Possibly the most world-famous and iconic artisan product you can buy in Colombia, the beautiful and colourful handwoven Wayuu Mochila bags are handmade by the Wayuu Indigenous people of the Caribbean desert peninsula of La Guajira. Bags can take weeks to make and feature unique patterns inspired by Wayuu cosmology and legends. The best place to buy one is in Riohacha or Cabo de la Vela in La Guajira itself.
The Colombian answer to the famous Panama hat (itself actually fashioned in Ecuador) is the Aguadeño hat from the pretty little town of Aguadas in Caldas department. The quality of hat determines the price, and you can expect to pay well into the hundreds of dollars for a truly high-quality Aguadeño hat. Rest assured though, as it’ll last the rest of your life! The best place to buy one is, naturally, Aguadas itself.
The ruana is a poncho-like garment typical to the cold highlands of Boyaca department, just to the north of Bogota. They are made from the finest lamb’s wool, and although you can buy a cheaper version made from simpler wool, a truly top-quality ruana will set you back a fair bit. Buy one in the small town of Nobsa in Boyaca – famous for its variety of locally made wool products.
These gorgeous bowls are perhaps the highest quality artisan-made homeware item you can buy on a trip to Colombia and are sure to become the centrepiece of any home. Made from the fronds of the Werregue palm, native to the Colombian Pacific coast, Werrengue bowls and vases are crafted by the Wounaan Indigenous people of the region and are so intricately woven that their patterns can seem to dance in a certain light! You can buy one at any craft fair in Bogota, or journey farther afield to a Wounaan reservation in the Pacific.
The other famous woven bags made in Colombia – these bags are typically made by the Indigenous Kogui and Arhuaco peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta coastal Caribbean mountain range. The bags are woven in a variety of styles, with patterns that represent traditions and local stories, and are often used by the Koguis and Arhuaco to carry coca leaves or their traditional poporos. They are for sale all over Colombia, but the most authentic are available in towns and villages and Santa Marta or Valledupar.
The Embera people of the Colombian Pacific and western Andean regions are particularly famous for their patterned bead bracelets and necklaces, which are made by hand using hundreds of brightly coloured beads, made to form a unique pattern (usually a geometric shape or the image of a bird or animal). Displaced Embera people sell them on the streets throughout major cities, or you can visit an Embera reservation in Risaralda or Antioquia departments.
The little coastal town of San Jacinto de Bolivar produces some of the finest hammocks available in the world and is famous for its handmade artisan variety. They come in myriad colours and sizes, and quality strongly determines price (this is another product for which you can almost pay as much as you want). Naturally, San Jacinto itself is the place to buy one – it’s easily reachable by bus from Cartagena.
Filigree jewellery – usually made in silver, but sometimes in gold as well – is the most famous artisan product made in the delightful little riverside town of Mompox (easily one of the loveliest destinations you can visit in Colombia). With incredible fine craftsmanship and a remarkable eye for detail, Mompox’s jewellers are the best in the country, and a little brooch or necklace of Mompox filigree silver is just about the finest gift you can bring someone from your trip to Colombia. The best place to buy some? Mompox, of course.