Strolling down the narrow streets of old Cartagena on a sultry evening evokes a different era. Not so long ago this was one of Latin America’s most thriving trade ports, where merchants brought their goods to market from all over the region. Inevitably, this included all manner of food, and so began Cartagena de Indias’ eclectic fusion of cuisines.
Visitors come to Cartagena for its exquisite colonial architecture and beaches adjacent to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The restaurant scene has become another top reason for making the trip.
Although Colombia’s culinary repertoire is less-revered than those of Peru or Mexico, Cartagena is a notable exception and one of the best foodie cities in South America.
Whether you’re looking for a feast of locally-caught seafood, inspired renditions of other Latin American specialties, Michelin-tier fine dining, or no-nonsense local favorites, Cartagena’s restaurants aim to impress.
We’ve divided our selections between three different districts in the old city: Getsemaní (southeast), San Diego (northeast), and El Centro (west and center). Read on for our list of the best restaurants in Cartagena.
The backpacker hub of old Cartagena, Getsemaní is becoming known for a lot more than cheap hostels and street-side bars. Renowned chefs are opening fine dining restaurants next to street vendors and greasy spoons that serve the same food they have for decades. The laid-back atmosphere tends to attract a younger crowd, but all are welcome in this relaxed neighborhood.
First up is one of the city’s can’t-miss offerings in the bohemian quarter of Getsemaní. Beginning as a project to discover and preserve the culture and cuisine of Colombia’s Caribbean region, Celele’s menu reflects their commitment to local ingredients and dishes of the highest quality.
Co-owners and chefs Jaime Rodríguez and Sebastián Pinzón bring their knowledge and expertise to bear with expertly crafted food and drink. The dishes at Celele highlight the influences of the various immigrant groups to settle here, primarily Spanish, African, and Syrian, alongside those of the indigenous Mocana culture which preceded them.
Although it’s hard to go wrong with your choices, we’d recommend the marlin with yam and the pork confit terrine. Save room for dessert, and go for either the coconut sorbet or the tamarind-infused chocolate cream.
Just around the corner in a stately old mansion is Doña Lola, specializing in Caribbean Creole cuisine. The airy interior is appointed with colonial-era furniture and art, surrounded by a leafy courtyard.
The seafood dishes here are top-notch and draw on influences from Peru and Spain. Start off with sea bass passion fruit tiradito or pork belly plantain croquettes, and move on to the seafood casserole or grilled octopus in coconut milk reduction.
Desserts use local fruit and include uchuva crepes or lulo cheesecake. There is a good wine list and sangria, as well as freshly made fruit juices, served en agua or en leche (water or milk-based).
On the eastern edge of Getsemaní, this restaurant has lovely views of the harbor, and food to match. There’s nothing loony about Lunático, but the nautical theme is notable given the location and food on offer.
Begin your meal with a Caribbean-style tuna ceviche before ordering the sea bass fillet with yucca gnocchi. For dessert, try one of their homemade sorbets, local chocolate, or basque cheesecake with berries. It’s also a nice place for a cocktail at dusk. The tequila-fueled spicy ‘tamarindo’ is the house specialty.
More than a restaurant, Lunático hosts cooking courses in its open kitchen, local rum and chocolate tastings, and food tours to the local Buzarto market to peruse the daily catch.
Sierpe Cocina Caribe
Discreetly tucked away in a modest single-story building is this smart spot that focuses on well-presented seafood small plates. Sierpe has a casual, relaxed atmosphere but serves up dishes you’d expect to find in a far swankier restaurant.
A great place to share several dishes among friends, some appetizer highlights are the grilled octopus in garlic achiote sauce and fish empanadas. Mains include crab meat sliders, salmon and shrimp in coconut curry, and seafood paella in squid ink.
To drink, try the ‘centenario’, made with gin and corozo, a local fruit similar to acai or plum. Alternatively, their coconut lemonade is the perfect thirst quencher.
