This past August, Scott and I traveled to Colombia for the first time. How did we decide on Colombia? Not gonna lie, binge watching Narcos and learning to Bachata may have had something to do with it. We’re total foodies, so of course I scouted the best food spots while on our sight-seeing trip. After a good trip, I love providing tips & resources from our own experience so hopefully it can better someone else’s trip. We traveled to Medellin, Guatape, and Cartagena. Below you can find a sum up of recommendations!
I’d like to preempt this blog post with a discussion about safety. Many, many of our friends and families immediately had the notion of cartels, car bombs, and the drug war when we said we were going to Colombia. Let me tell you that SO much has changed in the last ten to fifteen years (or so we’ve heard), and we found Colombia is actually pretty safe.
But just like anywhere you travel to in the world, you should be aware as you travel. For me, this means replacing my engagement ring with a simple band, always hiding or securing my passport in a safe, wearing my bag in front of me in crowded public space, and not walking around late at night – especially alone.
At the time of this blog post, the exchange rate makes $10 USD about 31,800COP. Not the easiest exchange rate to follow, but to be honest, everything was SO cheap. Veggie burgers, gourmet vegan restaurants, transportation and the like were probably a quarter of the price of their counterparts in major US cities.
We flew into Medellin, and despite what looked like a typical large city from afar, I was pleasantly surprised with the culture, food, and sights. Our AirBnB was located in the Poblado district, and the best way I can describe it for my local Philly friends is that it’s a bit like Fishtown. Lots of expats, trendy restaurants, but safe and “cool” for walking around. I’d highly recommend staying in this area if you visit Medellin! There is so much to see and do just by walking around.
One of our favorite things we did in Medellin was the Metro Cable over the city to the top of the hill, Park Arvi. The Metro Cable is a gondola lift system that was implemented by the city to help provide transportation, especially because of how large and spread out the city is while escalating up hills. It’s said that the public transportation system completely change and revitalized the city, because the poorer neighborhoods that were once isoalted became reconnected, sparking job and other opportunities. To get to the start of the cable line, we took an Uber (yes, there’s Uber!).
Along the cable car stops, there are graffiti tours of the area (the poorer neighborhoods) which the metro cable passes over. I kind of wish we had done one… We typically opt for our own adventures on our own timeline and rebel against organized tours, but there is so much history and hidden pockets I wish we had learned more about. Welp, there’s always a next time! But this just means I’d recommend opting for a tour, even if you’re not a “tour” person, for this part of your exploring.
The metro cable is about 2.000 COP per person each way to get to the very top (that’s like $0.65). At the top of the metro cable, you can get off and explore Park Arvi. When you immediately exit, there’s a cool little farmers market where you can buy goodies and handmade souvenirs. A little further along you can find the actual parks, and right before you enter the park trails, there is a Vegetarian Cafe. We got a fresh juice and it was delish!!
Cafe Zorba – Vegetarian, organic pizza. We got the mozarella pizza and a side of these realllyyyy good potatoe things. Now I’m craving them again…
Mesa y Blanco – Our go-to breakfast spot, super close to where we were staying in the Pablado district. Avocado toast, almond milk lattes… what more could you ask for?
Dharma Vegan Restaurant – Amaaaaazing vegan food. One set menu for each day, and nothing to complain about at that. We lucked out with a lentil soup, beet and potato mash, and some hearty greens.
Kai Restaurant – If you’re grading restaurants on a 5 star scale, this one deserves a 6. Gourmet plant-based, vegan food. Kind of reminded us of Philadelphia’s Vedge. Long wait? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Make a reservation if you can! Their cocktails and drinks were superb, along with the fried avocado, spicy cauliflower, gabranzo croquettes, and lentil burger. I got the truffle pasta with plaintains and I’ll just leave you with that.
Ganso y Castor – Another great breakfast spot. I opted for strawberry pancakes, because vacation.
*Side note: How are this many amazing vegan/vegetarian restaurants possible?! They blew our minds, and were soooo cheap compared to home! Foodie heaven.
So this cute, little town called Guatape is about a two-hour drive from Medellin. Thanks to our awesome AirBnB host in Guatape, we arranged a private taxi to take us there and also to stop at a coffee plantation on the way up. (See the photos below!) It was really amazing to see just how much goes into a cup of coffee. We picked beans in the field, saw how they’re dried and roasted, and the owner even made us a cup of coffee to try! I brought a few bags home for family and ourselves and I am still savoring it. Definitely check out a coffee plantation if you have the chance.
When you enter Guatape, the town is nothing short of unique and vibrant. Bright colors paint the walls and the town is bustling with people. We stayed for three nights, which was more than enough time to see it all. We adventured and walked around the town, climbed the famous Piedra del Penol (a big giant rock with stairs overlooking the area), and one day we rented a jet ski to take out on the water. While jetting around on the ski, we scoped out all the rich Colombian mansions, and even saw Pablo Escobar’s home which was raided and destroyed in 1993.
In the town, there were soooo many fabulous vegan & vegatrian spots to eat. To name a few, Namaste Cafe, Hecho con Amor, and Govindas. We may or may not have stopped at Addiction Shots and Cocktails on the water too. In such a small and remote town, we were pleasantly surprised at the amazing vegatarian and vegan food options while on the road.
My AirBnB expectations are forever high thanks to this cute little spot, which had a bar and open window overlooking the city, snacks provided, and lots of gracious tips and recommendations. It was also so cheap! Definitely opt for an AirBnB in the quaint little town if you can! It could also be really fun to stay on the water, but transporation may be more difficult. We had so much more grabbing little Tuktuks to get around.
So, my recommendations here are lacking. We flew to Cartagena to explore this town in the North for a few days, but by the time we arrived, we were exhausted. After traveling for about 2.5 weeks through Costa Rica and Colombia, we were quite honestly wiped out. Recommendations? Walk the around the old city walls on top. Food? Not as impressed as Medellin and Guatape – no real suggestions here, we just made it work.
In general, we were kind of disappointed by the vibe. It was more touristy, and there were lots of vendors in the street hassling us when we walked around or sat down to eat outside. Maybe my research skills weren’t on point here, so if you have a better time or recommendations for Cartagena, please comment below! But I just think I had such high expectations after Medellin and Guatape that it didn’t reallllyyyy compare. I personally wish we had opted for somewhere less city-like, and just gone a little bit further to Santa Marta, Colombia or Isla Matamba.