Best Souvenirs to Buy in Colombia

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Artisanal products and souvenirs you have to bring home from Colombia @DownshiftingPRO

I have always been amazed at the quality of artisan products that come from Colombia.  A country full of artists, they create beautiful products in fabric, wool, leather, arrow cane, pottery and beads. With so much to chose from it’s great to know what really are the best souvenirs to buy in Colombia.

Introducing these unique items was one of the reasons my father immigrated to Canada.  Before he became a Chef he had his own import/export business.  The pride in his country and what it had to offer was a lofty goal but in the 1970s North Americans were not ready for Chiva buses made of pottery and woolen tapestries. In 2020, you would be remiss if you left without some of these great artisan products and souvenirs from Colombia.

Woven Bags – Wayuu Mochila

Woven bags, Wayuu mochilas (moe-chee-las) are used by just about everyone, whether they live in a big city or a small town. These are hand-crafted bags and worn across the body or hand-held.  Traditionally from the Guajira province on the Caribbean Sea bordering with Venezuela, they come in either intricate geometric patterns or can be singular in colour with fancy shoulder straps. 

Wayuu Mochilas from Colombia @DownshiftingPRO
Wayuu Mochilas

There are also new styles which were woollen needlepoint-like with birds or flowers.  They were just as lovely. Like any souvenir you bring home, you must remember that as beautiful as they are here, consider whether you will actually wear them at home. 

Wooven bags from the Guajira in Colombia @DownshiftingPRO

When I bought mine, I was after muted, fall colours more so than the traditional bright colours.  I knew I would use it more if the colours were not ones I would wear mostly in the summer. I had it lined with the ability to close it with a drawstring.  This is no the usual way of donning a mochila but I wanted the security of being able to close it. The woman whom I purchased it from told me you can throw it into the washing machine (but NOT the dryer) and the mochila will come out brand new.

Chamba Clay Pots and Platters

10 Best Souvenirs to Buy in Colombia

Chamba is like no other stoneware. These traditional pots are made in the town of Chamba in the Tolima province about 150 km from Colombia’s capital, Bogota. In its natural state, it is black and some pieces are then painted with terra cotta clay and burnished by hand with small smooth stones. They are used for serving traditional soups (cuchuco, ajiaco or sancocho).  They also hold sauces like aji. Many of the bowls sit in woven baskets so they are easier to handle when serving and eating.

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Souvenirs for decorations: mounted a poster from The Gold Museum, Black clay pottery, the wood medallion is from Rakira

For as long as I can remember, we have had a variety of Chamba pottery in my house both growing up and even now but I use them as decorations. I still have to master the art of making ajiaco.

Leather Goods

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Embossed leather goods

If there is one thing that Colombians admire (besides emeralds), it is leather goods.  There are quite a few national brands that you could visit for high-quality goods.  Be they briefcases, purses or shoes, Colombians love the look and feel of good leather.  The high quality comes at a hefty price but the styles are cutting edge and spectacular. 

For a more reasonably priced souvenir, look for I picked up a small change purse, make-up bag and glass case priced between $20,000 – 40,000 COP  (or $7-14 CDN).  Some were embossed leather while others had molas (mole-as).

Molas

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These are layers of fabrics using a reverse applique technique designed in either geometric patterns or animal designs.  The very traditional ones have multiple colourful layers and are stitched by hand.  Several layers (usually two to seven) of different-coloured cloth (usually cotton) are sewn together; the design is then formed by cutting away parts of each layer. The edges of the layers are then turned under and sewn down. Often, the stitches are nearly invisible. This is achieved by using a thread the same colour as the layer being sewn, sewing blind stitches, and sewing tiny stitches.

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The finest molas have extremely fine stitching, made using tiny needles. Others contain sewing machine stitching.  All are beautiful but no two are alike.  I was amazed to see so many different products being created with a mola.  From sneakers to sandals, purses to wallets.  The variety of uses is extensive. 

I bought two molas in Pasaje Rivas and had them made into small cushions.  Many people frame molas and hang them proudly on their walls like a cloth painting.

Best Souvenirs to buy in Colombia - products in leather, arrow cane, fabric, wood and resin.
Traditional Vueltiao Hat

Playful Jewellery

There are plenty of examples of earrings and necklaces made from beads. Whether in a small town like Nilo or the big city of Bogota or Medellin, you will find these to be inexpensive souvenirs to buy in Colombia. The EmberáChamí people work with beads to create elaborate necklaces and earrings. Bordering on Panama, in El Choco, you will find these indigenous people in both Colombia and Panama (which use to be a part of Colombia).

10 Best Souvenirs to Buy in Colombia - beading from Embera Chami indigenous tribe in el Choco

You can also find many jewellery designers working with silver, gold and stainless steel made to look like silver, gold or rose gold.  Genius.  There was also an abundance of resin pieces which imitated multi-coloured tortious shell. I bought a beautiful pair of earring for myself which the artist customized for me.

