If you already follow us on instagram (and if you don't why not? ;)) you have hopefully seen our more recent posts celebrating the culture of Cartagena and all the wonderful ways it is unlike anywhere else in the world. The above post (check it here) talks about how costeños don't go through the formality of saying buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches etc they instead opt for a long, drawn out, and quite nasal "bueeeeeenas" which basically has you covered for all times of the day. Maybe it's because time is never the most important thing in Cartagena? Anyway, after our post received a lot of positive attention, and people started to send us their versions of the costeña "buenas", we realised that the very essence of Cartagena and its people is captured in this authentic way of saying hello. For those reading this post in the hopefully covid-free and golden future, Cartagena is going through a pretty tough time as a result of all the strict quarantine measures, airport and business closures and resulting economic hardships/destitution courtesy of the local and global responses to the disease. On an individual level, people have responded in different ways. Unfortunately, one of the main responses has been to throw blame on each other and further divide and fraction the population. So as we continued to receive more incredible "buenas" videos, we thought that warm, welcoming, generous, connected energy that is so palpable in Cartagena could be something that the world could do with a bit more, and that Cartageneros could be reminded of, as they are being asked to once again dig deep and rise against the fear and uncertainty. So we made a video, and we think it would be amazing if you could add your voice to those of your Cartagenera friends. We'd love to see the Cartagena buenas travel around the world! Check out the video, and then give it a go! Trust us, it's fun! Then either/and upload your video to instagram/facebook tagging @cartagenaconnections and using the hashtag #buenaspalmundo or send it to us in a whatsapp message or facetime message to +57 3002 87237
Thank you to all you wonderful people asking about how Cartagena is coping in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. Whether that's because you travelled here, have friends or family here, feel a connection to here, plan to one day live here, are just generally a compassionate person, whatever the reason, thank you for keeping Cartagena and her people in your heart. It is for you that I'm writing my impressions on how things are going down. This is in no way an exhaustive summary and I am most definitely not a scientist, but maybe it will give an overall idea.
Colombia confirmed their first case on 6 March (a 19 year old returning from travels in Milan, Italy), and after 8 more cases across the country, declared a health emergency on March 12; suspending all public events and denying entry of cruise-ships. Land borders were closed from March 16, and international arrivals of non-residents were restricted, whilst returning residents were required to complete 14 days of isolation. International flights were suspended and airports closed from March 23 onwards.
In Cartagena, tourists and ex-pats jumped on whatever outbound flights they could get. Hotels were vacated. Initially restaurants and bars could open at 30% capacity, and then with the tighter measures that started from March 20, were closed completely. In the first round of quarantine, everyone (other than essential workers) was required to stay home, with the exception that one household member could leave only to get groceries or medical supplies. Or to walk your dog (this has been the ultimate salvation for me and my adopted dog Maddie). Complete, city-wide curfews were (and continue) in place from 4pm until 6am. The wearing of masks in public is compulsory. As the quarantine restrictions extended, week after week, Cartagena's government sought to further curb the amount of people leaving their homes by introducing "pico y cédula". This means that individuals are only permitted to leave the house to buy groceries and medical supplies 1-2 times per week (it has varied depending upon the week) in accordance with the allotted day which corresponds with the final digit of their ID number. The days and numbers have been announced the Sunday before the following fornight. Some of the weeks have also further split up the allotted days by gender, in addition to ID numbers. Fines are issued for non-compliance.
This is all to say, Cartagena moved relatively rapidly and comprehensively to shut down the city. Whilst there may be some complaints about how compliant people have been with this lockdown, I think it can generally be said that the actions have probably minimised the impact of the threat to health (or at least bought more time for the region's dramatically underprepared health system).
