Grocery stores and supermarkets are a part of our everyday lives, even when we go on vacation. For a budget traveler, they provide a way to save money because you can whip something up yourself instead of paying more to go to a restaurant. Even for a traveler who doesn’t mind the cost of eating out, you might just need water and snacks for your day’s adventures. Enter: the supermercados of Bogotá.
If the above situations don’t apply to you, you must be looking to stay in Colombia long-term, in which case, you will most definitely be frequenting the supermarkets. I love grocery stores, probably because I love food in general, but sometimes I find specific things that keep me going back to a particular one. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that besides certain foods or snacks, I choose the places I shop based on prices. Having spent a little over a year in Colombia, I’ve learned a thing or two and have a system with regards to where I buy my groceries, which is how this list of the five most popular supermarket chains in Bogotá came to be.
It’s pronounced “day oo-noh” for you non-Spanish speakers. This is a small store where you’ll find a lot of basic foods for cheap (hint hint if you’re having a bunch of people over for dinner). Because the place itself isn’t very big, it does lack a few key components of a typical grocery store; namely a fresh produce section. However, what it lacks is made up in the snack section: basically an entire aisle of cookies, chips, and all sorts of munchies for your cravings. It’s also great if you need to pick up some household and kitchen products like trash bags, soap, and foil.
What I go here for: Deja Mu Greek yogurt cups (with raspberry or dried fruit and nuts)
Cost: approximately $2,700 – $2,900 COP each ($0.90 – $0.95 USD)
With its bright orange exterior, Ara is easy to find. It’s a lot like D1 in size and price, except this one includes a produce section with all the basic fruits and vegetables and a larger refrigerated section. You’ll find almost everything you need here, but you won’t have much variety to pick from, which is fine as long as you’re not picky. And it also boasts a sizeable snack section that extends to the impulse racks up by the register. Consider it a one-stop shop for that party you’re going to throw because you’ve definitely got enough alcohol choices here, including some imported beer and Colombia’s pride and joy, aguardiente.
What I go here for: Alfajores Del Cerro
Cost: approximately $2,200 COP ($0.75 USD) per alfajor
Unlike the first two stores, this mercado has more than just the basics and a decent selection of most things, making it a true grocery store. Most Olímpicas have a butcher, a full bakery, and a pharmacy; things that D1 and Ara are missing. The biggest ones even have a little cafeteria, if it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry for some hot food.
What I go here for: the baked goods
Even bigger than Olímpica and with everything it has and more, is Éxito, the first place on this list I would call a complete supermarket. It’s the Wal-Mart of Colombia, if you will. In addition to being a full-sized grocery store, it has a clothing section and a home decor section, making it easy to get everything you need for your house in one place. There is also Super Éxito and Éxito Express, the larger and smaller versions (respectively) of a normal Éxito.
What I go here for: the impressive quality selection and when I’m too lazy to go to multiple stores for different things
Of course my favorite grocery store on this list is the most expensive, but it’s because it has EVERYTHING, food-wise at least: the biggest import section, for when I’m homesick for American brands and good tea, the best bakery, for plain and artisanal breads, and an extensive wine selection (beer too, if wine isn’t your thing). It’s widely known to be on the pricier side. They don’t even carry the cheap brands you find in some of the other stores and some of the same ones do you find in Éxito or Olímpica can also be found here, but often marked up. Because of this, I don’t regularly shop here, but if I’m having trouble finding something elsewhere, I can usually find it here.
What I go here for: the build-it-yourself fruit salad bar
Cost: by weight
Bonus for expats! PriceSmart
It’s the Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s Wholesale Club of Colombia. As such, to gain access to it’s gargantuan warehouse of wholesale products, you’ll need membership, but fear not because it’s inexpensive and 100% worth it. Seventy-five thousand COP ($25 USD) gets you and another person membership for one year. Because the company has some sort of deal with Costco, you can find quite a few Kirkland products here along with many other international brands you would find back home. You’re welcome, enjoy.
What I go here for: the free samples
Cost: please see previous line
There are a lot of little local markets (tiendas) throughout Bogotá too that are stocked with fruits and vegetables and other staple grocery items, and smaller buy-in-bulk supermarkets, like Alkosto or Makro, that will help you save money if you have a big group, but if you’re looking for something specific or variety, one of these stores is your best bet. Another piece of advice I have if you need to visit a supermarket is to allow plenty of time, even if you only need a couple things. I’ve found that more often than not, the lines are long and there may not be more than a couple registers open. Besides that, happy shopping! You’ll probably be surprised at some of the stuff the supermarkets here carry and come to find that you’ll miss something when you go back home because it doesn’t exist anywhere else!
I’m always looking for new things or a good bargain in grocery stores, so be sure to let me know if you find something you think I need to try!
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