Where are the best shops in Cartagena? I took a break to Colombia’s tropical port city to trawl its colonial-era streets for souvenirs, armed with a mochila (handwoven bag) and pocketfuls of pesos. But first, any successful shopping trip requires the right base: rest your retail-weary limbs at Mansión Tcherassi, with interiors by an award-winning fashion designer, or check-in to Hotel Casa San Agustín for a solarium, spa and restful rooms. Then all that’s left to do is down a watermelon juice (or mimosa) and follow my keepsake-seeking guide…
THE HIGH-END HOMEWARE STORE
This casa is considered Cartagena’s top interior-design store. After perusing a colourful display of embroidered pillows, a noticeably well-accessorised woman welcomed me to the store. Moments later, a second woman appeared at my side and whispered excitedly: ‘That was señora Chiqui!’ Little did I know, I had just met retail royalty. Chiqui Echavarria is not only the store’s owner, she’s also known for throwing the most lavish parties in town (Vogue covered the wedding she planned for her son). It makes sense then that the hostess with the mostess has a shop filled with etched wine glasses, Moroccan lamps, wooden serving trays and wrap-around sandals – Casa Chiqui has everything you need to dress your home and yourself for a fashionable soiree.
THE COOL CONCEPT STORE
London has Dover Street Market, New York has Opening Ceremony and Cartagena has St Dom, which stocks homeware, books, art, jewellery, hip duds for men and haute womenswear by Colombian designers such as Amelia Toro, Malai and Claudia Trejos. I was particularly taken by a graphic novel about the country’s own Gabriel García Márquez (or Gabo, as the locals call him). There were also shower gels and soaps with fantasy sea creatures and mythical beasts on the labels. I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of Sangre del Diablo – or Devil’s Blood – and can’t wait to see what it does for my complexion.
THE STYLE QUEEN’S STORE
You can’t talk about Colombian fashion without mentioning Silvia Tcherassi. Born in Barranquilla and now based in Miami, she’s shown her collections on the runways of Milan and Paris. She’s also the brains behind boutique stays Mansión Tcherassi and Tcherassi Hotel & Spa. Her Cartagena shop, which is near the wall on the western side of the city, is filled with gauzy dresses in rainbow hues (floaty enough for the city’s heat), party clutches and strappy sandals.
AND FOR EVERYTHING ELSE…
Of course, you can’t discount the vendors that line the streets with Panama hats, wooden maracas and mochilas – the handmade bags you’ll see all over town. Taking some 40 hours to make, these hold-alls are created by the indigenous Wayuu tribe of the Guajira peninsula, which borders Colombia and Venezuela. In many cases, you can get a bag from a street stall for half the price you’d pay in a store. The only challenge is choosing one from the dozens on display. Full disclosure: I returned to New York with three.
Inspired? Shop your way around our curated collection of boutique hotels in Colombia.