When you find yourself in the vibrant city of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, one of the exciting aspects of your visit will be to take a piece of the city back home with you.
Bogotá is a fantastic hub for shopping enthusiasts. And it’s known globally for its diverse range of markets, boutique brands and shopping centers offering unique and authentic Colombian souvenirs. Bogotá is also home to some of the most upscale luxury malls in the Americas.
This guide will navigate you through the best shopping spots in Bogotá, ensuring you don’t miss out on the city’s treasure troves. Or fall into the trap of taking a Chinese made knockoff home with you.
Where to find quality souvenirs in Bogotá
Understanding Colombian Handicrafts
Firstly, it’s essential to understand what makes Colombian handicrafts unique. The country is home to an impressive array of traditional artisanal crafts. Thanks in large part to its rich cultural heritage and the diversity of its ethnic groups.
In fact, Colombia is the second-most ethnically diverse country in the Americas, home to over 80 different ethnic groups. This ethnic diversity is reflected in the variety of local handicrafts you can find in the markets and boutiques of Bogotá.
Colombian artisans, most of whom are women, have been crafting beautiful objects for generations, passing down their skills from mother to daughter. These handicrafts not only serve as a source of income for many rural families but also as a vibrant expression of Colombia’s rich cultural heritage.
Yet in recent years there has been an influx of Chinese made ‘souvenirs’ flooding into Bogotá. And this influx has corresponded with the increasing numbers of tourists. You need to be sure that what you’re buying is actually made in Colombia. And that it isn’t a Chinese fake.
The Chinese made fake Colombian souvenirs are not only poor quality. They take income away from Colombia’s traditional artisans and contribute to the loss of social memory and traditional skill. If the locals can’t make money from their crafts, they give up on their artisanal traditions and move into other industries.
The Famous Wayuu Mochila Bags in Bogotá
One of the most popular souvenirs you can take back home from Bogotá is the Wayuu Mochila bag. These vibrant, handmade shoulder bags are the creations of the women from the Wayuu ethnic group, native to the northernmost part of Colombia and Venezuela.
Each bag is a masterpiece, showcasing intricate geometric patterns and eye-catching color schemes. To better understand the Wayuu ethnic group and the origins of the Wayuu Mochila bags, its symbolic meanings and the crochet techniques used to make them, consider taking a Wayuu Mochila bags workshop while in Bogotá!
Gold & Emeralds – Precious Gems in Bogotá
When shopping in Bogotá you simply can’t miss out on exploring the city’s gold and emerald offerings. Colombia is renowned worldwide for its high-quality emeralds, often considered the best globally. The country also has a rich tradition of gold crafting, dating back to pre-Hispanic times.
It needs to be said here, but not all that glitters is gold. And not every green stone sold as an emerald in Bogotá is actually an emerald. In fact, a large portion of what you’ll see sold as emeralds in Bogotá are actually fake.
If you’re going to buy emerald jewellery in Bogotá as a souvenir, make sure you first educate yourself about emeralds. There are a lot of Alibaba Chinese made knockoffs being sold as genuine Colombian emeralds. There’s also quite a lot of green beer bottles being gound down into fake (glass) emeralds.
To educate yourself about Colombian emeralds, visit the International Emerald Museum next door to the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro). Or take one of the tours below. But only after you’ve learnt how to pick an emerald and spot a fake, should you consider buying emeralds in Bogotá.
Colombian Chocolates and Coffee in Bogotá
If you’re a foodie, Colombian chocolates and coffee are must-buy souvenirs. The country is a major chocolate producer and Colombian coffee is world-renowned for its rich flavor and high quality.
In my opinion Colombian coffee is the best in the world. Even the 700COP ‘tinto’ on the street or from any bodega (corner store) is simply amazing. Colombia also has a huge variety of floral teas and these too can be sampled in Bogotá.
Colombian Clothing – the Ruana
When it comes to clothing, the Ruana – a traditional Colombian wrap similar to a poncho – is a popular souvenir. These woolen wraps are commonly worn in the Andean towns and villages of Colombia to keep warm.
If you’re buying a Ruana in Bogotá, be sure not to wear it here. Wearing a Ruana in Bogotá will mark you out as a foreigner. And remember from our Bogotá packing list, you always want to be dressed so as to blend in with locals.
