Markets, Fairs, and Shopping in Colombia – Oh my!

Anyone who has travelled or has read about travels in South America knows that one of the most exciting, and perhaps traditional, things to do is going to a local market or fería (“fair”). These markets and ferías can offer you the chance to mingle with local vendors and buyers as well as get your hands on some of the finest produce and artisan goods around.

Handmade mochilas in Cartagena

Handmade mochilas in Cartagena

If you are looking to try some local or exotic produce, food markets, like Paloquemao in Bogota, might be your best bet. While the hustle and bustle of food markets can be overwhelming for some people, the hype and action in the markets gives you a glimpse into the daily lives of Colombians who make their living by selling fresh produce, meat products, herbs, seafood, etc… and can offer you the wonderful chance of exploring local products up close. In any Colombian food market, you will most definitely be offered free samples from the vendors. Although some vendors might expect you to make a purchase should you accept their sample, most vendors offer samples with no obligation to buy. So, sample away, especially the fruits. Colombia has an amazing choice of exotic fruits! And, if you decide you want more after a delicious sample of guanábana (soursop), mamoncillos (Spanish limes), cherimoya, or lulo (naranjilla) feel free to support the local vendors by making a purchase—not before doing a bit of bargaining first, though!

Granadillas in Barranquilla

Granadillas in Barranquilla

After scoping out and touring the marketplace, you might be hungry. Most local markets also have stands where vendors will be whipping up delicious and traditional dishes for breakfast and lunch—many markets are closed by evening and do not serve dinner. If you want some truly traditional and local meals, the marketplace can lend for a surprisingly exceptional culinary experience.

A very ripe and delicious mamoncillo

A very ripe and delicious mamoncillo

On the other hand, if you are looking for something special to take back to friends and family or maybe itching for a unique reminder of your travels in Colombia, the ferías de artesanías (artisan fairs) should be your destination. Every major city in Colombia will have at least one fería de artesanías—some cities will have more. These ferías are often composed of many artisans who come together in one area to sell traditional handmade goods and sweets. Some of the traditional goods you will find in the ferías de artesanías include sombreros vueltiaos (one of the most famous emblems of Colombia), products made with caña flecha (a local type of cane), Carnival themed items (mainly on the Caribbean Coast), wooden cooking utensils, jewelry and housewares made from coconut, jewelry made from seashells and seeds, handmade hammocks (ask for those made in San Jacinto for high quality), lots of products with Colombian flags and colors (red, blue, and yellow), and  traditional sweets such as dulces de coco (coconut sweets) and bocadillo (sweets made with guava) among other things. Be sure to bring lots of small bills and coins to these ferías as vendors are sometimes unable to give change for large bills, and you wouldn’t want to miss a good buy for lack of change!

Bracelet made with leather and caña flecha and sombrero vueltiao earrings

Bracelet made with leather and caña flecha and sombrero vueltiao earrings

Whatever city you choose to visit in Colombia, ask your hotel or hostel staff where local ferías de artesanías or food markets are and the best time to go (some markets are bigger on certain days of the week), as each city is different. Also, make sure you take your best bargaining skills with you—the first price any vendor offers you is never the “real” price of the product, whether it’s fruit or jewelry. Haggle for a good price, but also keep in mind that the artisans and vendors make their living with these products, and your money will support the local economy.

So, happy shopping and happy eating!

Until next time,

Paige M. Poole

About the Author:

“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie.  You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com

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5 thoughts on “Markets, Fairs, and Shopping in Colombia – Oh my!

  1. Oh yes, I do love a good market to forage through! I went along to the flea market in centro Bogotá over the weekend and picked up some great finds to help with decorating my apartment. I also got the chance to visit some artisan markets here in Bogotá around Christmas and bought some colourful creations to bring back as gifts for friends and fam.

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