Wandering the crooked colonial streets of Cartagena after a day spent on the white sand Caribbean beach tends to work up an appetite. The good news is that this jewel of a city also sparkles with restaurants and vendors where Colombia’s incredible meal options are readily available.
Few Caribbean cruise destinations offer such diversity of food. In fact, deciding what to eat while you are here might be the only problem you are going to have in Cartagena. This is why we created this list of 10 must-try items to point you in the right direction.
Light, flaky and full of flavor, Mojarra is the most popular fish eaten on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and makes a delicious entrée for either lunch or dinner. Most restaurants in Cartagena’s historic center offer Mojarra pan-fried and served with patacones (flattened plantains), rice and salad.
Unlike larger fish, which are served in filets, Mojarra usually gets served whole on the plate. Locals eat almost every part of the fish until all that’s left is a small pile of bones!
2. Mondongo Soup
Similar to Mexican menudo, Colombia’s mondongo is a thick, hearty stew based around tripe – the tender meat of a cow’s stomach – and chunks of pork. Served with avocado or banana on the side, Mondongo can be found in most traditional-style restaurants in Cartagena, especially in places that specialize in steaks and meat.
3. Pan de Bono
A favorite all across the country, Pan de Bono is a savory pastry made with yucca flour and cheese that has a fluffy but filling consistency. Pan de Bono can be found at any panaderia (bakery) in Cartagena and is often served in the mornings, alongside piping hot coffee.
4. Posta Negra Cartagenera
A traditional Caribbean coast meat dish, the Posta Negra Cartagenera is a juicy cut of round roast cooked in a delicious black sauce spiced with cumin, cloves, coca cola and raw sugar. The result is a tender and attractive dish that will please anyone with a love of robust flavor. Posta Negra Cartagenera is served throughout the city and is easy to find; usually served with rice, patacones and salad.
5. Colombian Empanadas
A staple of daily living all across Colombia, empanadas are made from wrapping a corn shell around tasty ingredients and then deep fried until it’s crisp and hot. Usually stuffed with potatoes, veggies and beef, you will find empanadas just about everywhere you go in Cartagena; both as street food and bakeries. Usually eaten as an in-between meal or a late night snack, empanadas can’t be beaten – especially when topped with a bit of aji (spicy sauce).
6. Arepas de Queso
Ready for another Colombian snack that will have you writing rave reviews? Wait until you sink your teeth into an arepa de queso. Fresh corn dough stuffed with cheese and grilled over an open flame, arepas de queso will delight the whole family.
You can find arepas de queso sold on the street all over Cartagena, especially in the evening when they are served alongside chorizo by street vendors.
7. Tres Leches Cake
When it’s time to satisfy that sweet tooth, nothing in Cartagena is going to do it better than a fat slice of Tres Leches Cake. Made with three different milks – evaporated, heavy cream and sweetened condensed – this cake is rich and creamy and will have the kids begging for more. You can find tres leches at most bakeries in Cartagena. Many restaurants also serve it on their dessert menu as well.
The hot, humid weather of the Caribbean coast of Colombia makes ceviche a light and fresh choice for lunch or an afternoon snack. Unlike Peruvian or Mexican style ceviches, which are made from lime-cured fish, Colombia’s ceviche is made with boiled shrimp, similar to what is called a shrimp cocktail in the United States. In Cartagena, ceviche is sold along the beach in small stands or in restaurants that specialize in seafood. Ask them about the different sauces that are available.
9. Arroz con Coco
Coconut rice is a coastal specialty that is served alongside most seafood dishes in Cartagena. In many places, you might have to ask for it to be swapped for the white rice but it’s definitely worth it! Made by slow cooking coconut milk and shredded coconut into steamed rice, this simple but completely mind-blowingly delicious side order adds a whole other dimension to standard fish dishes.
10. Colombian Coffee
As the major cruise ship port in a nation known for producing some of the best coffee on earth, Cartagena has tons of places where you can try a fresh cup. From gourmet cafes that perfectly press out an espresso shot to street vendors with thermoses steaming with tinto (black filtered coffee), you will find the streets of Cartagena are filled with the wonderful aroma of this dark bean. Cartagena is also a great place to buy coffee by the pound to take home with you.
Need More Reasons to Book a Cruise to Cartagena?
While Cartagena food is amazing it’s just one of the many reasons to take a cruise to this historic port city. Other stand out things to do in Cartagena include basking on the beach, visiting romantic and historic sites and shopping till you drop. Of course, with all the amazing Colombian food fueling your adventure, it’s going to be a sensory experience of epic proportions.