La Cocina de Pepina
A great spot to enjoy what the locals know and love, La Cocina de Pepina serve costeño classics packed full of flavor. The menu is written on the blackboard in the main dining room, prices are fair, and you’ll be eating with as many Colombians as gringos.
The most popular choices include coconut rice, patacones (fried plantains), ripe avocado, ñame (yam), robalo asado (grilled bass), mote de queso (yam, sour cream and cheese soup with eggplant), and posta cartagenera (beef steak cooked in red wine and onions).
Portions are generous, but make sure to save room for enyucao, a sweetbread made of yucca and coconut. Wash it all down with a tres quince beer, brewed in the neighboring city of Barranquilla.
If La Cocina de Pepina serves a mixed clientele, Restaurante Coroncoro in La Matuna a block north of Getsemaní serves mostly locals and few travelers. They’ve been in business a long, long time and they’ve perfected the classic dishes that locals want to eat.
Expect no-frills, filling Colombian food that focuses more on the standard, local flavors served outside the coastal region. The 10.000 COP ($2 USD) lunch special is a steal and comes with meat, rice, avocado, plantain, beans, and soup.
Other hearty options include sancocho soup with ribs or fish, or grilled chicken and rice. Enjoy your meal with fresh fruit juice, and make sure to specify whether you want sugar or not (con/sin azúcar). This is a true local favorite not to miss.
All around the world, super-food bowls seem to be all the rage. While many of these cookie-cutter enterprises offer decent yet overpriced options, El Bololó makes the most of Colombia’s amazing natural bounty at the right price. In an unassuming hole-in-the-wall spot in Getsemaní, the owner and staff warmly welcome their guests.
Beginning with your choice of coconut rice with beans or squash, you can choose grilled beef, Jamaican jerk chicken, fried fish, or falafel, topped with salad, plantains, and ceviche-marinaded onions.
For their smoothie bowls, you can choose strawberry blackberry, papaya maracuyá, or mango lime, topped with granola. They also make their own kombucha.
If you ask Colombians what their favorite food is, more times than not you will probably be told arepas. This type of bread made with cornmeal has many different varieties, and the debate continues to rage over which region makes them best.
Cartageneros, of course, will claim that their version (thin and stuffed with a filling such as egg for arepa de huevo) is the best one. At Colombitalia Arepas, you can try them and decide for yourself. As the name implies, they offer Italian-inspired options with salami and mozzarella alongside the local classics that come with chorizo, chicken, corn, and cheese.
This is the classic lunch to-go in the Caribbean region of Colombia and Venezuela. Pick one up to eat street-side, or sit inside and enjoy it with a drink.
Cafe San Antonio
There are many brunch spots popping up around town offering solid if uninspiring breakfast options. The food served at coffee shop Cafe San Antonio is a cut above most. Whether you’re after something sweet or savory, they’ve got something to start your day off right.
For something sweet, try the oatmeal pancakes with maple syrup. For savory, try the eggs benedict avocado toast, or the trio of Venezuelan arepas (corn flatbread stuffed with eggs, cheese, meat, beans, or guacamole).
Other options for lunch include quinoa salad, chicken with ratatouille, and shrimp curry. To drink, there are a variety of fresh juices and lemonades, a full range of coffee, and excellent hot chocolate.
The northernmost district in the old city, San Diego offers a more polished and upscale experience for visitors. Stately villas have been restored and converted into museums, boutique hotels and four-star restaurants adjacent to leafy plazas. This is a great place to enjoy Caribbean dining at its most refined.
For special occasions, look no further than Restaurante 1621. Within the Hotel Santa Clara, this restaurant provides a dining experience for a discerning clientele. Named after the year the structure was built for a wealthy merchant family, the grounds retain a colonial-era elegance.
The six-course tasting menus with optional wine pairings at this fine-dining restaurant may include ceviche, prawn risotto, and veal tenderloin in a truffle reduction. Wines are chosen and imported by their sommelier and lean towards Chile, France, and Italy.