But in a country with almost no institutional safety net (for example, no unemployment support), the economic implications have already been devastating and we can only expect they will get worse and worse. Cartagena is almost entirely dependent upon the tourism and hospitality sector. It seems unlikely that bars, restaurants, hotels, airports, borders etc will open before September (and maybe not even then). And in the meantime, super high rent, utility bills, salaries for staff etc etc are still being paid by drowning business owners who have not had any income since March 16. Desperate pleas among the hospitality/tourism industry for government assistance in negotiating rent and bill freezes or subsidies went unanswered. Each day more and more businesses close for good and staff are made redundant. Iconic fine dining restaurants Don Juan and Maria have already closed and their interiors gutted. Our beloved social enterprise vegetarian brunch place Cafe Stepping Stone also regrettably have been forced to close and the Aussie founders are booked on humanitarian flights back to their homeland. The government’s response has mostly been to advise businesses to "reinvent" themselves and move to domicilio (delivery) and servicing the local market. There have definitely been some businesses that have had success with this transition, but for others it just isn't practical, especially when rents and prices have been set based on tourists, not locals who are accustomed to cooking all their meals at home (or having their live-in maids do so). Also it's hard to see how this could work for the empty hotels, the un-chartered boats, the empty taxis, the un-visited tourist sites, the cancelled weddings and events, the tour guides and so on. I'm friends with many owners of such businesses and it is so heartbreaking to see the dreams they have fought so hard for, come crashing and, even more painful, learning of the burden many of them carry for their staff - knowing that when they stop paying wages, when there is literally no more money to do so, there is no other financial protection or support whatsoever.
This also does not mention the huge population of workers whose "employment" does not exist formally on paper. The people who sell hats or pearls to tourists, that try to get you to enter the particular bar or emerald store that pays them a commission, the women who give massages on beaches or the men who sell you an umbrella to sit under, the palenqueras selling fruits and traditional desserts, the arepa stand, the dancers who perform for tips in plazas, even those bloody freelance rappers, the list is never-ending.. no tourists, no-one allowed in public means no money.. for months. These are usually not people with savings. These are people who live day to day. They have been left dependent upon sporadically and unequally delivered food handouts for survival. When people suggest it is only a matter of time before this poverty and desperation lead to instability and insecurity crime-wise, it doesn't seem inaccurate.
I'm writing this May 27 and outside of the tourism and hospitality sector, other industries are gradually opening up. Construction, refineries, manufacturing etc For everyone else, "house arrest" has so far been mandated all the way through until June, and given many experts do not believe Colombia has hit its peak outbreak-wise, it would not be surprising if the quarantine measures extend well beyond this date.
WANT TO HELP?
There are many organisations and foundations and individuals working tirelessly to support those in need.
In Cartagena, I trust Domino Volunteers who have a network of trusted community leaders purchasing groceries and life necessities, showing receipts and distributing where there is need. They are running the fundraising mostly via their instagram page which is www.instagram.com/dominovolunteers you can email them to find out how to help at email@example.com you can also use that email address to make a payment directly into their paypal account. Their website for more general information is dominovolunteers.com
Another amazing initiative organised by Domino Volunteers is to donate your time (just 1 hour a week) to helping support the tourism and hospitality sector with English classes and practice.
The idea is to use this time without work in the most beneficial way possible and hopefully improve English levels for when tourism eventually re-opens. Can you help? Send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org send a whatsapp message to +57 316 464 5382
In Bogotá , funds are being raised for families living in vulnerable conditions in the neighbourhoods of Ramirez and Egipto. These families usually work as "recyclers" picking up scraps, glass bottles, cans, metals, plastics etc and scraping by a day-to-day living. They call themselves Los Piratas de Ramirez. Due to COVID restrictions the "pirates" have not been able to earn any money and they have no savings nor support from the State. You can learn more and support via their crowdfunding at www.vaki.co/1585110190050
You may also want to help by pre-purchasing gift-vouchers for your favourite restaurants, hairdressers, bars, cooking schools etc to help keep them afloat go to www.yanospillamos.com and choose which restaurant/s you would like to support. The Cartagena restaurants on this site are Carmen, Celele and Lilapomarossa.
Or over at www.deestasalimos.co you can buy vouchers for food and drink at El Baron
You can also score a 20-25% discount if you pre-purchase Blue Apple beach club day passes and overnight stays here.
Still onBlue Apple, and this beach club and boutique hotel have to win the prize for the most creative fundraising. In a bid to continue to raise money for their staff and cover operational costs, they have created a couple of outside-the-box revenue streams that are deserving of attention.
