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Colombia isn’t known for its food, but discovering its many flavours is an adventure in itself. 

If someone asks you what you want for dinner, it’s unlikely you’re going to think, “mmm, I definitely fancy Colombian food tonight!”. Well – unless you’ve been to Colombia, that is.

If you’re yet to begin your Colombia travels, you probably haven’t even tried Colombian food before. And that’s okay – it’s hard to find outside of Colombia. But, once you’ve experienced the food scene in Colombia, you might be left wondering why.

Perhaps it’s because we’re all so obsessed with the Colombian coffee, but Colombia’s food is one of the most underrated cuisines in the whole world. 

 

 

 

I arrived for my 10 days trip to Colombia expecting to eat only for necessity. I hadn’t even thought about food. After all, if it’s not well-known outside of Colombia, it couldn’t be that good… right? 

Wrong! I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole world of Colombian snacks, drinks and fruits to devour. And, while some of them resemble food commonly found throughout South America, many of them were completely unique. Plus, the foods that did originate elsewhere always came with their own Colombian spin. 

Colombian food is as colourful and fun as the country itself, so don’t be scared to tuck in. In fact – you definitely should. Here’s what to expect of the food in Colombia and how to enjoy it.

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foodie guide to eating in Colombia

 

 

What to eat in Colombia

Some destinations are as famous for their food as they are for their history, landscapes or wildlife. Travellers flock to places like Thailand, Mexico and Vietnam for the food as much as anything else. 

In other places, food is nothing more than a necessity. Eating is nothing more than something you have to do each day. Maybe it’s even a distraction from enjoying the destination itself.

And then there are the destinations that aren’t known for their food – but probably should be. In my experience, Colombia falls firmly into that category, earning its spot alongside places like Dusseldorf in Germany, Tbilisi in Georgia and Scotland’s Aberdeenshire

While that means you’re in for a true treat in Colombia, it likely means you’ll have no idea where to start when it comes to choosing what to eat in Colombia. And, even though this Colombian food guide covers the drinks, snacks and restaurants I think you shouldn’t miss, there’s plenty more to try. 

 

 

 

My advice? Arrive in Colombia with an open mind. Bring a little Spanish as well, if you can. It will help you figure out the Colombian street food that I haven’t mentioned here. 

But, most of all, don’t be afraid to try things. It’s easy to stick with the (fairly) familiar in Colombia, but doing so would be a mistake.



A cabinet of empanadas for sale on the streets of Cartagena Colombia


5 Colombian street foods and snacks to try

Colombia isn’t as famous for its street food as other countries, but don’t let that put you off. Colombian street food will be some of the best food you try during your trip!

Although Colombian street food is just as delicious (and way more underrated) than street food in other countries, it can be harder to try. 

 

 

 

For a start, Colombia street food vendors don’t tend to gather in one central market or central location, like they do in places like Taiwan. They also rarely have any signs or indication of what the food is. If you don’t speak Spanish, that can make trying the street food extra intimidating. 

Below, I’ve listed my five favourite Colombian snacks to try on the street. But don’t think that’s all there is! There are many other Colombian street foods to try and I highly recommend giving them a chance when you get the opportunity.


RELATED READ: 9 Things to avoid in Colombia (hint: the street food isn’t one of them).


Arepas

Probably the most Colombian food you can try, it won’t be hard to find arepas anywhere you go. 

Whatever your Colombia itinerary has in store for you, arepas will be easy to come by – even in the most remote places in Colombia. 

This maize-based snack consists of deep-fried cornmeal dough and can be served plain or with a number of toppings. In Cartagena, your arepas may be cooked with egg, while many regions serve arepas topped with a block of cream cheese. 

 

 

 

Colombians eat arepas with most of their dishes, as well as in between meals. Each region has its own take on this quintessential staple, so try them in different regions if you can. 

My personal favourite was the arepa de chóclo that you’ll find everywhere in the highlands. It’s more buttery and crispy than arepas from other parts of Colombia (and probably much more unhealthy, too!). 


A Colombian breakfast consisting of arepas de choclo, scrmabled eggs a pastry
Arepas de chóclo are great as part of a traditional Colombian breakfast

 

 

Patacones

Order a meal at any restaurant in Colombia, and it will probably come with patacones. But, you can also buy these Colombian favourites on the street – and they make a perfect snack when you’re on the go!

