Walking around the walled city or Centro Historico, you’ll see no shortage of locals setting up their street food carts selling various homemade morsels or fresh picked tropical fruits. Women in colorful gowns will stroll with baskets of fruits on their heads. A photo with one of these will likely cost more than the mangoes.
When it comes to where to eat in Cartagena, Columbia, you’ll want to try all the city’s best, including street food, sweets, fine dining and the popular La Cevicheria.
Where to eat in Cartagena: Street Food
On almost every street of old town and around every plaza there will be vendors making empanadas and arepas. The arepa, like a fried maize pancake or biscuit, is stuffed with various meats and/or eggs. Common through Colombia and Venezuela, arepas are true street food bliss.
Yes, street food can be scary. The CDC‘s terrifying website may convince you that eating anything outside a Michelin star restaurant will give Hep A or Typhoid, but one whiff of the delectable, indigenous grub will make you throw gastro-intestinal caution to the wind.
Too timid? Then take a food tour and feast with more security.
Where to eat in Cartagena: Sweets
For local sweets, hit the Portal de Los Dulces.
Beneath the archways runs a confectionary gauntlet of regional candies like the chancasas, globs of shredded coconut molded together with sugar cane, or the caramel babies, teeth-breaking nuggets symbolizing the birth of your inevitable Type 2 Diabetes.
Each stand sells basically the same treats, but may package them differently or you could haggle for a better deal. Great to bring home.
I found a visit to any of the many panaderias proved equally if not more enjoyable. The cheese bread, soft sweet dough on the outside with slightly salty cheese baked inside, should not be passed up. The guava empanadas and filled breads should also be devoured ritually as part of your Colombian culinary adventure.
Where to eat in Cartagena: Fine Dining
There are abundant fine dining options in historic center as well as trendy, beachy area of Bocagrande.
For a celebration of all taste Colombian (and I do mean celebration), there’s the Restaurante Cande. This family-centric, tourist driven dining experience is the closest thing to Cartagena Disney. Every twenty minutes offers more music, drums and dancing. The quality of food and mix of regional flavor makes up for the mystified gringos clapping away at the table next to yours. I can vouch for the Rabbit in Coconut Milk.
Another higher end option I enjoyed was Don Juan, more seafood and less strictly Colombian, offering tastes of all South American influences. Peruvian cuisine is very popular throughout the city.
Where to eat in Cartagena: La Cevicheria
The place your hotel transport will demand you try is La Cevicheria. You’ll be reminded Anthony Bourdain ate there. And while you may not be the type to allow your trip to be influenced by some famous media know-it-all (or some unknown internet know-it-all for that matter), you dare not miss out on this place. I will return to Cartagena often if only to stuff my face at this joint.
I don’t care if all your companions have shellfish allergies; let them stare longingly at the delights they are forever denied as you relish each bite of lime soaked shrimp with fresh mango drizzled with pesto and plantains pickled in sweet red wine and cinnamon.
For those who willing to crank up the heat, go with the spicy shrimp. The plate is packed with about forty shrimp marinated in a fiery red sauce of which its recipe was clearly taken from the hateful archives of Cartagena’s Inquisition Museum. You’ll feel this dish. More than once.
Playing it Safe
As for less adventurous, there seems to be a Hard Rock Café safety net in every major city around the world. Rest assured you’ll find one here.
So these are just my humble suggestions of what to munch on in Cartagena. I encourage others to share their own insights and experiences about where to eat in Cartagena in the comments section. Have an awesome trip!