If you’re reading this, it means food is essential to you.
And so, you’ll be delighted to hear that I discovered a delicious street food tour in Cartagena that will leave you with a full stomach and a smile on your face.
In this humongous food experience, Alejandra and I joined Andrea, a chef who wants to open her restaurant one day.
Bring your fork and come with us to discover all the Cartagena specialties we ate during this tour.
At the end of this article, you’ll find my food glossary. So read the entire post!
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Street food tour: overview
- Duration: 2h30
- Where: Walled city
- Tasty stops: At least 9
- My opinion: A gastronomic journey that takes you to unpretentious shops, only known by the people of Cartagena de Indias. Don’t eat breakfast and bring a second stomach.
- Book it here (Free cancellation on GYG).
1# A Cartagena Food tour where you eat a lot
“Don’t eat breakfast before coming.”
It was the last recommendation I’ve got from María (the owner).
Wanna know why?
It’s because we did 11 stops, whether to eat or drink something.
Depending on the day of the food tour, the number of stops will change. In any case, there will be at least 7 dishes and 2 drinks.
- This tour is for food lovers. You don’t come here to make a diet.
2# You’ll taste best Cartagena’s specialties
Since 2015, I have been able to do several street food tours (Bogotá, Medellín, Cali). Usually, agencies want you to discover the famous dishes of Colombia. In most cases, you go to a local market to taste exotic fruits and then two empanadas and one buñelo.
It won’t be the case here.
You’ll eat like a local from Cartagena.
In your hometown, I bet you know where the best burgers are. Or baguette (if you’re French).
After this tour, you’ll know where are the best:
- Shrimp cocktails
- Patacones with Costeño cheese
- Palenque’s sweeties
- Empanada china (yep, it does exist!)
- Mango Biche
- Sancocho de tienda (Pandequeso + Kola Roman)
- Arepa de huevo
- Corozo juice
3# Culinary influence from around the world
Since its creation, nationalities from all over the world have passed through the port of Cartagena: French pirates, slaves from Central Africa, Spanish traders, Lebanese immigrants, American tourists…
This inevitably had an impact on the food.
- Kibbe is a Lebanese specialty.
- Frying food comes from Africa.
- The legend says that dutchmen brought coffee.
For each stop, Andrea explained what we had in our hands and why it is cooked the way it is.
In my opinion, associating a story with a flavor is an excellent way to remember a dish.
4# You get a glimpse of the local life in Cartagena
Cartagena is a magnificent city. But if you only visit the historical center and the hotels of Rosario, you will only have a superficial version of Colombia. They are meant to make the foreign tourist dream.
During this street food tour, I stopped at places I had never noticed (although I stayed more than 2 months in total).
Many locals work in the old city center, but they can’t afford to eat at expensive restaurants.
Where do they go?
They line up in the shade of a tree to enjoy delicious patacones. Or they whistle at the guy who carries 5 coffee pots to order a tinto. You’ll also find them waiting for a free refill (ñapa) in front of the fresh lemon juice vendor.
5# A Cartagena food tour where you to listen to stories
Behind each plate, there is a story.
Nidia started her small business of Schrimp cocktails more than 55 years ago. Every day, she chooses the best shrimp at the Bazurto market and sells her dishes on the Avenida Venezuela. Don’t bother asking her for her recipe. She won’t give it to you.
The patacón (one of Aleja’s favorite dishes) is named that way in Colombia because it looks like its first coin: Round and yellow.
Kola Román is one of the oldest sodas in the world (before the famous Coca-Cola!). It was created in Cartagena then bought by Coca-cola. It tastes like chewing gum to me.
Sorry, I was eating. You too?
6# It’s a leisurely walking tour
The advantage of Cartagena de Indias is that everything is concentrated in the same areas (Walled city & Getsemaní).
My meeting point was under the Torre del Reloj. From there, I didn’t walk more than 4 minutes before waiting for the next bite.
7# It’s worth your money
The price of this street food tour is higher than other street food tours in Colombia.
From what I could see, the price difference is explained by:
- The size of the group: No more than 10 people. Usually 4-6.
- The organization: Andrea told us the stories while another staff member bought us the food.
- Quality and quantity: You won’t have to share 5 cheap empanadas and 2 pieces of fruit. In this tour, everyone gets a personal portion.
8# They know what they do
Maria (the owner) is a foodie. Andrea (our local chef) is obviously a foodie. I’m pretty sure Maria’s dog is a foodie too.
My point is that they created this tour because they love eating.
This passion has allowed them to win 2 national prizes and 3 international awards (Luxury Travel Guide Awards, Travel, and Hospitality Awards & Best Restaurant Tour and Cooking Experience).
9# A tasty food glossary
Most of the dishes I’ve mentioned in this article must have seemed unfamiliar (or even strange) to you.
Here is my food glossary.
It is a mixture of bulgur wheat, beef, and onions. The whole thing is fried and shaped like a small rugby ball.
The shrimp are boiled and mixed with onions, garlic water, chili, ketchup, and mayonnaise. It’s as good as it seems weird.
In Cartagena, it’s an economical way for locals to eat seafood.
It is a short coffee, made with low-quality beans (Colombia used to export all the good beans) and very sweet. Locals love it that way!
Crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside (like me :D). It’s a piece of plantain that is fried, then crushed, then bathed in garlic water, and fried again (for a short time).
It’s not the healthiest dish, but it’s delicious, especially with a queso costeño (salty cheese from the coast).
San Basilio de Palenque is a city created by runaway slaves. To earn an income, the women began to make sweets from coconuts and sugar (lots of it to keep them longer). In Cartagena, there is a place known as El portal de los dulces —in front of the Torre del Reloj. There, you can eat cocadas, alegrías, Panelitas de leche, Caballito (with papaya) and more!
The traditional empanada is a fried corn dough filled with all kinds of ingredients. It is the most common snack in Colombia.
I loved the one on our tour because the owner used wheat instead of corn and added mashed carrots, potatoes & salchichón to the filling. It gives a delicious sweet taste.
There are many varieties of mango in Colombia. Some are ideal to be eaten with lemon, salt, and pepper.
Arepa de Huevo
The arepa is a mixture of cornflour and egg that is fried. Then, a small incision is made to insert a raw egg before it goes back into the boiling oil. It’s one of the most emblematic dishes on the Colombian Caribbean coast.
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Alternative tours you can do in Cartagena
If you are not interested in street food, you can decide to go to the Bazurto market and taste the same dishes as Anthony Bourdain (the world-famous chef).
Another option is to book a cooking class. This will allow you to continue eating Colombian specialties when you get home!
The Bottom line
As you have just read, this street food tour will allow you to discover a new facet of Cartagena. The guides are chefs who love their work and want to transmit their passion. They will make you taste more than a dozen specialties while telling you the stories of each dish.
Last tips for enjoying this experience:
- Don’t hesitate to ask your local guide about his/her favorite restaurants in Cartagena.
- Do this tour as soon as you arrive. You’ll be able to come back to your favorite spots!
- Be hungry.
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