You want me to pay how much?” With these words many tourists arrive in Cartagena de Indias with expectations of paying less and getting more. Unfortunately, it might not be what tourists discover during high season in the most touristic city of Colombia. And it’s no secret either that the port city can be one of the most expensive destinations in the country, as prices for accommodation, transportation, and food compete with other global hot spots.
For those who travel on a corporate account, Cartagena is a perfect destination, offering a wide variety of boutique hotels and upscale restaurants which are undeniably beautiful, seductive; many embodying much of the ‘magic realism’ used to promote this “crown jewel.” But alas, many Michelin-rated venues remain out of reach for the locals, as prices are disproportionately high compared to the average salary. Not to mention that a majority of these businesses are more likely owned by foreigners than Cartageneros.
That’s not to say that those looking for an different experience of the city, and those travelling on a tighter budget, will be disappointed. Cartagena on “the cheap” is still a viable option and it can be a very pleasant experience in itself, especially when it comes to trying the local cuisine. With more and more budget options cropping up in and around town, it’s becoming easier to spend less. You just have to know where to look.
La Cocina de Dorotea is open for lunch and dinner, so if you’re around during the day you can stop by to take a rest from the sun and enjoy its spa- cious, breezy interior. The restaurant is located in the beautiful historic city center right next to the Plaza San Diego on Calle de Tumbamuertos. You can order a delicious typical Cartagena lunch for just $10,000 pesos, or if you happen to be around at night, you can enjoy great live music.
In front of designer Silvia Tcherassi’s cascading boutique hotel on Calle Plaza Fernández de Madrid, there’s Nativo. This eight table restaurant is concise and budget-conscious, offering lunches with a costeño twist. Service is swift, friendly, and dishes come served with a complimentary drink. The prix fix lunch is priced at $15,000 per person.
If you’re looking to rub shoulders with the locals, make sure to check out Casavana in the bohemian neighbourhood of Getsemaní on Calle Tripita y Media. The menu is Colombian ‘tipico’ and Cartagena-style lunches, including soup which will set you back between $8,000 and $13,000 pesos.
Being a vegetarian while travelling is never easy, especially in Cartagena where seafood and meat abound. Good thing that the Vegetariano Girasoles exists, so you can get the best of both worlds: eat vegetarian and eat cheap. Find it in the Old City on Calle de Los Puntales. Open for breakfast and lunch and you’ll pay $7,000 for a lunch that comes with fresh juice!
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure leave the center of Cartagena and get to know some of the barrios. Head out and have a beach day at La Boquilla, but don’t pay the jacked-up prices they’ll want to charge you for lunch. Head to the fishing village of La Boquilla and dine at Donde Yoly, located right after the first entrance of the village. Order yourself a fresh and deep fried snapper, mojarra frita with a side of plantains and coconut rice. It’s on the ocean, so you can be assured that the Yoly crew know how to prepare their fish and you’ll end up paying under $10,000.
After a day at the beach, you’ll be looking for a good dinner to get back some of that energy. Head to Crespo neighbourhood and take a seat at Maxi’s (Calle 70 No. 70-07). If you’re craving some American or Colombian fast food, they’ve got you covered. But the real reason you need to go to Maxi’s is for their meat. Huge portions of delicious, tender cuts are expertly prepared with mouth-watering flavour. Every meat dinner comes with your choice of a side, a fresh their house chimichurri sauce. And guess what? Prices range between $7,000 and $15,000.
So you’ve been in Cartagena for a while and you’re starting to get tired of the local cuisine. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. What you don’t have to do is splurge in one of the fancy restaurants to get a taste of different flavours.
Take a taxi to Daniel Lemaitire, 15 minutes from the centro, to experience affordable Italian at Pizzeria dal Maestro (Cra. 17 No.64-53). The owner moved to Colombia from Italy and he brought his delicious recipes along. The restaurant is located in a beautifully-renovated home, and the menu features an impressive variety of Italian plates. Order a bottle of red wine and a personal pizza for only $6,000. If you think you’re up to it, try the seafood pasta for $22,000. You pay a bit more, but once you see the insane amount of fresh seafood you will immediately understand why.
So, you’re now armed with an arsenal of delicious and affordable places to eat around Cartagena. All you need now is to grab some friends and make sure to pack an appetite.