Firstly, they are hiring out their donkeys and goats and other adorable family members to sit in on your zoom meetings and make them that much better. Yes, that's a thing. Check out more here: https://www.blueapplebeach.com/zoom
Secondly they have gathered all their talented staff who are exchanging Tips for tips.. make a donation (really anything is super appreciated) then watch any number of videos created by Blue Apple team members to learn tips like how to make a signature cocktail, how to get a great arm workout, or (and this one is so adorable) learn some basic sign-language. This is the link here: https://www.blueapplebeach.com/tips
Photo: El Bistro, doors closed, hopefully not forever.
Wow. So evidently I've been really slack about writing blog posts. Opening up this page I see my last post was almost 2 years ago. Oops. In my defense, I've still been updating all other sections of the website, and making facebook and instagram posts which had kind of taken over the role of blogging for me. Plus you know, days packed with working and giving tours. But then I started to get questions along the lines of "are you still operating?" or "can we buy your domain?" and also COVID-19 happened (more of that here) and I found myself with absolutely no tours or emails or excuses. So in the spirit of doing everything better, I have committed to return to weekly blogposts from here on out. If you'd like a post about anything in particular, please send an email to email@example.com and let me know. Or you could write in the comments below and I'll try to be better about checking them (facepalm emoji, embarrassed monkey emoji). Ok! Here's to me being productive! Whoop!
Have plans to have a relaxing day at the beach while you're in Cartagena? Whether you're thinking just to pop down to Bocagrande, trip up to La Boquilla or drive over to Playa Blanca, unfortunately there can be an ugly barrage of attention you may receive from vendors looking to extract the most amount of moolah possible from everybody who sets foot on their sands.
It is sad, and these vendors are definitely detroying their own livelihoods with their agressive, short-sighted approach, with tourists and locals opting more and more to avoid the public beaches and go to private island locations.
Now, it is definitely possible to still enjoy the beach.. you just have to go with your eyes open and prepared to negotiate all prices upfront. Or just say no gracias a lot. Above is a list of set prices agreed to by the local Cartagena council. Screenshot them so you have them as a reference point. There's also a number you can call if things get heated.
Above all, don't accept anything until you've set the price first. No trial massage. No sample oyster.
Now go forth, ready to avoid the beach bullying. Once they know you're clued up, they will probably leave you alone. Wish it wasn't like this but you know, sometimes life's a beach.
UPDATE: Jan wrote in comments said he couldn't read the prices in the images. So I'll write them out here now:
A double tent with 4 chairs - 30,000 pesos
Umbrella with 2 chairs - 20,000 pesos
Single tent with 2 chairs - 15,000 pesos
Sun chair - 12,000 pesos
Plastic table - 4,000 pesos
Plastic chair- 4,000 pesos
Complete massage - 50,000 pesos
Head of hair braids - 50,000 pesos
Individual braids - 20,000 pesos
Oysters - 5,000 pesos (we have definitely heard of people getting sick from eating them FYI)
Beer - 3,500-4,000 pesos
And for best beaches please check out this section of the website.
We're sorry. We really are very sorry. Just when you think there's nothing else to pay for your day on the water, we regretfully inform you that there is also a pesky marine tax that is levied per persona. Currently it's a whopping 16,500 pesos pp. Well, it's getting worse. We've just found out, the marine tax is being increased to 18,000 pesos starting January 1, 2019. SORRY! To avoid this, you can consider taxing a taxi or shuttle bus to Playa Blanca instead. Or going across to the close beaches of Bomba and Namaste at Tierra Bomba.
It's that time of year again when Colombians go costume crazy and adopt the North American festival with a fervour that has to be seen to be believed. Halloween. If costumes are your caper, and you're the type to travel for a really good bash.. then book your flights to Bogotá. The capital city does Halloween arguably better than anywhere in the world.. And if the date falls on a weekday (this year it's Wednesday) even better - it means parties the weekend before, after and on the day itself. Sorry liver. Where to go? Guaranteed mayhem awaits at the epic Andres Cande de Res party in Chia. But book tickets early because they sell out every year. Otherwise pretty much every bar around the Zona T will have some thematic fun for you. I definitely recommend you check out local guide civico for details on the best parties.
BUT since I live in Cartagena, since this website is called Cartagena Connections and since everyone keeps asking what the best party will be in Cartagena.. I've decided to quickly churn out this post with a summary of my picks.
