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When I go to the land of my birth for a visit, I have few options for authentic Canadian gifts to bring back to family and friends in Colombia. Maple syrup and T-shirts with maple leafs on them are not very original ideas, but it is hard to come up with much else! The reverse is not true, however, as Colombia has a rich, ancient culture, and as a result has plenty of uniquely Colombian items you can give to those in your home country. Here are a few that will put a smile on their faces without putting a big dent in your budget.
Sombrero vueltiao / volteado : The classic striped cane hat with curled-up edges, from the central Caribbean area of Colombia, that vallenato musicians prefer. There is even a highway service station that was built to look like this very Colombian symbol! These can be found in any souvenir or hat shop across the country.
Guayabera shirt: This thin linen white or tan men's shirt can be worn wrinkled, and does not cling to you on the sweatiest of days, thus making it perfect for those who travel or live in the tropics. While not unique to Colombia or even Latin America, the local versions are very popular and are all made here. I have many guayaberas, though I prefer the one that has no pockets as opposed to the more popular one with four pockets, because the latter makes me look too much like a pharmacist or barber! Arturo Calle clothing shops are found in virtually any Colombian mall and usually have a wide assortment of guayabera shirts.
Coffee: Colombia has arguably the best coffee in the world, and you can easily pick-up bags of first rate ground coffee for less than five dollars a pound in any supermarket. The best known brand outside the country is Juan Valdez, and you cannot go wrong with that, but if you want to be original as well as save a few pesos, there are quite a few other brands, such as Lukafe and Oma. Even the lowly Bastilla, which I often drink at home, will not disappoint, though the packaging is a bit boring!
Sweets: Guayaba and arequipe (kind of like caramel) are without a doubt the favorite sweets in Colombia, and they are incorporated into a wide variety of unique desserts and snacks which can also be found in any supermarket. Bocadillos are guayaba paste rolls or squares, typically sprinkled with sugar. You can get them plain or stuffed with arequipe. Cocadas are panela (unrefined sugar cane) and coconut sweets, while manjarblanco is arequipe in a totuma (a hollowed gourd). One treat I am addicted to consists of a dehydrated orange peel filled with arequipe (naranja rellena), but you will not find it except in the Valle del Cauca (province). Speaking of the Valle, it is the center of sugar cane farming and thus of panela production. Round, heavy bricks of panela are a staple found in every Colombian kitchen. If you want to bring back something that every Colombian cherishes, this is it, and it is dirt cheap to boot!
Of course, you could opt to just pick-up tacky souvenirs, but personally I prefer to give things that people can actually enjoy just as any Colombian would!