Traditional Colombian Pottery
Colombia also boasts a rich tradition of pottery making. The Chamba black clay pottery from the Tolima department is particularly well-known for its simple, rustic and elegant designs.
Exploring the Bogotá Markets
Now that you know what to look out for, let’s delve into exploring the best shopping spots in Bogotá. The city is home to several markets, each offering up its own unique charm and array of goods.
Mercado de Pulgas San Alejo
Bogotá’s most famous flea market, Mercado de Pulgas San Alejo, is a treasure trove of unique finds. From handmade furniture to vintage clothing and from antique ornaments to old books, this market offers a diverse range of products. While not the ideal place for traditional souvenir shopping, it’s certainly an adventure through Bogotá’s vibrant soul.
If you’re a food lover, Mercado Paloquemao is a must-visit. This market is Bogotá’s main food hub offering a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and local delicacies. The vibrant colors and tantalizing smells of the various food stalls make for a delightful sensory experience.
Be sure to try the bocadillo and pick some up as souvenirs. They’re a traditional Colombian sweet made from fruit. Bocadillo are best paired with unsweetened coffee.
Mercado de las Pulgas de Usaquén
Open on Sundays, Mercado de las Pulgas de Usaquén is another of Bogotá’s famous flea markets. This picturesque market is set along cobbled stone streets and offers a wide range of products including handicrafts, clothes, jewellery and antiques.
You’ll also find many boutique cafes and hole in the wall bars to rest as you explore Usaquén.
The Market at Mount Monserrate
If you’re visiting Mount Monserrate, don’t miss the market at its top. This market primarily caters to visitors, offering a range of souvenir stalls with beautiful city views.
Now I must say this here, no matter how unpopular it may be. But souvenir stands located in high traffic tourist areas are often the prime vector for fakes. So make sure whatever you’re buying is made in Colombia. And don’t go home with a Chinese made knockoff.
For a more intimate shopping experience, visit the Galeria Artesanal. This small market promotes the local artists of Bogotá and the rest of Colombia. Here you’ll find high-quality crafts in a charming and tranquil setting.
Shopping Centers in Bogotá
In addition to markets, Bogotá also boasts several modern shopping centers. These centers offer a wide range of products, from local handicrafts to high-end fashion. And some of these malls are the most high end (and expensive) in the Americas. You can find everything from Gucci and Prada through to Rolex in these shopping centres. Plus all of the North American brands you’re used too.
Unicentro is one of Bogotá’s largest shopping centers. It’s home to a wide variety of boutiques, bookshops, artisan shops and restaurants. Unicentro offers something for everyone.
Atlantis Plaza is another popular shopping center in Bogotá. It features a range of shops, from local boutiques to international designer stores.
For a truly local shopping experience, visit San Andresito. This large shopping center is spread over several city blocks and offers typical Colombian items such as ethnic jewelry, clothing and local handicrafts.
Shopping Districts of Bogotá
Finally, Bogotá’s different districts also offer unique shopping experiences. La Candelaria, the city’s historic district, is a great place to hunt for Colombian craft bargains. And you’ll also find a lot of Venezuelan artisans who’ve migrated to Colombia around Catedral Primada.
In contrast, Zona Rosa, Bogotá’s premier nightlife and dining neighborhood, offers a range of boutiques and international designer shops.
Final Thoughts on Bogotá
Whether you’re a seasoned shopper or a casual browser, Bogotá offers a shopping experience like no other. From its vibrant markets to its modern shopping centers and from its traditional handicrafts to its world-renowned coffee and chocolates, Bogotá has something to offer everyone.
So, the next time you’re in Bogotá, be sure to explore the city’s best shopping spots and take home a piece of Colombia’s rich cultural heritage. Just be sure to thoroughly inspect the item. So you don’t inadvertently take home a Chinese replica of Colombia’s rich cultural heritage.
Where Can I Get More Information On Bogotá?
I’ve made my Bogotá Colombia City Guide available on this website. And I recommend you read it before traveling to Colombia. It will help you navigate Bogotá and Colombian society.
My Bogotá Colombia City Guide will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Colombia. Colombia is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the Bogotá Colombia City Guide here.