I'm back!! N and I just got back from a whirlwind and off the grid trip around Colombia. We toured a Colombian coffee farm, went paragliding in the mountains Medellin (yes, I flew with the birds!!), snorkeled off the coast of Isla Baru, took multiple salsa lessons, spent hours exploring the colorful streets in the old city of Cartagena, ate tons of ceviche, and celebrated the 5 year anniversary of our friend's marriage. The husband is Colombian and they held their first wedding in Colombia. They decided as a couple that every 5 years they were married, they would organize another ceremony and a trip with their closest friends around the beautiful country. Something to think about doing huh?
The time we spent in Medellin and Isla Baru, we stayed at villas with in-house chefs (definitely the way to go), so this travel guide is solely for Cartagena. If you have one off questions about the other cities or traveling in Colombia in general, feel free to get in touch!
I will also preface this list by saying, traveling with N is quite literally a lifesaver. He speaks English, Spanish, and French so there was no language barrier when explaining my allergies and their severity. That being said, cross-contamination is something that is not yet widely understood and did lead to a few scares along the way. I will highlight the standout spots that not only tasted delicious, but also got the food allergy thing right.
Where to have ceviche in Cartagena
- Cuzco Restaurant - hands down the best ceviche in town. The place is very cute, welcoming, and picturesque. Order the Andino (without corn if you're corn sensitive like me) and you will not be let down. They add avocado and unripe mango. The avocado will keep you satiated longer and the mango adds great texture without too much sweetness. The best part? It always comes without milk. True ceviche is made with a marinade called "leche de Tigre," as someone with a dairy allergy, this name terrifies me. Some people add a bit of condensed milk or cream to create this sauce, however, traditional ceviche does not. "Leche de Tigre" is simply the name for the blend of fish juice (literal juice squeezed out of a fish), lime juice, and onion. That being said, if you have an allergy, always alert your waiter!
- Mixtura - another spot that doesn't add dairy to their traditional ceviche. While this was not my favorite, it was not bad and the menu offers a variety of fusion food for those you may be dining with who want something else.
Date night in Cartagena
- Carmen - Carmen is a well known restaurant across Colombia. In fact, we went to the sister restaurant in Medellin, too! I will admit I preferred the location in Medellin (they were more understanding of food allergies), but the vibe at the one in Cartagena is delightful. They were able to make me my own dish (not on the menu) to suit my dietary needs. I will say the first time, they made it in soybean oil -- however, after called on their bluff, they remade it and it was great.
- Moshi - A part of Carmen, but technically a separate restaurant (they have their own kitchen and a different waitstaff). They were also able to create a Jenna-friendly meal. I actually preferred this one to the one Carmen was able to come up with! The rest of the menu is Japanese fusion, but I will let you know the sushi is not legit (as you can expect). That being said, the vibe is great, the people are understanding, and the wine choices were fab (just don't order wine that was made in Colombia...they're not known for it).
Where to get fruit in Cartagena
- ANYWHERE! Just don't pay full price for it. You can haggle anything down. I found that all the fruit stands would take 1500-2000 Colombian Pesos for a cup of fruit (most ask for 3000-5000 if they think you don't speak the language). I had no problems eating off the street -- have no fear!
Where to stay in Colombia
- Casa Don Sancho by Mustique - this is where N and I stayed and let me tell you, if we go back, we would definitely stay here again. The rates were reasonable, the beds were comfy, they had air conditioning and very modern rooms, a rooftop hot tub with a view of the ocean, a pool, amazing people, and a fab breakfast that was included in the room rate. It's close enough to the center of town that you can walk 2-3 blocks and be where you want to go, but far enough away that it is dead quiet in your room. Their cook was also SO understanding of food allergies. One night, after a failed dinner at the spot the wedding party was eating, we hurried back to catch room service before they closed at 10pm and found ourselves in the kitchen. We explained my allergies and N spotted a bowl of real deal Colombian chicken soup that was not for sale...lol. A half hour later a beautiful salad, Jenna-friendly rice, and a bowl of that soup appeared on our bed. Needless to say we're obsessed with that lady!!
- Casa Pombo - on the pricey side but worth the money if you want to be right in the middle of the action in a truly beautiful house. The whole place can be rented out if you have a big party and they host events -- needless to say, this is where the wedding was held and half of our group stayed.
I could go on forever about how lovely and beautiful this city was, but if I'm being honest, N and I both agreed we could have spent more time on Isla Baru and less time in Cartagena. 3 days here (IMO) is more than enough to explore! The Island on the other hand, is less sightseeing and exploring and more about blissing out, which I know we all could use more of.
Let me know if you're planning a trip to Colombia or another fun locale! I'm always scheming our next adventure.