Gluten Free Travel: Cartagena, Colombia
A vibrant and colorful city, Cartagena is a must visit for various reasons! With endless culture to experience, warm Caribbean air, and delicious food – this is the perfect city for any travel, but especially those who are gluten free. Using a ton of fresh produce and seafood in their cuisine, so many dishes are naturally gluten free. While I was only in Cartagena for a few days, I ate some amazing food and can’t wait to go back and try even more. Curious about traveling to Cartagena while on a gluten free diet? Check out my recommendations below!
Rebelion Alma & Sabor
Oh, the things I could say about this restaurant. Rebelion Alma & Sabor was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. It helps that most of the menu is also naturally gluten free, providing so many delicious options. While we ate there on our last night, I wish I had more time to go back again – and I rarely frequent the same place while traveling. We booked ahead by messaging on Whatsapp, but the restaurant was pretty empty when we showed up. Given the reviews, I wouldn’t say this is always the case and it did fill up as we enjoyed our meal.
The restaurant in Getsemani fits perfectly in with the changing trendy neighborhood. It is on the newer side, has an inviting, yet funky, interior, and an extremely nice staff. The menu is filled with classic dishes found in Cartagena, but with a unique spin. We started with the coral carimanola, which is traditionally a meat stuffed torpedo shaped fritter, made from yucca. Rebelion’s version, however, was died black from squid ink, and stuffed instead with a seafood and snail stew. It was absolutely delicious. On the plate, alongside the carimanola were a few dots of some colorful sauces. While at first this simply looked like it was placed there for the presentation, be sure to use them. The sauces were filled with flavor and super unique. Of course, ask for a side of Suero, similar to sour cream, on the side.
While I could have had an extra portion of the carimanola for my main, I went with the ribs. Covered in an absolutely delicious tamarind sauce, which is commonly found in the area, these ribs were the perfect blend of savory and sweet. Falling off the bone, they were cooked to perfection. Served with fried yucca and guacamole, this dish was the perfect example of how it’s so easy to eat gluten free in Colombia. As I’d highly recommend the ribs, both of the people I was dining with opted for beef that was cooked down in a red wine sauce. It tasted like something I’d never had before. Pulling on a ton of Caribbean flavors, it was sweet and tasted of spices. Served with a coconut rice and fried plantains, this is another great option for anyone gluten free, or not!
As discussed in my overview of Eating gluten free in Colombia, I found that not everyone understood what gluten free really was. This was the case at this restaurant and, therefore, be sure to inquire rather how dishes are made and the specific ingredients used rather than asking if they are “gluten free”. Extra bonus: the night we went was 2 for 1 mojitos!
Restaurant La Casa de Socorro
You know you’re in for a good lunch when you go somewhere with locals! As we were traveling around Colombia with a Colombian friend, we met up with his aunt and uncle, who are living in Cartagena, for lunch following our walking tour. While the restaurant was on the nicer side, it was packed with locals enjoying everything from their lunch break to a family birthday celebration. It’s a big restaurant with an even bigger menu, highlighting locally found produce and seafood.
As his aunt and uncle order an appetizer for the table before we arrived, we sat down to delicious plantains that had been fried and made into little cups. They were then topped or filled with a fish ceviche. When I say this appetizer was drool worthy, I’m not kidding. My husband is still talking about this dish – and he’s far from a foodie, so that speaks volume! When it came time to order a main dish, I inquired about the gluten free options. The waiter was very helpful and knowledgeable which was a welcomed change! I settled on grilled local seabass with garlic and herbs and it was amazing. Full of flavor and so delicious. It came with a side of fried plantains, coconut rice and salad. You can never go wrong with fresh fish on the coast!
In addition, for something extra local, be sure to try a fresh juice – especially tamarind! The menu is filled with a ton of gluten free options. Restaurant La Casa de Socorro is a perfect option for either lunch or dinner after wandering around the trendy neighborhood of Getsemani!