Patacones are flat patties made from green plantain that have been fried to deliciousness. They’re a perfect blend of sweet and savoury, and can be topped with avocado or hagao, a creole sauce made of tomato and onion. 

Patacones taste best when they’re freshly friend and made to order, so eating them on the street is usually best. Like arepas, you’ll likely experience different types in different regions. 


A blue plate with a patacon and queso on it in the street in Cartagena Colombia
Patacones always taste best when they’re freshly fried on the street – like this one in Cartagena

Empanadas

If you’ve travelled anywhere else in South America, you’ve probably already tried empanadas. Heck, you don’t even need to venture that far south – they’re also pretty popular in the United States and Europe now.

But, until you visit Colombia, you haven’t tried Colombian empanadas.

While these filling street snacks look just like their neighbouring counterparts, their taste is completely unique. Colombian empanadas are usually fried rather than baked (like the ones you may have enjoyed in Argentina or Chile). 

That means they’re probably less healthy, but it’s best to ignore that… ahem. 

 

 

 

If you try one type of empanada in Colombia, make it an empanada de bocadillo con queso. I’m usually a greater fan of savoury empanadas, but this sweet treat may be my favourite type of all. I told you Colombian food is surprisingly good, didn’t I? 

Empanadas de bocadillo con queso are usually eaten as dessert in Colombia. I say they’re good at any time of day. At their best, they’re a warm, fluffy pasty filled with guava jam and cheese.

If you’re thinking that sounds miss-able, rest assured that I had my doubts about it too. I tried it more out of curiosity than desire. But, boy, am I glad I did! These empanadas are completely unmissable if you happen upon them. Which you likely will since empanada stands are everywhere in Colombia! 


Empanadas de bocadillo con queso in Cartagena Colombia
This gooey guava goodness = an absolute must try

(Cócteles de) ceviche

Another popular South American food, ceviche isn’t exclusive to Colombia. 

But, as you’ve probably guessed, Colombia has its very own unique take on it. 

In Colombia, ceviche comes as a cóctel (cocktail), and this description couldn’t be more apt. Colombian ceviche contains tomato sauce, as well as lime juice, garlic and Tabasco. It’s certainly not dry!

And then there’s the seafood itself. While Peruvian and Ecuadorian ceviche is little more than fish, Colombian ceviche uses little fish at all.

 

 

 

Fish is surprisingly hard to come by in Colombian ceviche. Instead, you can try an eclectic range of seafood in your ceviche: sting ray, octopus, clams, oyster, crab and a number of other interesting options.

If you spend any time in Cartagena, head to Cócteleria Erika for some of the best ceviche around. This street stand’s modest facade hides its 25 years of experience and restaurant-quality servings well. And with prices starting at 4,000 COP (around $1 USD), you can try this popular Colombian street food without making a dent in your budget.


Cóctel de ceviche at Cocteleria Erika in Cartagena Colombia
I chose the smallest portion available, which costs less than $1 USD.

Cassava bread

Cassava bread is a staple in the Ecuadorian Amazon, but it’s also popular in the Caribbean region of Colombia. 

It’s hard to describe because it’s quite possibly the most tasteless food in the entire world. That said, the texture is pretty satisfying.

 

 

 

Eating cassava break is a bit like eating fluffy paper. I realise that doesn’t sound too appealing, which is why it’s wise to add some kind of topping. 

You’ll find both sweet and savoury options at street food stalls in Colombia, but I recommend trying a guava jam with it if you can. Yes, I’m a little bit obsessed with that stuff…


Cassava break for sale at a street stand in Cartagena Colombia


The best Colombian fruit 

Did you know that Colombia has some of the most interesting and diverse fruits in the world? When you arrive in Colombia, it won’t be long before you quickly stumble across them.

To an untrained tourist eye, these fruits generally fall into two categories: those that look like unhealthy versions of fruits we already know and those that don’t look like food at all. 

And that’s what makes trying Colombian fruits so fun! 

If you’re interested in food, I highly recommend joining a food tour to learn more about the local fruits. Check out some of these short tours and classes for a more immersive experience: 

If you’d rather explore on your own, you totally can too. You can rock up to any juice stall or fruit stand and order a portion of anything that grabs your attention.

If you can find them, these are the fruits I recommend trying in Colombia: 

 

 

 

Gauanábana 

If you spot a guanábana for sale, you might just think it’s a spiky avocado. But, inside its extraterrestrial-esque exterior, you’ll find a creamy mush that’s super moreish. 