TOWNHOUSE- Wednesday 31 October
Leading the charge for celebrating on the actual day, Townhouse will definitely be the best option for the 31st with a Heaven + Hell themed party. Townhouse is a boutique hotel located close to Parque Fernandez de Madrid with both a rootop terrace (Heaven) and a dark and moody basement style bar (Hell). Good music, great crowd, people who will genuinely dress up and guaranteed surprises (is that an oxymoron?).. Pave your way to hell with good intentions! Entry is 30K pesos, but free if you come in costume.
ALQUIMICO - Saturday 3 November
Consistently the best vibed bar/club in Cartagena, the Halloween party at Alquimico is always a top ticket for a good time and this year they have partnered with famed Party Promoters SUPREME FIRM to establish themselves as THE event to dominate the weekend celebrations. 500,000 pesos + 500,000 in booze for best costume, 4 DJs including Colombian/Miami favourite Augusto Yepes (he is gooooood) and a haunted house theme that is completely in keeping with this spooky converted Colonial mansion.
LA JUGADA - Friday 2 November
La Jugada has some of the best cocktails in Cartagena, which will definitely help with the warm-up for their Halloween party. Don't be suprised if your bartender is wearing a Dali mask however, as the theme has been taken from the addictive Spanish Netflix series Casa de Papel. Prizes for best costumes.
LA MOVIDA - Saturday 3 November
La Movida is the place the most connected Cartageneros go to club. They'll book tables, order bottles and have immaculate costumes. So if you want to rub shoulders with them, you'll want to RSVP to +573106364472 The theme is NEON HORROR. Expect some trippy effects and come prepared to dance until 4am.
SELINA Saturday 3 November
For more of a casual fun time, the rooftop of funky hostel Selina is a good bet. Officially their halloween party was last Saturday (oops) but there will be a repeat this weekend.
Same story with Bourbon Street. Their always mega fun madhouse party already happened on Saturday 27th October, but there will be a repeat of sorts on Saturday.
With nights that seem impossible to end early and a contagious vacation vibe, Cartagena seems made for lazy starts and long brunches. Oddly however, the brunch scene here has until recently been fairly lacking. The fact that Cartagena already created breakfast perfection with the invention of the ubiquitous “Arepa ‘e Huevo” might have had something to do with it? For those of you who, like me, consider brunch to be the most pleasurable way to start the day/combat hangovers/delay reality, fear not! I am delighted to report we are seeing a host of restaurants and cafés brunching out (pun intended) into the realm of champagne-spiked breakfasts.
Here’s the best of the brunch:
When Mimosas in Cartagena were barely a mythical whisper from those fortunate-enough to have ventured overseas, Pasteleria Mila was pioneering their cause. The home of the original Cartagena brunch, Mila still remains one of the city’s best; thanks to an enormous selection of scrumptious sweet and savoury offerings, gorgeous French-farmhouse ambience and those aforementioned Mimosas. If you can make it out without ordering “breakfast dessert” from the ridiculously tempting window displays, you’re a better man than I am.
TRY: Colombia’s unusual sweet/salty combo of hot chocolate and melted cheese.
Brunch from 8am Monday - Saturday and from 10am Sunday
Cute and quirky, Caffe Lunatico has quickly won the hearts of Cartagena’s brunch bunch with beautifully presented breakfast plates that taste as good as they look. Wash them down with all-day jugs of Sangria, or on Sundays, why not sign up for bottomless Mimosas? Because, as they say, brunch without champagne, is really just a sad breakfast.
TRY: Broken eggs with yuca or Cartagena’s (and potentially the World’s) best French Toast
Brunch 11am- 3pm every day.
CAFÉ STEPPING STONE
If you’d like a side of social conscience with your coffee and croissants, Café Stepping Stone is for you. The brainchild of two young Aussies, the project aims to share some of the cafe culture Australia does so well (yes, including brunch), whilst helping train, educate and support Cartagena’s disadvantaged and at-risk youth.
TRY: The menu is loaded with yummy vegetarian and vegan options.
Brunch from 8am Monday - Saturday, and from 9am Sunday
OH LA LA
Take a beautifully restored high-ceilinged, light-filled Getsemani house with an incredible past, add soul-pleasing food and lashings of French-finesse and you have one of our favourite breakfast destinations. Think homebaked bread with real butter, homemade jams, granola and yogurts, toulouse sausage, decadently creamy omelettes, still-warm bollo served with the best suero you'll try (local delicacy).. all lovingly prepared and beautifully presented (like, really beautifully, in that, must upload to instagram immediately, kind of way).. trust us, you'll be charmed to bits too.
