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Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Americas, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking annually to the ‘Jewel of the Indies.’ As such a beloved holiday destination, many tourists in Cartagena want to buy souvenirs to remind them of their time in this beautiful city. Here are the best places to buy souvenirs in Colombia’s most iconic city.
This pedestrian boulevard in the heart of the Old City runs between Cartagena’s government palace and the cathedral and leads to Plaza Bolivar. There’s no official market here, but street vendors set up small stalls on the roadside throughout the day, selling everything from paintings of Cartagena, to woven indigenous mochila bags. Cartagena’s streets are perhaps the best place to search for souvenirs in the whole city, above even the official markets. It can be tiring being pestered regularly by people trying to sell things, but it can also be a great way to see what’s on offer.
Under the arches of a beautiful former prison, beneath the walls of the Old City of Cartagena in San Diego neighbourhood, is Las Bóvedas market. Every day, souvenir vendors set up shop beneath the building’s 23 domes—within the former jail cells—and sell their goods to passing tourists. There’s nothing especially unique on offer, but Las Bóvedas is the perfect spot to pick up those classic Colombian souvenirs: colourful hammocks, miniature Botero statues, prints of Cartagena, or woven handbags.
One of the most interesting features of Cartagena, and one which often captures the attention of visitors, are the intricately designed door-knockers that adorn the doors of the oldest buildings in the city. There are designs of lions, iguanas, mermaids, and sea monsters, among many others, and they add a touch of magic to the streets of the city. At this wonderful antique store, they sell metal designs based on these iconic door-knockers, which make the perfect souvenir if you’re looking for something to capture the spirit of Cartagena for your own home.
With a focus on stocking products to appeal to socially conscious shoppers, The Shop is the place to go for a truly authentic and well-sourced ranged of local souvenirs. Including fair-trade Colombian coffee and cacao, handmade hammocks from San Jacinto de Bolivar—arguably the best place to buy a hammock in South America—and Wayuu mochila bags purchased directly from Colombian artisans, this is the best place in Cartagena to buy unique guilt-free souvenirs.
Located near Plaza San Domingo, Lucy Jewelry specialises in one of Colombia’s finest and most expensive products: emeralds. Lucy Sanchez has a policy of not paying commissions to guides or street-sellers, which means she can offer emeralds at a much more reasonable price than other similar stores in Cartagena. The store also sells a variety of other jewellery, including intricate silver filigree from the iconic colonial town of Mompox. However, for a truly special Colombian souvenir, an emerald is surely the thing to buy.
Under the arches of Plaza de los Coches, across from the entrance point to the Old City, the Torre del Reloj, is the best place to buy edible souvenirs in Cartagena. The Portal de Los Dulces is dedicated almost entirely to traditional Colombian sweets. With coconut candy, fruity local sweets, and much more, Los Dulces truly comes alive in March during the Festival del Dulce. This lovely little market is the perfect place to buy souvenirs for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Books often don’t fall into the category of ‘souvenir’ for many people, but what would a visit to the city that inspired the great Gabriel Garcia Márquez be without taking home a copy of one of his iconic works. Love in the Time of Cholera, with its evocative portrait of old Cartagena, is a surefire favourite, and this lovely little bookstore also sells local postcards and coffee-table books with Colombian photography.