takes you to the Plaza de Bolivar) and at any jewelry store located in Malls and hotels.
One of Colombias biggest exports is Flowers. The roses you bought in the States are probably from here of Equedor, and while over $1billion are exported every year there are plenty still left in Colombia. I rarely go without fresh roses in my house, bought from venders right off the street.
They are fresh and if you pick some nice tight buds, will last for weeks. Funny enough the cheap, $4 for a dozen, ones from the street, seem to last better from the big ones from the stores, and those can cost as much as in the U.S.
Colombia is the worlds largest producer of Emralds and you can find some amazing stones here. Just remember that the Emrald is the most subjective of stones, even experts disagree as to their value.
What to buy: While you should buy only from a reputable dealer, Go to the square in the emrald district and find the many men standing around just waiting to pull little white envalopes out of their pockets to sell to you. There are many ways to make a emrald look better than it really is so be careful with your money and buy from reputable stores or bring an expert you trust.
What to pay: As little as $20 as much as a Million
What to buy:
Colombia is famous for high quality and very, very cheap emeralds ('esmereldas'). Jewelry stores specialising in this particular gem are common.
Jewelers in La Candelaria, Bogota, are probably the best (i.e. cheapest) place to buy them - there are many stores with a wide selection of merchandise.
Alternatively, don't be surprised if you're approached on the street in this area by a guy with some gems the size of your fingernail in an envelope he just carries round in his pocket - one road in particular is full of such merchants. However, the advantage of going to a store is that they will provide you with a certificate of authentification, so you can be reasonably sure you aren't buying a piece of green plastic...
Cartagena also has a very large number of jewelry stores, but prices are vastly inflated - seriously, you will pay 2 to 3 times what you'd pay in Bogota.
What to pay: There's something to fit every budget. I bought a small gold cross containing six emeralds, each of diameter approximately 2mm, for £30 (US$45), in Bogota. Note that I saw exactly the same piece in a store in Cartagena, offered for £80 (US$120). Don't forget to haggle over the price - they expect it and the first price you are offered will be inflated.
As most South-American cities, Colombian cities are also devided into the north and the south parts. The northern parts of the cities are cleaner, nicer, newer, and also more expensive. There you can find huge department stores and more modern buildings and shops. The place you should go to, if you are looking for cheap stuff (anything from clothes and shoes to CDs, souvenires and food) is the sothern part, called El Centro. The "centers" of the cities are also the most touristy places since these are the oldest parts filled with sight-seeing places (churches, monuments, architectural sights etc.). These parts are filled with marketplaces where you can find anything you need. There are typical open-air markets and cheap stores as well as huge buildings incorporating small stands where you can find absolutely everything and very cheaply.
What to buy: Souvenires, clothes, CDs (copies as well as originals), make-up, house-hold items, shoes, basically - anything you can think of, just remember, that most of the things there are "fakes" - so you shouldn't go there, if you want an original Nike or Adidas things.
What to pay: As little as possible. And be sure to bargain. The first price is usually not the best one, so use your skills and negotiate.
She has real leather products .
Bucaramanga, Carrera 22 N° 20-62 (San Francisco)
What to buy: Bucaramanga is known for his shoe shops. San Francisco is the quarter of the shoe shops.
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