Also known as soursop, guanábana has a taste that’s both sweet and sour, while its texture is creamier than most fruit. This unusual combination makes it super delicious in juice form, so try that too if you can.

Mango – with lime and salt

Given that Colombia is a tropical country, it’s no surprise that the mango here is as juicy as you could ever want it to be. 

But, in true Colombian style, the locals don’t eat this familiar fruit in the way you’re probably used to. 

Instead, Colombians serve mango in large slices, sprinkled with salt and lime. It has an almost Mexican taste to it, but it’s a very Colombian way to enjoy the fruit.

Look out for it at street stalls and stands. Or, treat yourself to a cup after climbing El Penol rock on a day trip from Medellin to Guatapé.


Melon and mango at the top of El Penol rock in Colombia


Tamarillo 

Tamarillo looks more like a vegetable than a fruit – a bit like a tomato, which it is often likened to. This unusual fruit is also known as the tree tomato, and it happens to look like a flattened tomato too. 

The fleshy inside of a tamarillo is the only part you’ll want to eat raw. It has a tangy, sweet taste, a little bit like a guava or kiwi. 

 

 

 

Lulo 

More commonly known as naranjilla in other South American states, lulo is the one fruit you can’t miss in Colombia. 

Lulo looks a little bit like a sea buckthorn on the outside and a lot like kiwi-passionfruit hybrid on the inside. Its taste, though, is much closer to pineapple or lemon. 

Borojó

Borojó is a small, round fruit that grows in the humid rainforests of Colombia. While the fruit itself can be hard to come by, its juice isn’t – and it’s delicious.

You may also come across borojó jams, sauce and ice cream while travelling in Colombia.


A street cart selling exotic fruit in Cartagena ColombiaYou’ll also spot many familiar fruits in Colombia, too.


Colombian food to try in a restaurant

Even though most of the best Colombian food is available on the street, don’t skip the restaurants altogether. 

If nothing else, eating out can be a great way to see how Colombians put all of their foods together. More than that, though, you’ll find foods that aren’t available on the street as well as innovative fusions and creative takes on classic Colombian dishes.

Here are three regional favourite it’s worth sitting down to enjoy. 

 

 

 

Coconut rice in Cartagena 

The Caribbean influence is prevalent in everything along the northern coast of Colombia, and nowhere is that more evident than in the food. 

If you only try one dish in Cartagena, make it fish with coconut rice. This dish is a regional staple and pretty much every local restaurant with serve some variation of it. 

Expect a generously sized portion of freshly caught fish, some kind of salad and creamy coconut rice, accompanied by a couple of patacones. It’s simple but delicious, and you can easily learn to cook it yourself at a local cooking class. 

Warning: Once you’ve tried Colombian coconut rice, plain boiled rice will never be the same again!


Fried fish and coconut rice in Cartagena Colombia


River trout in Salento

The seafood along the coast of Colombia is, unsurprisingly, some of the best in South America. 

What might surprise you, though, is that you don’t need to head to the coast to enjoy some of Colombia’s best fish.

 

 

 

Along with tourism and coffee farming, trout fishing is one of the main industries in the town of Salento. As a result, river trout is pretty much the standard dish in this small coffee region hotspot.

It’s not hard to find trout in Salento because pretty much every restaurant serves it. I recommend trying grilled trout with garlic (trucha plancha al ajillo). It may just be the best trout you’ve ever had!


River trout in Salento Colombia


Bandeja Paisa in Medellin 

Medellin sits in the Paisa region of Colombia, an area that spans the in-land northwestern part of the country. 

Bandeja Paisa, a common dish in the region, literally translates to “Paisa platter”.  True to its name, this popular meal can include a variety of ingredients. The one thing you can always be sure of is that you won’t be hungry afterwards – maybe for a while!

 

 

 

Although it can vary, this typical dish usually includes some form of meat, red beans in sauce, rice, salad, avocado, fried egg, arepas and plantain. It’s a hearty meal, so it’s best to eat it when you can enjoy a lazy afternoon!


Bandeja Paisa in Guatpé Colombia


Colombian drinks 

There’s plenty of great options to wash sown all the delicious Colombian dishes you’ll want to try. Here are some Colombian drinks you should add to your list.

Rum

No trip to the Caribbean would be complete without rum, and the same is true for Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

 

 

 

There are over 50 types of Colombian rum, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. If you can, find somewhere that will serve you a shot of the good stuff with a sprinkle of chocolate – it’s a very local and very unique way to experience the popular spirit.