Best Souvenirs to buy in Colombia - gold and silver jewellery

Ponchos or Ruanas

Weaving is a very important skill for any nation but Colombians enjoy the challenge of making everything from ponchos to placemats.  I fell in love with a few different versions of a shall or ponchos (which Colombians refer to as ruanas).  They were woven in soft merino wool and many were double-sided for maximum use.

The traditional ruana is made of heavy brushed virgin wool. Usually grey or beige in colour it is rectangular in shape with either a slit it the middle to pull over your head or an opening cut halfway up the middle so you can throw it over your shoulder. These are absolutely beautiful but heavy and pricey but I promise, you will never be cold when you’re wrapped up in your poncho.

Arrow Cane Hats -Sombrero Vueltiao

Best Souvenirs to buy in Colombia - Arrow Cane hats - Vueltiao sombrero
Modern twist on a classic vueltiao sombrero
See Pin above for the traditional version

A black and cream coloured hat whose origins are rooted in the Caribbean coastal region. Made from arrow cane, the vueltaio (turned hat) has become a prominent symbol of Colombia. Most of these handmade hats are produced by entire Zenú families located in the Departments of Cordoba and Sucre.

The quality of the hat is measured by the pairs of arrow canes it takes to produce one hat. The lowest standard is the Quinciano, requiring 15 pairs of caña flecha strips to make the weave. The highest quality, a Veintisiete, is the finest sombrero available and uses 27 pairs of caña flecha. It can be folded up and put in a pocket without being damaged. You can find 15, 19, 21, and 23 pair weaves. A Quinciano can take as little as three days to make where as a Veintitres or Veintisiete can take 20 – 30 days respectively. The higher the count and number of days to assemble, the better the quality and the more expensive the hat. Be sure and ask how many cañas flecha it took to build the hat!

Resin Wood ornaments

10 Best Souvenirs to Buy in Colombia - Resin & wood decor

I discovered these resin covered wood ornaments at the Santa Barbara market. Located by the swanky Hacienda Santa Barbara shopping mall, I was drawn to the bright colours and silver stems on most of the fruits. They usually come in multiples sitting on silver trays. They make some to be almost like real fruits.

I bought a lone pear for my office and every day I am reminded of my country of birth. I loved this souvenir from Colombia.

Chiva Bus – Decorative clay

Best Souvenirs to buy in Colombia - Chiva bus made in pottery

One of the best souvenirs to buy in Colombia is a painted, clay Chiva bus. Modeled for the traditional buses from Antioquia which ran between villages transporting people and goods. They are colourful and intricately decorated with bags of coffee, flowers, fruits, and baskets. You can also find some wooden canoes with the same sort of produce (I loved this variation) but quickly realised they were harder to find.

Wool needlework

Best Souvenirs to buy in Colombia - wool tapestries

Other great souvenirs to buy in Colombia are needlework pieces. This playful illustration of village life can be found throughout the country. It depicts the life of the campesino and their rural lives. Sewn with wool threads on a wool canvas, you can find smaller pieces for pillows or larger tapestry, like the one I’ve hung in my home for almost 20 years. The details of the market, the musicians, the church and the people are amazing.

10 Best Souvenirs to Buy in Colombia - Wayuu Mochila

Other posts on Colombia

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.

10 thoughts on “Best Souvenirs to Buy in Colombia”

  1. Growing up I loved collecting unique jewelry like this around the world. Unfortunately I no longer do with my digital nomad lifestyle. I definitely need to settle down so I can get some of those gorgeous pots!

    • No, don’t settle down. Keep traveling (when it’s safe, of course). Jewellery is the best because a small set of earrings don’t take up to much room. Happy travels.

    • kathyrn, you’d look great in an arrow cane hat! They are very, very popular. Next time you’re out in a park in Toronto, look around, you’ll likely see one. Many, many Colombians live in Ontario.

  2. This makes me miss the gorgeous textiles of Colombia! I didn’t even know about a few of these things, those clay pots would be amazing to have in the kitchen!

    • The clay pots are amazing and also come in terra cotta. They are amazing to cook in and there are tons of varieties.

      I must admit I use my large pieces as decorations in my living room.

  3. I love the fabrics, they’re so pretty and colorful. But I’d love to bring some clay pots home. I like getting kitchen items when I’m traveling. At least I know that it’ll be something useful that also reminds me of my trip rather than something I’ll put in a drawer and just forget

  4. Columbia is such a colorful place with so many colorful souvenirs! Absolutely love the Wayuu Mochila bags and Molas! Ages ago I had a green poncho from Colombia but I grew out of it., would really wanna get another one! Didn’t even know about Chiva Bus before today. Pretty interesting list!

    • When I was a child I also had a poncho but now I find them too heavy. But the mochillas are spectacular, I wish I had gotten a few more. The Chiva bus is so very traditional it is almost a caricature of life in Colombia. Thanks for dropping by.

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