Breakfast 8am-1pm Monday - Saturday (Also great for lunch, or early dinner)
Found on Calle Larga, near the corner of Calle Vargas close to Cocina de Pepina
Chef and foodie favourite, El Bistro, does a weekly Sunday brunch that places traditional Caribbean cuisine front and centre for a breakfast unlike anything you will try at home. Featuring elevated local classics such as arepa de huevo with smoked trout, chorizo empanadas, and fish Sancocho; your guayabo (slang for hangover) will be a distant memory thanks to this restorative fare.
TRY: Empanadas stuffed with seafood casserole and the amazing selection of German-baked breads
Breakfast Monday - Saturday 9am -1pm; Sunday Caribeño Brunch 10am- 4pm
OH! LA LA
Housed in a beautifully restored Getsemani space, Oh! la la is imbued with a romantic charm that captivates all.. and that's even before the impossibly chic food and drink start arriving. Homebaked breads with real butter, homemade jams, yogurt.. it is all so beautifully presented and lovingly prepared, you can't help but sigh in satisfaction (and upload a gazillion photos to the medias). There's proper Toulouse sausage, delicious granola, a decadent creamy omelette, still-warm bollo (a local favourite) washed down with good coffee and amazing juices. A definite favourite.
Brunch 7am-1pm Monday to Saturday
Calle Larga corner of Callejon Vargas (around the corner from Cocina de Pepina)
CAFE DE LA MAÑANA
Now in new, super central digs right in front of the Casa de la Presentación Art Gallery (top tip: check out the art exhibits after breakfast), our favourite German and Colombian duo, Jan and Naty are bringing their hearty, made-with-love, good valued breakfasts to a new public and everyone's happy about it.
TRY: Typical Colombian breakfast of eggs, arepa, coffee, fruit salad and OJ all for 18,500 pesos.
Breakfast Monday - Saturday 8am onwards
Sunday 9.30am - 4pm
Calle Estanco del aguardiente
Café Epoca is for people who choose their brunch based on the calibre of the coffee. Roasted in-house from the best of Colombia’s beans, this could be the very best cup in Cartagena. It’s not just coffee-snobs who will be satisfied; the food menu reads like a brunching all stars and definitely doesn’t disappoint in the delivery.
TRY: It’s hard to beat creamy avocado smashed on toast, right?
Brunch from 9am daily
CREPES & WAFFLES
For visitors it might be hard to accept that a restaurant that seems from the surface just to be a run-of-the-mill chain, is somehow capable of commanding the unfaltering devotion of an entire population. Yet this is exactly the power of the almighty Crepes & Waffles. Basically, if you live in Colombia, you will most probably eat here at least once a week, every week, for your entire lives. And then, on Sundays, it’s brunch time, baby. Mompox mozzarella, bread baskets, all the eggs, mimosas and nutella/banana crepes. There’s definitely worse ways to become a household name.
TRY: Baked Lebanese eggs, guanabana smoothie.
Sunday Brunch from 10am
It’s Saturday and your Cartagena friends have invited you to join them for a night out in a typical “disco”. “What kind of music do they play?” you ask, nervously wondering if they will expect you to move your hips and feet in the way they all seem inherently able to do. “Crossover”, they confidently reply. Err, right. For the uninitiated, this basically means an ongoing medley of latin hits covering genres from salsa to merengue to vallenato to electronica. The night proceeds normally enough; there’s lots of wiggling, lots of singing along, and way too many shots of “guaro”. And then, suddenly, the music changes and so does the entire atmosphere. This new song has a kind of happy, buoyant melody and everyone starts grinning. ‘It’s Champeta!’’ Your friend tells you excitedly. Some couples glue together for some serious rhythmic grinding, others start marching theatrically on the spot, others start doing something that reminds you of the funky chicken. The music is catchy, it’s joyful - and you’re hooked.
