OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A delicious DIY street food tour of Cartagena for under $10

There are few better ways to acquaint yourself with a new country than through its cuisine, and sampling traditional street food is always my favourite way to experience unique flavours and local delicacies as soon as I arrive. Unfortunately, I found myself fairly underwhelmed as I travelled through the central regions of Colombia, faced with lacklustre slabs of meat and truly uninspiring accompaniments (thanks to Ecuador, I now know what can be done with a simple banana, but apparently Colombia does not).

Cartagena is a totally different story, though. With its unique blend of Afro-Caribbean and European influence, this coastal city delivers all the wild flavour combinations, tropical treats, and unusual pairings that you could ever want. Amidst colourful buildings that overflow with flowers, street vendors churn out little bowls of tart ceviche, enormous patacones (it turns out Colombia does know what to do with a banana!), salty mangoes, traditional arepas, and SO many other tasty treats. Allow this guide to take you on a spectacular DIY food tour of Colombia’s sultry Caribbean paradise, all for under $10!

1 | ceviche in Cartagena

Featuring heavily on menus from Mexico and Ecuador to Peru and Chile, ceviche is probably reason alone to travel through Latin America— if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, prepare to be absolutely blown away by the intense combination of raw seafood cured in lime juice, served with tangy red onions and sweet plantains or corn for a bit of crunch. In Cartagena, street vendors will usually toss on some fresh avocado as well, making it one of my favourite dishes OF ALL TIME.

You can sample some of Colombia’s best ceviche at restaurants all over the city (I especially recommend La Mulata and Cebiches Seviches), but for a delicious meal at a small fraction of the price, it’s hard to beat street ceviche!

Where to try | Coctelería y Cervecería La Nacional OR Ostreria Sincelejo; both off Avenida Venezuela, near Torre del Reloj in the walled city

Cost | 6,000COP ($2AUD) for a small cup

Ceviche Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Fresh ceviche in Cartagena

2 | arepas in Cartagena

A Colombian classic served hot off outdoor grills around the country, arepas are delicious cornmeal pancakes stuffed with salty cheese, eggs, or even ground meat, their exterior just slightly crisp and their interior perfectly soft. You’ll find them in a variety of textures, densities, and sizes, topped with a wide assortment of sauces or sometimes just lathered with butter— there really is an arepa for every occasion.

This is also one of the cheapest snacks you’ll find in Cartagena, as perfect for breakfast as they are for desert. Sample a few from different vendors around the city to get an appreciation for the taste and versatility of the arepa!

Where to try | literally everywhere!

Cost | 2,000COP (less than $1AUD)

Arepas Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Arepas

3 | mango biche in Cartagena

An unexpected Colombian delight that completely captured my stomach was mango biche: under-ripe, green-tinged slices of mango seasoned with salt and lime, served up in a little cup as the perfect finger-food treat.

Salt and fruit may not be an obvious flavour combination, but it really is spectacular in this instance, the salty-sweet tang additionally complimented by the firm texture of the unripe fruit. In the sticky Caribbean heat, it’s also the perfect refreshment!

Where to try | anywhere, particularly around the Torre del Reloj

Cost | 2,000COP (less than $1AUD)

Mango Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Street vendors selling mango

4 | cocada de coco in Cartagena

If you’re craving something truly sweet (and not just salty-sweet), a cocada de coco will more than satisfy ANY sweet tooth. This gooey coconut cookie is held together with milk, coconut water, a bit of cinnamon, and so much sugar that you’ll practically keel over on the first bite— it’s incredibly delicious if you like coconut, but a few bites will absolutely be enough!

Where to try | From any of the dozens of vendors along Portal de los Dulces

Cost | 1,000COP ($0.35AUD)

Cocada cookie Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Cocado, a coconut cookie

5 | jugo in Cartagena

Like most Latin American cities, Cartagena is full of vendors squeezing and blending fresh fruit to make fantastic tropical juices in every imaginable combination.

While you can’t go wrong with a classic jugo de naranja (orange juice), you can also spice it up with local favourites like granadilla, guanábana, and lulo or even try a traditional Colombian lemonade made with limón mandarino, an interesting hybrid between a lime and a mandarin.

Where to try | absolutely anywhere!

Cost | 3,000COP ($1AUD)

Jugo fruit juice Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Fresh fruit juice in Cartagena

6 | patacones con queso in Cartagena

I absolutely loved the little patacones served alongside steak or pork ribs in Ecuador, so I was delighted to find that patacones are equally popular in Colombia, only in a much larger form.

Here, deep fried plantains are flattened into a large yellow fritter and served with a hunk of salty queso costeño, making for another wonderful combination of salty and sweet, crunchy and soft. It’s incredibly filling, so plan to share!

Where to try | Try one of the food stalls on Carrera 7, just in front of the restaurant Pezetarian

Cost | 2,000COP (less than $1AUD)

Patacones con queso Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Patacones con queso

7 | cóctel de camarónes in Cartagena

It should come as no surprise that Cartagena has some of the country’s finest seafood, and it’s certainly not limited to ceviche. Another one of my favourite street food options is cóctel de camarónes (shrimp cocktail): tiny fresh-caught shrimp seasoned with herbs, lemon, and cocktail sauce, all mixed with onion and served with salty crackers. It’s incredibly cheap and SO delicious.

Where to try | There are heaps of vendors along Bocagrande or off Avenida Venezuela, near Torre del Reloj in the walled city

Cost | 6,000COP ($2AUD) for a small cup

Shrimp cocktail Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Vendors selling fresh shrimp cocktail

8 | coffee in Cartagena

Colombia is the world’s 3rd largest coffee producer, following only Brazil and Vietnam in terms of export quantity. And although the so-called “Coffee Axis” or Eje Cafeteria in the south of Colombia may be the best-known region to sample coffee directly from the farm, there are plenty of phenomenal cafes in Cartagena brewing up local Colombian coffee in ever-inventive styles.

Where to try | For the last item on this list, make an exception and pop into an actual cafe— I highly recommend San Alberto on Calle de Los Santos de Piedra

Cost | 6,000COP ($2AUD) for a small coffee or cold brew

Coffee cafe Cartagena Colombia DIY street food tour
Sipping some of Colombia’s best coffee

Read more about Colombia

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIKING & CAMPING IN TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK

WATERFALLS, HAMMOCKS & COFFEE FINCAS: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MINCA, COLOMBIA

9 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA’S MOST INNOVATIVE CITY

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING GUATAPÉ AS A DAY TRIP FROM MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA

13 ESSENTIAL THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT COMUNA 13 & WHY YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TO VISIT

11 AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN SAN GIL: A GUIDE TO COLOMBIA’S ADVENTURE CAPITAL

THE BEST DAY TRIPS & EXCURSIONS FROM SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA