Money & Shopping
The currency of Colombia is the Colombian peso, but the symbol you will encounter is $. Most banks and money changes will accept major world currencies such as the US dollar and the euro.
ATMs are widely available, with varying withdrawal limits. Banks with highest limits are Citibank, (1 000 000 COP, but charges an extra fee, therefore gives the same effective rate as) Bancolombia (600 000).
Typical prices: modest but clean (and occasionally charming) hotel: US$25 for a nice meal: US$15 for two; beers: US$0.60-1.00 at "tiendas" or similar stores, US$1.5-3 at bars; bus: 100 km about US$6 (cheaper per km for longer trips, more for dirt roads); urban transport: US$0.50-0.90
A service charge of 10% is generally added to the bill in nice restaurants (if it's not, you should add it yourself). Tipping taxi drivers is not common. Most "tipping" is merely rounding up to the nearest thousand pesos (e.g., rounding up your cafe bill to 7,000 from 6,700). Private tour guides do not need to be tipped, but it is common to do so, if you liked the guide.
Be aware that in some restaurants and bars that include the tip (la propina) in the bill, this extra money often does not make it into the hands of the staff person who serves you. Instead, it is simply kept by the owners. With this in mind, many Colombians will pay the bill without the tip (in cash or with credit card) and then hand a cash tip to the staff member (waiter, bartender, etc.) who served them.
The Colombian textile industry is well-recognized and reputable around South America and Europe. Clothing, including lingerie is particularly well-regarded as high quality and very affordable. Leather garments, shoes and accessories are also of interest to foreigners. The best place to buy either is Medellín, known for being the fashion capital of the country, where one can buy very high quality goods at a very low cost.
Colombian emeralds and gold (18k) jewelry can also be very attractive for visitors. A typical Colombian style of jewelry is a copy of precolombian jewelry, which is fabricated with gold, silver and semi-precious stones.
The "mochila", the Spanish word for "backpack" or "rucksack", is also a traditional, indigenous, hand-woven Colombian bag, normally worn over the shoulder. They are commonly sold in shopping malls, especially in the Santa Marta/El Rodadero area. Mochilas usually come in three sizes - a large one to carry bigger things, a medium one to carry personal belongings, and a small one to carry coca leaves. Coca leaves are carried by local tribe members to reduce hunger, increase energy and to combat altitude sickness.
Handicrafts such as intricately designed jewelery are commonly sold in markets and on street corners. Many street vendors will approach people, selling T-shirts, shorts, glasses, bracelets, watches, necklaces, souvenirs, and novelty photographs. If you want to buy something, this is a good time to exercise your bartering skills. Usually you can go down by 2,000 to 3,000 pesos, however 10%-15% is the generally accepted rule. For example, if someone is selling a shirt for P$10,000, try asking if you can pay P$8,000. Go from there.
If you don't want to buy anything, a simple gracias, ("thank you") and a non-committal wave of your hand will deter would-be sellers.