Colombian odyssey: Bogota and Cartagena best restaurants and bars

24.08.2023
From the upscale venues of Bogota to the up and coming spots of Cartagena - these are some of the best places to eat and drink in Colombia

Revitalized Colombia has rightfully become a leading Latin American tourist destination in recent years . As part of its cultural and tourist renaissance, the country's gastronomic heritage is also being rediscovered and interpreted by leading chefs (and bartenders!).
From its amazonian regions to the Caribbean turquoise-water beaches, Colombian terroir is rich in endemic raw materials, many of them unknown to foodies outside of the region.
These ingredients are combined in numerous local dishes, along with techniques & recipes brought from abroad by the immigrants who settled in the country.
Thus, only in Colombia you can find in one table Levantine-style stuffed leaves with a tropical touch, Spanish-inspired carimañola pastries made of yucca and African bean and meat stews.
Cartagena, Colombia (Photo: unsplash)
Leonor Espinoza and Laura Hernandez of Leo, eponymous Harry Sasson, Alvaro Clavijo of El Chato and young Jaime Rodriguez-Camacho of Celele in Cartagena are just a few of the chefs who introduced Colombian haute cuisine throughout the world in the past years.
This Latin tempered country is also the proud home of some of the continent leading bars, from 50bars best Latin American cocktail bar Alquimico to adorable El Baron, both of Cartagena.
From the upscale venues of Bogota to the up and coming spots of Cartagena – these are some of the best places to eat and drink in Colombia.
Bogota, Colombia (Photo: unsplash)

Celele, Cartagena

Beautiful Cartagena, Colombia's historic port city and gate to Europe, entails a fascinating expression of the country's fusion cuisine. Tropical fruits, Caribbean seafood and ingredients from the adjacent jungles of the amazon are combined with Spanish recipes and dishes from West Africa and the Middle East, coming with the traders and the freed slaves who settled in town.
Chef Jaime Rodriguez Camacho's Celele shows this cuisine at its best. Moreover: it justifies a special trip to Cartagena, no less. Celele (ranked 19 in LATAM's 50best restaurants) is located in a small house in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the old city center, built and once inhabited by freed slaves.
Don't let its unassuming exterior and location confuse you: from his tiny and busy kitchen, not much bigger than an average apartment's kitchen, young chef Rodriguez and his team create, with impeccable skill, one of the best tasting meals in the continent.
Celele Restaurant (Photo: Roy Yerushalmi)

The menu

Camacho's menu is a love song to Caribbean cuisine and to his city. a perfect fine dining storm of intelligent narrative, harmonic flavors and exceptional plating. Some of the menu's highlights: "the golden lemon" dish, inspired a story by local legend and Nobel prize laureate Gabriel García Márquez – a phenomenal bite of a tiny lemon, pickled in Middle Eastern style and stuffed (!) with local langoustine; East mediterranean stuffed vine leaves, garnished with duck ham and purslane;  to die for purple sweet potato with local swordfish in leche de tigre sauce; amazonian Burrata with the local moringa leaves – and pomelo dessert with jasmine flowers, ylang-ylang and coconut whipped cream.
The cocktails accompanying the food – Colombia is not a wine country, given the tropical climate – do not put surrounding decorated bars such as Alquimico to shame. "mama Africa", made with gin and cocoa extract is especially recommended. In short: a once in a lifetime experience.
Cartagena, Colombia (Photo: unsplash)

El Chato, Bogota

Colombian capital Bogota's Chapinero quarter is the most buzzed area in town, adorned with great cafes (with Colombian specialty coffee, what else!), shops and bars. A small block in the neighborhood nestles 3 of the most acclaimed chef restaurants in Latin America. El Chato is one of them – a creative expression of the bohemian and free spirit of Chapinero.
Established in 2017 by Chef Alvaro Clavijo, who returned to the city after cooking at Noma and with Robuchon in Paris – the inspiration for its menu is the the local lush of Colombian culinary heritage and unique ingredients.
El chato, Bogota (Photo: Roy Yerushalmi)
El chato's tasting menu is served on the top floor of the restaurant and earned Clavijo the 33rd spot in world's 50 best restaurants global rank. It includes Colombian buñuelos buns with tamarind stock, decorated with a small bouquet garni, made from local herbs; grenadilla tropical fruit, filled with cashew nut cream and Leche de Tigra sauce; heavenly local trout with local palm hearts, as well as smoked trout with surprisingly tasty Colombian ants. A great unusual experience!
 

Leo, Bogota

Eponymous Leo by Leonor Espinoza is (50best best female chef) has become an international culinary pilgrimage. Espinoza's tasting meal is a journey between the 4 different regions of Colombia: The Amazon, the Andes and the 2 coastal area – Pacific and Caribbean.
The dishes here are accompanied by an eye opening explanations of the various ingredients and inspirations. Many of them are foreign to visitors from outside the country, from the colorful fruits and root vegetables, to the fearsome amazonian paiche fish and sour ants.
the unique drinks pairing is curated by acclaimed sommliere Laura Hernandez-Espinoza. In addition to wine, it includes cocktails with liquors she is distilling independently and inspired by Colombia's terroir.  Do not miss the excellent local coffee and goldenberry digestif for dessert.

La Sala de Laura, Bogota

"la sala de laura" – Laura's room – is Laura Hernandez's alcoholic and much talked-about playroom, located in Chapinero neighborhood, a few stairs above her mother's restaurant Leo and where she herself serves as sommliere.

 

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Here, Hernandez has created a nonchalant venue with experimental menu that stretches the boundaries of local ingredients to the edge. Along with tapas menu (served in the lounge) and an a-la-carte menu for lunch, Sala de Laura also offers an experimental tasting menu, juggling gracefully between dishes and unique drinks.
Special emphasis is put here on the cocktails inspired by the Amazon, the Andes and the 2 shores of Colombia, that also earned Hernandez a place in World's 50 Best Bars list. the drinks are based on Hernandez creates together with artisanal producers such as a twist on Negroni.

El Baron Bar, Cartagena

Juan David Diaz's cocktail bar, located in one of the most beautiful central areas of Cartagena – is a wet dream for cocktail lovers, with minimum pyrotechnics and maximum flavor and skill. El Baron offers a great experience, combining local ambience with meticulously made drinks.
El Baron bar, Cartagena (Photo: Roy Yerushalmi)
The bar's story is inspired by a fictional journey of an elegant gentleman around the world. The menu is designed as baron's passport and includes various cocktails inspired by all the places the Baron has been to. All the drinks are based on local ingredients such as chilli and fresh pineapple juice – and can be served in the beautiful bar or outside, by the buzzing square.
The food served here is casual and excellent – the kind one is happy to find at a bar. Some of the highlights are the Caribbean taco and the polpetta meatballs in tomato sauce.
El Baron cocktail bar Cartagena Colombia (photo: Roy Yerushalmi)

Alquimico bar, Cartagena

The best cocktail bar in Latin America – and in the world's top 15 of the world's best bars guide – gained fame thanks to the electrifying atmosphere in the place.
Alquimico cocktail bar Cartagena Colombia (photo: PR)
Located in the center of Cartagena, in an old commercial building, converted into a 3-story mega bar, bartender's Jean Trinh Alquimico is the place to be at nights when in town.
Every evening, several sets of upbeat Latin music are played in the floors and on the roof. The cocktails are skillfuly poured, most them are local takes on classic inspired with a local touch
Many of the cocktails are based on tropical juices – pineapple for example, a staple of the Alquimico.
Alquimico cocktail bar Cartagena Colombia (photo: PR)

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