Their in-house pastry chef prepares such delicacies as tangerine soup with coconut ice cream, and pastries combining the unique flavors of the local fruit.
For both the ambiance and quality of each dish, Restaurante 1621 offers excellent value.
Restaurante El Gobernador
No less impressive is El Gobernador, located in Bastión Hotel. Featuring an understated yet polished interior and a breezy patio, the focus is clearly on the food and its diners’ experience. Attentive service and knowledgeable staff make this the perfect place to linger over several courses.
The kitchen turns out next-level versions of classic costeño food, often with a twist, such as gruyere cheese with local sea bass, or roasted chilies in squid ink pasta. Flavors are bold but somehow achieve the perfect balance: plenty of saffron in the paella, and prawns marinaded in a coconut milk curry.
Leave room for dessert, when you can choose from rich arequipe pastries, creamy meringue, or decadent 100% cacao cake.
Featuring in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, La Cevicheria has long been a mainstay of Cartagena’s excellent seafood cuisine. True to its name, this place turns out top-quality seafood in its delicious house-made marinades.
Portions are generous, so it’s a good spot for sharing a few things with a group. Recommendations include the fish and shrimp ceviche, peanut sauce octopus, and paella cooked in coconut milk curry. A house specialty is their ‘seafood volcano’: a selection of fish, prawns, and seafood cooked in a clay pot with brandy and vegetables.
Staff are super-friendly and it’s a fun place to spend an evening over drinks on the patio out front enjoying the balmy heat of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
La Vieja Guardia
For expertly-prepared fresh seafood, look no further than La Vieja Guardia. In a colorfully-painted old house is this friendly seafood restaurant serves a wide variety of dishes, from grilled fish to baked seafood casseroles to ceviche. They have one of the best selections of fresh fish, including marlin, sea bass, mahi-mahi, tuna, mackerel, snapper, blue runner, and roach.
Some of their highlights are fried mackerel on coconut rice, grilled prawns on plantain purée, crab risotto, and prawn bisque. They also serve a massive paella with whole lobster. To drink, there’s a two-for-one happy hour special for cocktails. Don’t miss the maracuyá parfait for dessert.
A hidden gem in the upscale San Diego district, La Mulata serves delicious costeño food for those who want to discover the local cuisine. With linoleum tiles and coastal-themed bric-a-brac adorning the walls, its atmosphere matches the excellent dishes on offer.
Start off with a fiery habanero and mango shrimp appetizer, then order the shrimp paella or the catch of the day, usually a choice of bass, crappie, sawfish, or snapper, served with coconut rice. The pork ribs are delicious too if you need a break from all the seafood.
Also a great place to linger over drinks, La Mulata has a good selection of wine, local rum, cocktails, and freshly-made juices.
With similarities to the local costeño cuisine, Cuban food is becoming increasingly popular in the region and beyond. As the name suggests, walking into Cuba 1940 is like stepping back in time to a pre-Castro Cuba of color and exuberance.
The food does not disappoint, and highlights to try are pork belly in passion fruit reduction, seared prawns in spicy homemade sauce, and the famous Cuban sandwich with pork, cheese, and pickles.
The drinks are excellent as well, which include Cuba’s famous rum cocktails, the Cuba libre, daiquiri, and mojito. Evenings often host live music, generally Cuban salsa to match the ambiance. Outdoor seating faces the leafy Plaza de San Diego.
A pleasant surprise in the sun-drenched Caribbean, Montmartre brings its own culinary flair to the Cartagena dining scene. This unassuming restaurant offers a menu of Gallic classics as well as local fusion dishes, with a good selection of wine. Its cozy environs give the impression of dining at a friend’s house.
