A Caribbean getaway is usually about sun, sand and surf. But within Cartagena’s walled old city, flower-draped colonial buildings house world-class restaurants, cafés and watering holes.
A favorite of Anthony Bourdain, La Cevicheria delivers impeccably fresh ceviches that give Peru a run for its money.
Restaurante Donjuán, under Chef Juan Felipe Camacho, blends traditional Caribbean flavors with Euro-bistro inflections—try the char-grilled octopus.
The toughest reservation to get in Cartagena is at La Vitrola, where the bartenders mix a mean mojito to accompany live salsa music. The order: Any of the signature “Vitrola” salads, pastas or fish dishes.
For traditional Cartagena food done with panache, Candé offers a vine-filled outdoor courtyard, waiters in head-to-toe linen and superb fish and stewed meat dishes, like rabbit slow-cooked in coconut milk.
La Casa de Socorro, located just outside the old city in the Getsemaní neighborhood, serves local classics like spicy minced shark with fried plantains and a seafood stew so loaded with shrimp, fish, squid and octopus they nearly drown out the broth.
Mila is the classiest shop in town to nibble on pastries like the rightly famous arepa de huevo cartagenera, a fried corn cake filled with an egg and spiced ground meat.
La Paletteria specializes in artisan popsicles made from tropical fruit juices like maracuyá (passion fruit), nispero and the mouthwatering lulo, an orange-like wonder from the Colombian mountains.
Perched atop the main wall that surrounds the old city, Café Del Mar offers stiff Cuba Libres and mojitos along with an ocean view. Even better, this outdoor bar catches the all-important breezes that come off the Caribbean in the afternoon, making it a premier spot to take in the sunset.
Café Havana, open Thursdays through Saturdays, with music starting just before midnight, is Cartagena’s leading venue for live Afro-Caribbean music, primarily son and salsa.
And while the tropics are not the best place to drink wine, La Bodega de la Iglesia is a cute must-visit wine bar and retail store that specializes in high-end Chilean and Argentinean wines.