What you don’t know is that Champeta’s inclusion in this crossover medley, not just in Cartagena, but across Colombia, is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Back when Champeta, or as it was originally known, Terapia, was the musical “therapy” for Cartagena’s hardworking and impoverished Afro-Descendants, Colombia’s “well-to-do” upper classes considered it low-class and vulgar, indicative of a classist society that associated black culture with undesirable. In those days (we’re talking the 70s and 80s), being called a “champetudo” was considered an insult. An entire subculture grew around the genre in defiance; dance, language, art and fashion. Now, decades later, Champeta’s undeniable appeal has earned it a cool-club status that has all Colombians and the rest of the world clamouring to join: National top 10 lists will feature at least 3 Champeta songs, and reformed reggaeton princesses are now trying to learn thost “vulgar” dance moves. If you don’t want to be left out, here’s some Champeta basics to get you started.
Champeta - comes from the word for machete, which the workers arriving to dance at the picós would wear tied around their waist after their day’s shift. Some of the dance steps incorporate a machete chopping action reflecting this.
Picó - The enormous sound-systems that were originally transported to different neighborhoods on the back of “pickup” trucks. The music machines would be painted with images and graphics that would then later give the name to the picó, such as El Tigre or the most famous, El Rey de Rocha.
Meque or meke - is the force and potency of the sound system and the general energy and frenzy of a champeta song.
Espeluque - The third part in a champeta song where the rhythm changes and gets more intense and everyone is whipped into such a frenzy, their hair ends up a big mess
El Caballito - one of the more iconic dance moves represents riding a little horse. Also check out La Borracha and La Camita.
EATING THE STREET IN CARTAGENA
Whether you are chasing a stopover snack or something more substantial, a healthy start or a sweet denouement, Cartagena’s streets provide! Eating the street is a way to plug into the local culture and gain insight into the daily lives, as you enjoy food the way Cartageneros do. It’s also extremely tasty. So arm yourselves with an appetite and an adventurous attitude and go explore. Here’s some street treats to look out for:
Arepa e’ huevo - Probably the most iconic Cartagena street snack, the arepa e’huevo is a twice-fried golden circular cornmeal parcel filled with egg and meat. Must try.
Carimañola - Made from the sticky yuca dough, Carimañolas can be stuffed with meat or cheese before frying.
Papa Rellena - Yet another deep-fried delight, the Papa Rellena (literally translated as “stuffed potato”) is cooked potato balls with meat, onions and spiced dipped into a batter, then fried until crunchy.
Kibbeh - Another fried treat, the kibbeh is a tasty legacy of the Arabic immigration to Cartagena. It’s made from bulgar wheat, finely ground beef, onions and spices.
Mango biche - Cartageneros love their mango green (unripe), crunchy, and doused in lime juice, salt and pepper. Mango biche is also the renowned preferred craving food for pregnant women. Now you know.
Bollos - These leaf-wrapped rolls are similar to a Mexican tamale and are made by steaming cornmeal, plantains, yuca, coconut, or any other kind of masa inside a bijao leaf. They are then usually enjoyed with a few chunks of the local cheese: queso costeño. They can also be sometimes found,stuffed with meat and vegetables.
Patacones - twice-fried plantains are pisa’o (flattened) dipped in salty, garlic water and topped with cheese, meat, salad, sauces, or simply enjoyed on their own.
Pesca’o - You’ll hear this food before you see it. Listen out for the men walking the streets with their giant silver buckets calling out “Pesca’o Pesca’o!!” What you’ll receive is a piece of salty fried fish accompanied by salty steamed yuca and wrapped up in a piece of brown paper.
Coctél de Camaron - If you thought the famous shrimp coctkail died after the 80s, think again! In Cartagena cups filled with a mix of shrimp, onion, tomato, mayo and lots of garlic can be found all along Avenida Venezuela. You can even eat it under a giant Sombrero Vuelta’o hat!
Tropical fruits - Depending on the season, you can find all manner of strange and exotic tropical fruits like lulo, granadilla, nispero, papaya, guanabana, corozo, guama, zapote etc Some can be eaten there and then, others are better mixed into a juice.
Postres Palenqueros - Look out for the ladies in beautiful coloured dresses carrying bowls on their head often the treasures they are transporting are an array of traditional sweets such as cocadas (coconut mounds) enyucado (coconut and yuca cake) bolitas de tamarindo (sugar-coated tamarind balls) and alegría (puffed corn brown-sugar and coconut balls).