The kitchen puts out solid French fare as well as some interesting Colombia-inspired twists, including the duck confit empanadas, mushroom croquettes with curry mayonnaise, beef bourguignon in corozo red wine sauce, and sea bass meunière. For dessert, try the banana flambée made with local rum.
Continuing the continental theme, La Tapería showcases classic Spanish tapas that pass the test for authenticity. The cozy interior has only a handful of tables and resembles a family wine cellar. The food and drink menu is written on the blackboard.
Although you can’t go wrong, we rate the imported Spanish serrano ham and chorizo, octopus, and truffle reduction. The Spanish tortilla (potato and egg) is excellent, as is the empanada Gallega with pork and red peppers.
To drink, the house wine, tinto de verano, and sangria are all good complements as you nibble your way through the menu, and the rice pudding is a perfect end to the meal.
Restaurante La Única
This well-regarded establishment has locations in Mexico and Madrid in addition to Cartagena and is the best choice for upscale Mexican dining. La Única is located in a restored colonial mansion with plenty of natural light and a leafy interior.
As a starter, choose between either the shrimp aguachile or the tortilla soup. For your main, go for the lobster taco, roasted bone marrow, ribeye molcajete, or shrimp with guajillo chili.
The expert bar staff whip up perhaps the best margaritas in Colombia, with a variety of unusual renditions available. They also feature customizable gin tonics with your choice of tea and botanicals. Evenings feature live bands playing traditional Mexican mariachi and banda music.
Comprising the western and central parts of Cartagena’s walled city, El Centro is home to impressive cathedrals, historic plazas, excellent museums, and plenty of amazing food. The district is upscale and it’s a wonderful area to walk around. Beyond its famous attractions, it also has its share of hidden culinary treasures waiting to be found.
Tucked inside the San Agustin Hotel, Alma offers one of Cartagena’s premier dining experiences. The staff is friendly and attentive, the interior bright and airy, and the food is just as good as the ambiance. The shaded courtyard provides the perfect respite from the midday heat.
For the appetizer, choose from the ceviche eljach with fish, shrimp, and octopus, the tuna tartare, or the octopus carpaccio. Next, try the oxtail risotto or the seafood casserole in coconut milk reduction.
The staff will be happy to match wine or cocktails to each dish. Make sure to save space for dinner and go with the ‘Colombia’: a decadent mix of dark chocolate, Colombian coffee, vanilla ice cream, local fruits, and palm sugar liqueur.
Mar y Zielo
Another star in Cartagena’s dining constellation, Mar y Zielo treats its guests to an outstanding experience of top-notch costeño fusion. Choose to sit in the well-appointed dining room on the ground floor or on the rooftop terrace, and start off with a perfectly mixed cocktail made by their knowledgeable bartenders.
Start off with their crab croquettes or Pacific whitefish in spicy coconut broth with guava and grapefruit sorbet before moving on to roast goat with yam purée or the octopus, shrimp, and pancetta in tamarind sauce. The presentation of dishes is as exquisite as their flavor.
For dessert, treat yourself to the ice cream with salted caramel and crispy cheese or the banana cake with mango sorbet in a pineapple and coconut foam soup.
El Baluarte San Francisco Javier
As much an experience for its location and vistas as for its great food and drink, El Baluarte San Francisco is a popular choice for an unhurried dinner with good company. With some of the best views of the old town, coastal walls, and the Caribbean Ocean, plus the cooling evening breeze, this is the perfect dinner spot.
You can begin with some Colombian aguardiente, their most popular liquor, with the fish ceviche in tiger’s milk or the fried burrata. Steak lovers will delight in their picanha black angus rump roast, and others will the catch of the day either grilled or fried. After eating, linger over a digestif, more aguardiente, or a carafe of sangria.
Mirador Gastro Bar
Another place with a great rooftop terrace is Mirador Gastro Bar. No mere bar, Mirador specializes in set menus featuring seafood and beef. The first floor is a rustic lounge with high-arched doorways, and the spacious rooftop offers views of the surrounding colonial architecture.
