Cruising to Cartagena is always an exciting adventure. History comes to life on the cobblestone streets of this Colonial gem. What better way to remember Cartagena forever than to stock up on some uniquely Colombian souvenirs and gifts while in port? From the upscale boutiques that surround Cartagena’s lush plazas to the open-air markets along the waterfront, Cartagena is one of those cruise destinations that offers a full-spectrum of activities and shopping opportunities. Wondering what to buy in Cartagena? Here are 10 must-have items to get you started.
1. Colombian Coffee
You won’t make it more than a block in Cartagena without smelling the rich aroma of freshly brewed Colombian coffee. In addition to sitting and sipping on a cup yourself, what better way to spread the love than to bring back a half kilo or two for friends and family back home? Colombian coffee beans are grown in several different key regions including Caldas, Quindio, and Risaralda, making the country one of the top producers in the world. The best way to ensure top flavors and aroma is to keep an eye out for which region the beans were grown and processed.
2. Mochila Shoulder Bag
The colorful shoulder bags produced by the Wayuu people, located just up the Caribbean coast from Cartagena in the Guajira region, make a powerful fashion statement that brightens up any outfit. Add to the fact that they are highly functional purses or knapsacks, and you have one of the best gifts possible for the folks back home. Handmade and incredibly sturdy, these quintessentially Colombian souvenirs can be found both on the street and at many of the artisan boutique shops that dot Cartagena.
Shopping in Cartagena isn’t complete until you pick up a bottle of aguardiente, Colombia’s national drink. Smoother and lighter than hard liquors such as rum and whiskey, aguardiente is infused with anise for a semi-sweet liquorice-like finish making it an excellent aperitif. Every region of Colombia produces its own variety of aguardiente, so you are going to have a lot of options to choose from, and many brands offer a sugar-free version as well.
4. Colombian Chocolate
Cartagena might be one of the most popular Carnival cruise destinations simply for the sheer amount of quality Colombian chocolate that can be acquired here. Cacao is grown abundantly all across Colombia because of its abundance of warm tropical valleys where this heavenly nut grows best. In Cartagena, look for high-quality chocolates at the counter of most gift and souvenir stores or check out the specialty food shops in the historic city center for one-of-a-kind small batch producers. Powdered (or sometimes balled) pure chocolate is also sold in most local markets, as drinking hot chocolate with breakfast is a Colombian tradition.
5. Bikinis and Beachwear
Colombia is more urban, hip and style-conscious than many people realize, making it a great place to shop for bikinis and other beach fashions. Check out the beachside shops in Bocagrande for a great selection of designer bikinis from Medellin and Bogota, the country’s two most forward-thinking metropolises. Men’s swimwear and a whole lot of flip-flop variations are also for sale in the area.
6. Caña Flecha Products
Made from a local palm frond that has been dyed with natural plant pigments, caña flecha is a local form of art and craft used to create a wide variety of products — from sun-shading hats to purses and even bracelets. Surprisingly sturdy and long-lasting for something made from tree leaves, caña fleche is available in many colors and patterns and has become a famous Colombian artisan product around the world.
7. Colombian Rum
Next to Cuba and Jamaica, Colombia is one of the major rum producers of the world. From the award-winning dark rums of the Caldas region to the lighter Caribbean style varieties produced right in Cartagena and nearby Barranquilla, many kinds of rum are available in the local liquor stores at very affordable prices.
Wondering what to buy in Cartagena for that super-special person back home? Well nothing says I love you more than a sparkling emerald, one of the most beautiful of the four precious gemstones. Colombia is the largest producer of emeralds on the planet, with about 80 percent of these deep green-hued gems coming from the country every year. Strolling the historic center of Cartagena will bring you to several jewelry specialists with extensive selections of emeralds — just make sure they come with a certification before you buy.
9. Leather Products
While the last thing you might expect to buy in a tropical cruise destination is a leather jacket, Cartagena is actually one of the best places on earth to do so. Because Colombia is a major cattle-growing region and is home to major cities in cold mountain climates, such as Bogota, the country manufactures extremely high quality leather clothing. Besides jackets, you will find wallets, boots and leather purses for sale at many artisan shops in Cartagena as well as custom-designed leather shoulder bags that combine the Wayuu Mochila straps with a leather body.
Still not sure what the perfect souvenir from a Cartagena cruise stop is? Then consider a Colombian hammock. Made of cotton and coming in many different colors, Colombian hammocks can be used on board the cruise ship for your own rest and relaxation before being passed on to others as a nice gift from the tropics. Hammocks are sold at most craft shops in Cartagena. Also check out the chair hammocks, which hang from the ceiling and are as comfy as a sofa chair.