Perhaps Colombia’s most famous and globally popular artisan products, the mochila shoulder bags, woven by the indigenous Wayuu people of the desert of the Guajira Peninsula, have become incredibly popular in global fashion over the past few years, and often fetch eye-watering prices in European boutiques or online. The good news is that in Colombia, you can travel directly to the source of these beautiful bags and buy them directly from the women who make them. The Guajira is a poor and isolated region, but it is truly stunning, and purchasing a bag directly from the source provides much-needed income to Wayuu communities.
The ruana is a gorgeous woollen poncho-like garment produced in the chilly Andean regions of the Boyacá department, just to the north of Bogotá – the word ruana even comes from the Muisca indigenous word meaning ‘Land of Blankets’. The finest examples of the ruana are made with virgin sheep’s wool and can certainly cost a pretty penny, but the quality and originality of the product make it more than worth the money. Small Boyacá towns such as Villa de Leyva, Mongui, Iza, and Nobsa are especially good places to pick up a ruana.
No, not an actual bus (although that would be a true one-of-a-kind memento): ceramic Chiva buses have become one of Colombia’s most iconic souvenir exports in recent years, and visitors will find them for sale in just about every market in town, as well as all the airports! These colourful buses – the ceramic ones are generally in the colours of the Colombia flag – are covered in miniature passengers, coffee bags, bananas, and pots and pans, and are based on the classic Chiva buses which still ply the winding Andean roads of the Antioquia department to this day. They come in various sizes, from little pocket-sized buses to huge table-top ones.
Another classic Colombian export, emeralds are one of the country’s most important international products, producing 80% of the world’s supply of this precious stone. A quality Colombian emerald doesn’t come cheap, but you can buy good-quality stones for as little as US$50 (of course, you can spend as much as US$10,000 if you’re so inclined). Bogotá and Cartagena are the best places to pick up an emerald, which would make a perfect gift for a family birthday or wedding anniversary. You can check out Culture Trip’s guide to buying emeralds for more information on how to get the best deals on a quality stone.
Coffee is perhaps the biggest no-brainer of a Colombia souvenir there is: how can you visit one of the world’s major producers of some of the world’s finest coffee and not take a bag or two with you? Quality Colombian coffee is in every major supermarket and airport, but the best way to guarantee quality is to head directly to the source on a coffee farm tour; that way you can be sure of making a greater direct contribution to the producer, and you know the quality will be higher. You can also visit a quality speciality coffee shop in Bogotá or Medellin and buy a bag there.
A truly practical souvenir, a hammock is an ideal gift for the lazy person in your life! The very best quality hammocks you can buy in Colombia are made by the aforementioned Wayuu people in the Caribbean deserts of the Guajira: these hammocks are known as Chinchorros, and they are so wide that it’s easy to lie flat in them and sleep as if they were a hanging bed! Other quality hammocks come from the small town of San Jacinto in the Bolívar department, just to the south of Cartagena. Wherever you end up buying a hammock, whoever receives the souvenir will never stop thanking you!
An ‘It’s Colombia, not Columbia’ T-shirt
Probably the most topical souvenir you can bring back from a trip to Colombia – in recent years, tired of major news outlets constantly spelling the country as ‘Columbia’, campaigns arose to raise awareness of the simple spelling error. The most popular one was entitled ‘It’s Colombia, not Columbia,’ and they quickly set about cornering the huge spelling-souvenir market with a range of gifts: fridge magnets, mugs, notebooks, and, of course, the T-shirt. Visitors can easily find all of these products in Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport shops; they make fun souvenirs for the pedant in your life (or for any Colombian you know back home).
The Colombian version of the classic Panama hat is the equally suave and cool Aguadeño hat, handmade in the lovely little town of Aguadas in the Caldas department, one of the three areas making up the Colombian coffee region. With the number of fibres making up the hat determining the quality and price, you can pay almost as much as you would like for a top-quality Aguadas hat, but there are more budget-friendly options available. These hats make a perfect practical souvenir as well: you can wear it during your time travelling in Colombia, and then have an incredibly fashionable hat to take back home with you.