Guests can choose from a seafood, meat, and vegetarian menu, which features such dishes as shrimp risotto in squid ink, grilled tenderloin topped with crispy onion rings on a bed of potato purée, and portobello risotto. Their cocktails are impressive too, featuring a full range of Colombian rum.
They serve a premium breakfast as well, including your choice of pancakes, benedicts, and fruit bowls, as well as a full range of coffee.
Buena Vida Marisqueria
A special entry among Cartagena’s seafood restaurants, Buena Vida Marisqueria sets itself apart with its creative, crowd-pleasing dishes not found on other menus. Spread over two floors, the rooftop is a nice spot for an evening meal overlooking the Plaza de los Estudiantes.
Their sharing menu includes a fried plantain crust pizza with costeño cheese, avocado, and ham, and crab and shrimp nachos. Other great options are the whole red snapper cooked in coconut milk with crispy fried leek, and the ‘raise the dead’ sancocho soup, presumably a hangover cure.
To drink, they’ve got a variety of micheladas (beer mixed with fruit juice and spices), as well as tamarind, mandarin, and orange mimosas.
Cuzco Cocina Peruana
Offering possibly the most authentic Peruvian food in Cartagena, Cuzco Cocina Peruana sets itself apart with its fresh ingredients and attention to detail. The courtyard seating surrounds a small pool, and the walls are adorned with their impressive collection of wine.
Start with one of the causas (Peruvian seafood and potato salad) and the fish and truffle tiradito (citrus-marinaded carpaccio), and then go for the tenderloin cooked in chicha morada (sweet corn drink) or the acevichado, a rice dish with assorted ceviche seafood.
For dessert don’t miss the Lima classic suspiro limeño made with caramel-like manjar and meringue. To drink, ask for a wine recommendation, or a cocktail made with pisco, Peru’s national spirit.
Standing out from other restaurants in the area, Pezetarian has found a niche for its delicious seafood-based small plates. This little eatery focuses on a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors using local ingredients, and the results are stunning.
They specialize in ceviche, amazing salads, and creative sushi rolls. Try the acevichado sushi roll, made with whitefish ceviche and avocado, or their shrimp and calamari bowl with lots of veggies and ginger coconut sauce.
Another winner is the carrot and beetroot noodles with fruit and either peanut or sesame sauce. Stop by for breakfast to enjoy the scrambled eggs with roasted peppers, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes with arepa.
Quebracho Parrilla Argentina
At the west end of El Centro, carnivores should head to the best Argentine asado in the city, Quebracho Parrilla Argentina. Walking in off the street, you may forget you’re in Cartagena and not Buenos Aires, with tango music playing, art and memorabilia on the walls, and the grill front and center for diners to observe.
The star of the show is obviously the prime cuts of beef, with the churrasco and bife de chorizo standing out, all cooked to order. Also recommended are the empanadas, onion soup cooked with sherry and parmesan, and the tender osso buco. The meal would be incomplete without a bottle of Argentine malbec wine.
Los Tacos del Gordo
The aptly-named Los Tacos del Gordo serves up tacos worthy of any Mexican street stall. While they may not help with your waistline, they’re the ideal quick fix for lunch on the go. Located in a hole-in-the-wall in the center of town, the focus is firmly on what they do best.
They’ve got all the classic tacos, including al pastor (roast pork), birria (marinaded beef), tinga de pollo (shredded chicken with tomatoes and chipotle peppers), and pescado a lo ensenada (fried fish), and the meal isn’t complete without some totopo chips with guacamole and pico de gallo.
They also make perfect quesadillas and chorizo chilaquiles. To drink, have a margarita, one of their mezcal cocktails, or a cold Corona.
Ready to go to Colombia? We’ve got a full set of itineraries to help you plan your trip, as well as a guide to the best hotels in the country and this guide to the best things to do in Cartagena and day trips outside of the city.