Despite travelling extensively throughout Colombia, there are a few spots that always pull me back. Cartagena, just an hour and a half away from Barranquilla, is certainly one of the places. A top tourist destination, its old city is a UNESCO world heritage site and its nearby islands are home to some of the countries most pristine beaches. A friend recently visited from Buenos Aires and when I asked what he wanted to do, the response was clear. “Beach, beach and lots of sun”. Coming to visit me on the Caribbean coast, he was in luck! We headed to Cartagena for a few days to soak up some rays and naturally, food held an important part in the holiday.
We began our trip by setting off for a nights stay on a group of islands known as the Islas del Rosario, about 45 minutes away from Cartagena by boat. Made up of various small islands, we stayed on Isla Grande and were treated to two days of gorgeous sun and completely unspoiled beaches.
The hotel we were staying at had delicious food, however it was rather on the fancy side. We decided to venture away from the hotel and explore the island, home to around 800 permanent residents. We got chatting to a local fisherman who showed us some very impressive freshly caught lobsters, which soon became our lunch! They came cooked al ajillo (in a garlic sauce) and grilled, served with patacones (fried plantain slices). The lobster was flavorsome beyond belief – completely fresh and cooked to perfection.
(Property of the Travel Chanel)
Like many other food-lovers, I hold the chef Anthony Bourdain is extremely high esteem. The author of the Kitchen Confidential, a fascinating insight into the world of restaurants and well worth a read for any foodies, he is also the star of his own show No Reservations, where he travels the world trying typical (and sometimes not so typical) foods in many different countries. The clip above is a section from the No Reservations Colombia episode, and if you skip to 4 minutes in you can see Bourdain at Cartagena’s very own Bazurto Market.
Be warned – Bazurto is no trendy pop-up style food market. It’s a chaotic, dirty, loud and rather smelly place, but if you want to see the real Cartagena, this is where to come. I previously visited with my sister and enjoyed it so much I decided to head back with my friend. Although he seemed slightly overwhelmed by it all (seeing a chicken being boiled while a van full of soldiers with machine guns rocked up was perhaps slightly unsettling), we headed off in search of the famous Cecilia’s, as featured in Bourdain’s No Reservations episode.
When I had visited previously, Cecilia’s famous turtle wasn’t an option, but returning I was spoiled for choice – fried, stewed or grilled, turtle seemed to be the top meal of the day. In his No Reservations episode, Bourdain himself states that turtle is endangered, but that its consumption has been part of the indigenous culture for hundreds of years. Upon reflection, although this was completely delicious, with a dark, rich flesh and a perfectly seasoned coconut vegetable sauce, eating an endangered species should never be condoned. Even if locals around me were choosing it, as a foreigner I shouldn’t be encouraging this practice. As a unique experience, it was definitely interesting to try this local dish, even if I will not be doing so again (I promise!).
After the sights and smells of Bazurto market, it was back to the beach for another day of relaxation before we headed across the coast to Santa Marta, another one of my regular haunts. It’s a tough job all this travelling and gastronomical exploration, but I guess someone has to do it. Stay tuned for another travel post which sees me return to perhaps my favorite spot in all of Colombia, its salsa capital Cali.