As you may already know: I love ponchos. At home, I have several, which I use often. Colombia, like other countries in South America, is a true poncho country. Especially in the colder regions of the Andes. Jimmy (my ex-husband) also desperately wanted a poncho. With a black hat. The typical costume for the Colombian man in the small Andean villages. When we were in Paipa, he bought his first poncho. Or rather, a ruana. During this same weekend, he used his brand new ruana frequently, and we found out a very special feature of this simple garment. What exactly? Read it here!
Ruana versus poncho: which is which?
A poncho is a garment that originated in Argentina and Chile, but was soon used in other South American countries. The poncho is rectangular in shape with a hole in the middle for the head. The main purpose of the garment is to keep the body warm, but this function depends on the country and region. A poncho can be made from different types of fabrics, such as sheep’s wool, alpaca, cotton, polyester or a mix of materials.
All of South America uses the term “poncho” for the above garment, except in Colombia and Venezuela. In fact, here they call a poncho ruana. A poncho also exists in Colombia, but that name is used more for a plastic garment against the rain. In addition, a poncho in Colombia is a thin garment made of cotton, used in warm areas. The traditional ruana is long (over the hip) and thick and made of 100% sheep’s wool. However, garments with the same shape made of cotton, for example, are also called a ruana.
5 fun facts about the Colombian ruana
- The village of Nobsa in Boyacá is known for its typical ruana, and the quality is so good that the ruanas made there, are exported to Spain, Italy and the US. My own beloved white ruana I also got from Nobsa.
- There are two festivals in Colombia in honor of the ruana: el Día Mundial de la Ruana (World Ruana Day) in Nobsa (between June 1 and 3) and el Festival Nacional de la Ruana, el Pañolón la Almojábana y el Amasijo in Paipa (in March).
- In 2009, 25 craftsmen in Nobsa made the world’s largest ruana ever, 25 meters long and 8 meters wide. To do this, they needed about 750 kilograms of wool. The large rug was then divided into pieces from which they made 350 ruanas.
- The ruana in Boyacá is characterized by earth tones, while in other Colombian regions the ruanas are darker in color, such as gray, blue or black.
- Do you know the famous Colombian cyclist Nairo Quintana? He is from Boyacá, and in 2014, residents of the village of Cómbita made many pink ruanas as a tribute.
The surprising story of Jimmy and his ruana
During our stay at the extraordinary Casa Yerbabuena in one of Colombia’s most beautiful departments Boyacá, Jimmy bought his ruana. Along with a nice black hat. In this region you see many men, as well as women, walking with a ruana and hat, and suddenly Jimmy is now one of them. It is rainy season and the altitude of about 2,800 meters makes Boyacá quite chilly. Outside, it’s raining.
The next day the rain starts early, yet my friend Marcella, who is traveling in Colombia, and Jimmy want to go horseback riding. There are only two horses available and I prefer to stay in the finca, so that choice was quickly made. The rain stops for a moment and this is the time to get on the horse.
For the cold and rain, Marcella is dressed in jeans and a warm and waterproof jacket from the brand Columbia. Jimmy immediately took his chance and got on the horse like a real cowboy in long pants topped with his new ruana and black hat. When they leave, it is still dry and I walk with them for a bit until they are out of sight.
The horseback route goes even higher into the mountains and takes about 1.5 hours. After about 15 minutes, it starts raining again. And for those familiar with rain in the Andes, it can get pretty heavy. Like at this moment. As I struggle through the mud back to the finca, Marcella and Jimmy with their horses are raining all wet somewhere in the middle of the mountains.
I put a chair under a canopy and sit outside with my own ruanas and enjoy. Around me, the thick drops clattered on the stone floor and in the gutter. In the cold, I enjoy the beautiful view and the silence around me. Because except for the drops of rain, I don’t hear anything at all. Over an hour later, Jimmy and Marcella reappeared in the yard. It stopped raining again about five minutes ago.
I am greeted with a big smile from both of them: what a fun they had despite the rain! Nature, the views, the cows and horses, they loved it. Yet they were both soaking wet. Or at least: one of the two. They did not have rain gear or umbrellas, and normally just three minutes in a Colombian rainstorm of this caliber is enough to get wet down to your underwear. One of them almost did. But now the question is: who was soaked because of the rain?
What no one expected from the ruana…
You probably guessed it: Marcella! Despite her Columbia waterproof jacket, she had been rained soaking wet, way more than Jimmy. Indeed, while her coat proved not at all to be waterproof at the arms, Jimmy is still dry. The big hat kept his neck dry; the ruana protected his entire body from the water down to his knees. When he said this, we stood staring at him dumbfounded for a moment: how can he be completely dry when all he is wearing is a piece of wool?
The Colombian poncho: the perfect garment against cold, wind and rain
The ruana is a heavy and thick garment made of 100% sheep’s wool, and it stopped all the rain. If you feel it, it is slightly greasy; the drops just stay on it. Now I also immediately understand why all those people in the rainy Andes always walk with a ruana: it also functions as a raincoat! Besides, because the bottom is open and it is made of natural material, you stay warm and dry in it and at the same time it breathes perfectly. I immediately wonder why this is not used more in Europe against the rain….
Our car full of sheep
Just a few hours after the horseback riding, we had to check out to head back to Bogotá. A ruana does not dry quickly, so it had to be carried wet in the car. Because of the size of the garment, we laid it across the back seat to dry somewhat. But do you know what happens to sheep’s wool that is wet? That’s going to smell even more. So the whole packed car smelled tremendously like wet sheep all the way….
Buying a ruana in Colombia
How fun is it to take home a real ruana? I myself also used my white poncho when I was briefly back in The Netherlands, in cold December. Great for staying warm and also perfect against wind and rain.
Where to buy a ruana in Colombia?
You can buy a ruana in Boyacá, where it is widely used, but you can also find them in the departments of Antioquia, Pasto and Caldas. The non-touristic village of Nobsa in Boyacá, near Lago de Tota, is known for the traditional ruanas they sell there, making it the perfect place to buy one. However, throughout the region you can find your ruana.
How much does a ruana cost?
Prices depend on the type and material. For a traditional ruana made of 100% sheep’s wool, you quickly pay between 80 and 120 euros.
What should you look for when buying a ruana?
If you pay that much money for a ruana, of course you want a real one. Look carefully to see if the ruana is really made in Colombia (if it does not have a label, it often will) and ask about the material.
Do you want 100% sheep’s wool? Then it is useful to smell the ruana and look at it carefully. In fact, a real ruana smells quite a bit like sheep and is tightly woven with no holes in between. Also, the fabric feels slightly greasy. Of course, you can also buy a ruana of a different fabric and colors. Check out the video below for fun inspiration!
The Colombian ruana song: this will make you happy!
The ruana is so hugely popular in Colombia that even a song was made about it. I guarantee you: this will make you really happy! Watch and enjoy!