Rum tasting in Cartagena Colombia
The best place to drink rum is one of Getsemani’s tiny bars

Aguardiente 

If you want to sip on something you won’t find elsewhere, aguardiente is the most Colombian option of all. 

Look closely and you’ll spot this clear liquor all over: on bar tables, in the hands of old men gathered in squares and in many shop windows. Most Colombians drink aguardiente in shots.

 

 

 

Made from sugar cane, this anise-flavoured liquor has an alcohol content of 29%. That might seem small (and an odd number to choose in general), but don’t be decived by its relatively low alcohol content. If you drink more aguardiente than you should, you’ll certainly know about it the next day!


Filter coffee being made in Filandia Colombia


Coffee 

Did you think I would write a Colombia food guide without mentioning the country’s most loved export? Of course not! 

While Colombia is the perfect place to learn about coffee, it’s not necessarily the best place to drink it. That’s because, until recently, all of Colombia’s finest beans were only for export – leaving none in the country itself!

 

 

 

Now, though, things are beginning to change. Thanks to initiatives introduced by local coffee farmers, Colombians can now enjoy a cup of their finest joe. Ask a local if you want help finding a good coffee shop or – better yet – head to the coffee to learn more about the entire process.


RELATED READ: 9 of Colombia’s best ecotourism experiences.


Avena

For something a little more soothing, look no further than Colombian avena. 

This creamy drink is made by mixing milk, oats, water, cinnamon and sugar, and it’s just as sweet as it is thick. You’ll probably spot it on breakfast menus during your travels, but you can often also pick up a cup in the street – perfect for bridging the gap between lunch and dinner!


Avena in a cup in Cartagena Colombia
Sip it or spoon it! Avena has an unusual texture.

Fruit juice 

Yes, you can drink juice in pretty much any country. But you can’t drink juice the Colombian way in any country. 

In Colombia, buying a cup of healthy fruit juice isn’t totally straightforward, but it’s something you should definitely do. Juice stands can be found all over Colombia, and each with have its own menu of fresh flavours and options. 

Once you’ve chosen a fruit, you’ll probably be asked to decide if you want your juice made with agua (water) or leche (milk), and if you’d like your juice con azúcar (with sugar) or sin azúcar (without sugar). 

 

 

 

You might also see some unfamiliar names on the menu. These are most likely popular concoctions made from a combination of fruits. Common blends include limonada de coco , a mix of coconut milk, lime and ice. Or, if you take a liking to lulocholados are a mix of this quintessential fruit, condensed milk, ice and sugar.

Juice stands are a great place to try some of the exotic fruits I mentioned above. Ask the vendor for a sample so you can try a few of them – just make sure you buy something afterwards.


A juice shop in Cartagena Colombia
Buying juice is a fun experience in Colombia!

 

 

Refajo 

If you drink beer in Colombia, there’s a good chance it will be a refajo. Comparable to shandy, this popular drink is made one part Colombiana soda (a local cola drink) and two parts beer.  You can also use Kola Román or Posotbon, two other local sodas.

If you’ve ever tried Colombian cola, you’ll know it’s a little bit fruitier than Coca-Cola or Pepsi. This fruitiness makes refajo super refreshing and perfect for a hot afternoon on the coast.


Free walking tour in Cartagena Colombia
Refajos all round in Cartagena!

Unmissable restaurants in Colombia

While most restaurants in Colombia serve up pretty similar menus, there are a few I visited that stood out. These restaurants are well worth a mention, and well worth making an effort to visit during your time in Colombia. Add them to your Colombia itinerary if you can.

Lenteja Express, Medellin 

Lenteja Express is a local chain, originating in Medellin. They now have several restaurants across the city, as well as one in Bogota. After a friend taught the founders how to make burger patties out of lentils, the newly learned skill saved them during a trip across Ecuador

 

 

 

When they returned to Medellin, their vegan friendly burgers won them a Mayor’s award for best business idea. Since then, they’ve been providing vegetarian burgers across Medellin – and now Bogota, too. 

Their burgers are simple, fast and super delicious. Even better, they’re 100% focused on sustainable practices, supporting local farmers and Colombians businesses.

Recommended order: I stuck with La Sencilla (the simple, straightforward burger with no extras) and smothered it in the fresh garlic sauce. The garlicky potatoes that come in the combo are incredible, as was the Flor de Jamaica (roselle) juice I had.(


Vegetarian burger at Lenteja Express in Medellin
The lentil-based burgers are fresh,fast and filling.

