Cartagena’s cuisine is as bold and vibrant as its culture, combining fresh, tropical ingredients with a melting pot of flavors from around the world. One of my favorite food memories is trying Cartagenian ceviche—I was surprised and delighted by the glorious combination of salt, acid, and spice, mixed with seafood so fresh it still tasted like the ocean.
But the Colombian city’s gastronomic wonders certainly don’t stop there. Whether you want to feast on prawns smothered in garlic butter or try the deep-fried delights of empanadas and arepas, a culinary wonderland awaits you in the Heroic City—here’s where to start.
Cartagena’s tropical climate makes it prone to sudden storms, so be sure to carry a waterproof raincoat with you at all times.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Plaza de los Estudiantes to sample a variety of street food.
Spend your first day getting acquainted with Cartagena’s stellar street food. Start in the Plaza de los Estudiantes, where you can try empanadas and garlic-injected patacones (fried plantains), then take a short walk over to Palito de Caucho, where vendors offer freshly-fried arepa de huevos (golden pastries stuffed with ground meat and egg).
Wander across the leafy Plaza de Bolivar—where you’ll hopefully catch a performer singing or playing live music—to Portal de Los Dulces, a plethora of stalls selling traditional Colombian candy and postres (desserts) such as cocadas, delectable bites made from shredded coconut.
Start the day by sampling Colombia’s most famous export—coffee. Old Town is peppered with quaint, bougainvillea-clad cafés offering a variety of bean blends. Top picks include the fabulous Abaco Libros y Café, also a bookshop, and Juan Valdez Café, famous for its pure, high-quality beans.
After a day of sightseeing, wind down and watch the sunset at Café del Mar—a rooftop bar with panoramic views of the city and Caribbean Sea. Enjoy tropical cocktails and fresh fish in the form of cazuela de mariscos (seafood stew).
This morning, pick up a few tricks to take home—and learn more about the city’s rich culinary heritage—during a cooking class. Opt for one that includes a market tour.
In the afternoon, take advantage of Cartagena’s close proximity to the sea by sampling ceviche in the lively Plaza de la Trinidad, where vendors sell fresh, raw fish seasoned with citrus fruit, chili, and corn. (If you’d rather dine in, La Cevicheria on Calle Stuart got Anthony Bourdain’s stamp of approval.) Browse the street art of the surrounding hip Getsemani neighborhood before popping into Caffé Lunático to sample Colombian rum and chocolate.