Colombia is a beautiful country with a broad array of climates and environments. A number of years ago we visited the hot and humid Cartagena, the temperate Medellin, and capital-city Bogota, a cooler booming city nestled over 8,600 feet above sea level. Packing for each city’s climate was interesting and it plays a key into the country’s various cuisines.
Cartagena is a city with vibrant colors and remarkable doors, located right around the equator, which brings lots of heat and humidity. Most people would be surprised to know that hot soups are very common menu items that you’ll find in Cartagena. While it may seem counterintuitive, the hot soup helps to control your temperature. Your brain senses the heat of the soup, which triggers the body to cool down. Cartagena is located on Colombia’s northern coast, so you’ll find lots of fresh fish, seafood and ceviche. Colombian cuisine is actually quite sweet, you’ll notice many savory dishes taste sweeter than most people are accustomed to. Many meals are served with rice, beans, and plantains. We enjoyed eating the local street food which includes cheese-stuffed arepas, empanadas, fresh fruits, a breakfast of deep-fried arepas stuffed with eggs, and Colombian hot dogs. Very different than traditional dogs, these are topped with garlic mayo, pink sauce, a pineapple sauce and crushed potato chips. You guessed it, they taste much sweeter than hot dogs that you’ll find at the ballpark.
Here are some of the tastiest places to eat in Cartagena, Colombia:
Cafe San Alberto
Why not partake in a Coffee Baptism while in Colombia? This class is a lesson on Colombian coffee and a includes a full tasting from the most award-winning coffee in the world. Whenever we travel we always try to do a food tour or a cooking class because we learn so much about the local culture and history. For this trip, we opted for a coffee “baptism” where we learned all about coffee from one of the best coffee producers in the entire world. This experience blew our minds because it expanded our love of quality coffee, while we also learned that the same bean of coffee can be manipulated to have different flavor profiles depending on how the beans are brewed. The coffee shop even looks like a laboratory with the five various coffee brewing mechanisms. Be sure to book this class in advance. Calle de Los Santos de Piedra Cra. 4 #34-1 a 34-91, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia https://www.cafesanalberto.com/
Cartagena can get realllly hot. This is the spot to enjoy local ingredients in an ice cream bar form. There’s nothing better than ice cream to cool off after a hot day of exploring, and this shop couldn’t be cuter. On top of the bright colors and funky wallpaper, their ice cream is especially tasty. Plus, it’s always fun to try local fruits and ingredients that you’ll never see at home in the US. Calle del Arzobispado # 34 - 63, https://www.ciocolattopopbar.com/
La Mulata Restaurante
Located in the vibrant old walled city, La Mulata is a traditional Colombian restaurant where you will find hot soups, fresh fish, and other specialties which make it a local favorite. We stopped in for a delicious lunch of fried fish and plantains. Quero 9 58 Sandiego, Cartagena De Indias, Bolívar, Colombia
La Cocina de Pepina
This restaurant, located in the Getsemani area, serves the best seasonal traditional dishes that you’d find in the homes of Colombians. The food and restaurant is simple, but the food is so good and homey it will make you feel like you’re being fed by an amazing Colombian grandmother in her home. Our favorite dish was their traditional Colombian cheese soup. This place has received acclaim from New York Times food critics and we totally can see why. Cl. 25 #10B-6, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
El Burlador De Sevilla
You can’t visit Cartagena without having some Spanish food. The city was discovered by the Spanish Empire in 1533 and remained so until the 1800s, so Spanish culture plays a big influence, especially in the old walled city. Whenever possible, we love to meet-up with locals who are super passionate about their city and their food scene. Once El Burlador De Sevilla was recommended, we had to stop in for their versions of a Spanish tortilla, sangria, and tapas. The dessert was also as colorful as the city of Cartagena. Carrera 3 # 33-88, Calle Santo Domingo, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia http://elburladordesevilla.com/
Marea By Rausch
You’ll find Marea right outside the old walled city. This is your best bet to dine at a fancy Cartagena gourmet restaurant, as it is still quite affordable according to US restaurant standards. Colombian celebrity chef Jorge Rausch opened this elevated restaurant, with a focus on seafood, with his brother, Mark. We enjoyed a trio of ceviches presented in martini glasses, tender octopus, and a uchuva (Colombian gooseberry) dessert. Requesting a reservation is recommended. Centro de Convenciones Cartagena de Indias, Centro de Convenciones, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia https://www.mareabyrausch.com/
El Gobernador by Rausch
If you’re looking for another spot for romantic, fine dining, the Rausch brothers have another restaurant in Cartagena. El Gobernador is located in the old walled city. Nestled inside the stunning Bastion Luxury Hotel, the decor and patio are stunning. We enjoyed a bottle of wine from their large wine collection while enjoying masterpieces with beautiful plating. Again, we highly recommend securing a reservation at this highly acclaimed restaurant. Centro Histórico, Calle del Sargento Mayor No. 6 - 87 Calle Cartagena, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia https://www.bastionluxuryhotel.com/restaurantes/
This is a hip spot for cocktails or a local craft beer after dinner in this popular area of Getsemani. In case you were curious, our favorite local brew was Apostol Premium Beer. We visited Demente with the chef and owner of La Cocina de Pepina when his restaurant was closed for the day. This place is great for its local vibe, cool design, and tasty drinks. It would be our go-to happy hour or nightcap spot if we lived in the city. Demente serves food, but we came here specifically for a cocktail. You'll find food carts selling arepas or Colombian hot dogs outside the bar, since it faces the Church of the Holy Trinity (Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad) where locals hang out on the steps at night, play music and dance. Cra. 10 #29-29, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
Easily the best cocktail bar in Cartagena, and potentially all of Colombia. Visit El Baron in the old walled city for craft cocktails and small bites. The drinks are incredibly creative. We enjoyed libations where we dropped in flavored essences to our liking and marveled at their unique garnishes. One cocktail even had a custom “El Baron” candy nestled against sliced walnuts, freeze-dried strawberries, and herbs. Cra. 4 #31-7, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia http://www.elbaron.co/
One of our favorite parts of visiting Cartagena, Colombia was eating the local cuisine and wandering around the old walled city, ogling at the architecture in between meals. Rest assured that these restaurant recommendations will help you experience traditional Colombian food, experience a meal from the one of the most famous chefs in the country, and make memories at the best spots in the city. As an added bonus, here is a photo of an adorable sloth we met on the streets of Cartagena.