Agua e Coco - Known as natures energy drink, you can order the coconut whole, or drink the water en bolsita, ripping open the tiny plastic bags with your teeth.
Salpicón - This colourful, sweet cup is kind of like a drinkable fruit-salad laced with lots of sugar.
Raspa’o - Cartagena’s version of the snow cone, Raspaó is shaved ice topped with flavoured syrup. Popular flavours include tamarindo and Kola Roman.
Tinto - Need an energy boost with all this eating? Never fea! A tiny cup of caffeine is always close at hand thanks to the roaming tinto salesmen. Look for the men carrying thermoses and cigarettes. The coffee usually comes pre-sweetened and is usually, surprisingly, extremely hot.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN EXPLORING THE WORLD OF STREETFOOD IN CARTAGENA BOOK INTO ONE OF OUR FOOD + CULTURE TOURS OR REQUEST IT AS PART OF YOUR PRIVATE TOUR.
With uber talented chefs, a bounty of incredible ingredients and a strong tourist dollar stimulating competition, in Cartagena there are no shortage of quality international eating options vying for attention. But if you’re the type of traveller that feels savouring the local gastronomic delights is an essential part of the experience - these are some of the home-grown typical dishes that should be high on your must-try list.*
CEVICHE + COCTEL
Whilst it’s the Peruvians who mostly claim credit for the culinary blessing that is ceviche, the dish also has Colombian origins, with indigenous groups using local fruits to “cook” and preserve fish and seafood since waaaay back in the day. Upon settling, the Spanish combined this local method with their own popular dish of escabeche, and Cartagena has been enjoying the results ever since. The typical ceviche is prepared by marinating the raw fish/seafood in citrus (like lime) or fruit (like tamarind or mango) until “cooked” by the acidic juices. Herbs, toasted corn, peppers, onions and other spices can also be combined to create a variety of different versions. Similar concept, but with different execution, the coctél de camaron is a kind-of kickback to the seventies when the beloved shrimp cocktail was the height of fine-dining. In this case the pre-cooked seafood is mixed with tomato sauce, mayo and heap of garlic, and offered from beaches to roadside to restaurants all over the city.
Try it at (gosh I need a separate best of ceviche list!!)
Sombrero Vueltiao (look for the giant striped hat for the best streetside shrimp cocktail)
ARROZ APASTELA’O (PASTEL)
A specialty of the Caribbean Coast, this rice dish is prepared with the meat and stock of chicken or pork, vegetables like beans, carrots and peas, olives, capers and yellow achiote then wrapped up in a green bijao leaf and steamed. The result is a convenient parcel of moist deliciousness that can be unwrapped and enjoyed wherever you fancy.
Try it at
Your neighbourhood window in Getsemani (especially December 26-30)
The typical plate from the coast, this dish consists of a whole fried fish (mojarra or pargo are most common), golden patacon (fried green plantain) and the revelation that is coconut rice (seriously, so good). If you’re lucky you’ll get a bowl of taste-the-ocean fish soup on the side. For maximum enjoyment, eat using your hands while your toes are in the sand and with a champeta musical soundtrack.
Try it at
La Perla Negra (La Boquilla)
Kiosko Bony (Bocagrande)
SOPA DE HIGADETE
This can be a bit harder to find, but this traditional soup made with sweet ripe plantain, beef liver and coconut milk is a taste sensation.
Try it at
The home of someone's grandma
MOTE DE QUESO
Another main-meal soup, this plate is especially popular at Easter because it is completely meat-free (making it a great choice for vegetarians). It is prepared by cooking ñame (a root vegetable similar to potato) with salty cheese (queso costeño) and lots of onion. Cheesy soup? Yes, please.
Try it at
Cocina de Pepina
CAZUELA DE MARISCOS
Back when the Spanish first arrived, finding a land devoid of olive oil and chickpeas they had to improvise. The delicious result is this super rich casserole chock-full of seafood and cooked in a creamy-coconut sauce.
Try it at
Cocina de Pepina
Marea by Rausch
*for the sake of space this list is focused on main plates. We’ll save snacks and desserts for another time.
A collection of musings, insights and experiences gathered by an energetic and enthusiastic Australian girl loving life in Cartagena, Colombia.