Tacoa Café Especial, Bogota

Tacoa Café has an impressive menu of designer coffees and traditional brews. You’ll want to allow some time to peruse because it’s hard to choose between all of the options!

As well as delicious coffee that supports local farmers and social initiatives, Tacoa also has a drool-worthy dessert menu. Choose from one of the many traditional sweet treats or be tempted by a Colombian take on all the favourites.

Recommended order: For fans of dulce de leche, try the Arequipe cappuccino. Arequipe is the Colombian word for dulce de leche!


Tacoa Café Especial in Bogota Colombia
Tacoa Café is small but quirky.

La Cocina de Pepina, Cartagena

During my stay in Cartagena, I found myself wandering around looking for somewhere to eat. The only problem was it was 6:45pm and most restaurants close during the late afternoon. 

Having seen a cosy-looking place that opened at 7pm, I decided to head back and wait outside. And it’s lucky I did – ten minutes later, there was a 30-minute wait for a table!

 

 

 

La Cocina de Pepina is a small but beautiful restaurants in the heart of Cartagena’s Getsemani district. With only a handful of tables, they serve up quality homemade versions of popular Colombian dishes. 

Recommended order: This is a great place to try roasted sea bass (robalo asado) – accompanied by coconut rice, of course! The freshly made juices are also well worth the 7,000 COP (around $1.70 USD) they’ll set you back.


Vegetarian food at Helena Adentro in Filandia Colombia
Aubergine, goat’s cheese and freshly baked baguette topped with caramelised onions.

Helena Adentro, Filandia 

Helena Adentro is the only restaurant I went out of my way to visit in Colombia. Some road works in the neighbouring street made it pretty hard to find, but I’m glad I persevered. If you only visit one restaurant on this list, it should be this one.

This Filandia restaurant is easy to miss on the street, but surprisingly spacious inside. Which is just as well, because there were plenty of hungry visitors keen to sample their exciting menu. 

Apparently, Helena Adentro has been attracting more of a foodie crowd to the small town of Filandia. It’s not why I went there – I turned up in search of an alternative to Salento – but it was easily a highlight of my stay.

 

 

 

Helana Adentro’s menu consists of a mix of creative twists on traditional Colombian cuisine.  So, basically, it’s the best of Colombian food – only tastier. 

While it may not be the most traditional way to enjoy the many flavours of Colombia, it’s certainly a unique way to do so. What’s more, the restaurant is an interesting concept in that it bridges the way for more innovative food establishments to make their mark. 

With the growing popularity of Helena Adentro – and its growing reputation outside of the region – it will be interesting to see what else appears in the coming years.

Recommended order: I ordered two of the sharing plates and, while filling, it set me up perfectly for my afternoon hike. The dish you see above is berenjenas de finca (farm aubergine) and I also tried their unique take on arepas, arepas de filandia, with hogao sauce and sour cream.


Inside Helena Adentro restaurant in Filandia Colombia
The interior of Helena Adentro is as beautiful as the dishes they create.

Food prices in Colombia 

Although prices varied a little from region to region, food prices across Colombia were pretty consistent. 

Cartagena was a little bit pricier than anywhere else I went during my ten day trip, but not by a whole lot. Therefore, it’s pretty easy to budget for food when planning your trip to Colombia.

I highly recommend splitting your food between local restaurants and street food stalls during your Colombia travels. This will give you the best chance of sampling all of the wonderful food that Colombia has to offer.

 

 

 

When eating in a restaurant, expect to spend around 10,000-30,000 (around $2.50-4.50 USD) for a main course and about 5,000-10,000 COP ($1.25-2.50 USD) per drink. 

On the street, you can pick up something like an empanada or arepas for as little as 1,000 COP (around $0.25 USD). You can buy larger portions, but it’s rare that anything will set you back more than around 8,000 COP ($2 USD).


READ NEXT: How to carry money in Colombia (and other safety tips)


I ate a mixture of street food and restaurant food, visiting both lower and higher end places. On average, I spent between 30,000 COP ($7.24 USD) and 80,000 COP ($19 USD) per day, including all drinks and coffee. If you stuck to street food, it would be possible to eat for much less – but you’d also miss out on a lot of great places!

All in all, you should be able to enjoy the best of Colombia’s food scene on around $15 per day. Allow a little more if you want to splash out from time to time. 


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Colombian food and drink