Cartagena, Colombia has impressive bragging rights that include its distinction as a UNESCO world heritage site and the former home of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Romance, food and dancing are probably the city’s main three attractions and not necessarily in that order. Cartagena plays hosts to an abundance of talented chefs who have flocked to the city for its thriving tourism and wonderful location. Know for its ceviche, a raw fish dish doused in chili and lemon, Cartagena boasts exquisite dining. Here are the top restaurants to try.
Restaurant, Caribbean, Peruvian, Seafood, Soup, South American, Vegetarian, Gluten-free, $$$
Ceviche are everywhere in Cartagena; street vendors sell them in plastic cups, roadside cafes will try and pass them through the window of your car and high-end restaurants serve them on oversized plates. But come to this place for the crème de la crème of ceviche, the best you will find in all of Cartagena. La Cevicheria is small and well-hidden but can be located by the din made by customers sat at its outdoor tables. You can also go inside and perch on high bar-like chairs and if you’re still peckish after the ceviche then try the pesto and sesame octopus salad.
This place is found in Getsemani, a scruffy area outside the city walls, which throbs to the beat of reggae and salsa music. It is a backpacker’s heaven as a result of the cheap hostels, busy bars and noisy dancehal. Travellers and locals spill out of cafes onto the streets, where buskers keep them entertained. If you fancy stepping back from the action, then head to Malagana’s rooftop bar where you can observe the streets over a cool margarita. Chef Danielle offers a varied and delicious menu which ranges from steak, to seafood pasta and tropical fruit juices.
Head to the stunning Plaza Santo Domingo where horses and carriages trot past a shining Botero sculpture and tourists mingle outside a faded orange convent. Sit at one of Paco’s outside tables and breathe in the life of Cartegna’s old city whilst devouring a generous portion of chorizo-heavy paella. This is also one of the best places to sip a coconut lemonade, Cartagena’s most refreshing specialty.
DonJuan is popular with Colombian politicians, including the president himself. The restaurant’s practiced chef has fried steak and grilled sea bass for Juan Manuel Santos on a number of occasions. It’s worth making a reservation as the place fills with hungry customers soon after doors open. The appetizers, puff pastry, bruschetta, octopus and ceviche will be enough to whet your appetite, but remember to leave room for a tasty pudding of chocolate fondant or red fruit crumble.
It’s not hard to find Peruvian food in Colombia, but if you want it at its best then La Perla is the place. The menu bursts with choice, offering crispy skinned suckling pig, sirloin steak on creamy rice and tuna tiraditos. The Peruvian chef Carlos Accinelli works closely with owner Roberto Carrascal to keep the menu fresh. Let your eyes flicker down the cocktail list, designed by Carrascal himself to contemplate green mango mojitos, pisco sour maracuyas and martinis made of Tanqueray Gin, vodka, lemon and Blue Curaçao.
If you want to go upmarket, then head for Tcherassi Hotel’s classy Vera restaurant. Tcherassi was built as the first fashion hotel in South America and has a 40-seat Italian restaurant which is frequented by stylish locals in ironed linen. Chef Daniel Castano provides the taste of Italian coastal cuisine with his tuna carpaccios and seafood risotto, the fact that Vera has won a certificate of excellence is testament to his culinary skill.
You may think you’re in New York as you guzzle a lychee rose cocktail in this plush three-roomed restaurant. The ‘Mirador’ roof terrace, home to hypnotic views and an ocean breeze, is the ideal spot for romance. Enjoy a light appetizer of salmon and avocado, follow it up with sirloin steak or spicy red snapper, accompanied by a cool white Chocalan chardonnay.
German mixologist and barman Noah Matthies has travelled the world in search of the best cocktail. He knows what it takes to create a cool glass of boozy bliss and cleverly combines heady spirits with fresh local fruit. Highlights include his fiery paprika laced Margarita and the ‘Gin Basil Smash’ a whisky sour formula with an added touch of rosemary. The kitchen offers a small selection of culinary creations such as fresh tomato soup, focaccia bread and seafood bisque.
The spicy Indonesian food on offer here might provide a welcome change from all that Colombian fish, plantain and rice. The charming owner Gerard may or may not let you know that all the profits go to a local children’s charity that he runs, the prices are modest so sit back, loosen your belt, and order a feast.