Personally, I can’t overly recommend or not recommend this restaurant. It was cheap, simply, and to the point. After arriving a bit late in Cartegena, we wanted a simple meal near our hotel. Out on a stroll we came across Restaurant Robert and it suited our needs. Extremely local, with a price tag to match, it’s perfect for an easy meal. With the same comment as most places in Colombia, ask about what’s included in the dish and how it’s made rather than if it is gluten free. From the information I got, I settled on the seafood rice. With a ton of Caribbean flare, this dish was filling and flavorful. Other gluten free options include a variety of fresh fish and seafood. The meal wasn’t lifechanging, but it was a fun mix-up from nicer and more expensive spots and it’s always nice to eat at a local joint!
Coralito Bowls & Ceviches at Centro Comercial La Serrezuela
I usually don’t frequent commercial malls while I travel, but Centro Comerical La Serrezuela is a newer shopping mall that was built around the old bull fighting ring. The architects and designers did an amazing job preserving the beauty of the old arena while creating a high-end mall around it. The food court found at the top floor of the mall has a ton of indoor and outdoor seating offering great views of the city and amazing food options. This food court isn’t your typical food court and instead feels like mini restaurants, serving up a wide variety of cuisines. For our lunch we topped at Coralito Bowls & Ceviches and snagged a table by the window. As with a regular restaurant, a waiter came to take our order.
As mentioned throughout this article, I didn’t feel he was knowledgeable about gluten free, but when I asked the right questions I got the answers I needed. The menu is filled with salads and bowls and everyone can easily find something that looks good! I opted for a cold bowl, or bowl frio, called Pollo Acevichado. It was filled with sushi rice topped with chicken, mango, sweet plantains which were died pink with beets, and avocado. Be sure to order it without the crushed wontons on top to make it gluten free! It has a unique flavor which I enjoyed and used really fresh and flavorful ingredients.
Are you really on the coast if you don’t stop for ice cream at least once (a day)? While you can find a ton of ice cream spots around Cartagena, we found La Palaterria to be the best. A cute little spot located in the old town, La Palaterria’s biggest draw has to be its ice cream popsicles, but sometimes you’re just in the mood for a good ol’ fashion scoop instead. I opted for the Arequipe, also known as caramel, and it was dreamy. I’m personally a fan of super creamy ice cream. No one likes those icey bits that sometimes form – and let’s just say La Palaterria’s ice cream was so smooth and silky. Skip the other spots and be sure to head here for all of your ice cream needs.
While they didn’t even have cones at all, there wasn’t even a chance to as about gluten free cones, but the endless supply of ice cream popsicles and cups was all we needed. A few flavors included cookies but almost all were naturally gluten free! Now, that’s what we love to see!
Located on Plaza de San Diego is a cute little spot called Juana Icaco. While we only stopped here for a drink, it’s somewhere I would have popped by again for a bite to eat. I went with a non-alcoholic choice, a fresh pineapple juice (you know, for my daily fresh juice while in Colombia), and it lived up to my standards! Usually I try to avoid busy plazas for a meal, but Juana Icaco had a great vibe, felt small and local, and had a tasty looking menu with multiple gluten free options! Stop by any time of day, whether just for a coffee or a full meal!
Are you really in Colombia if you aren’t having a coffee (or multiple) every day? While we had pretty tasty coffee at our hotel breakfast, I had to check out a few other spots to get my Colombian coffee fix. I didn’t taste any food at these spots, but thankfully for us gluten free folk, coffee is gluten free!
Epoca Espresso Bar
I stopped at Epoca Espresso Bar on my way to my walking tour and I wish I could have stayed for longer. The place was buzzing! Which isn’t surprising given that the coffee was delicious. Head here for some brunch, lunch or even an evening cocktail later in the day! Unfortunately, I can’t speak much to the food, but it looked great and from a quick glance at the menu, there are gluten free options available!
Similarly, to avoiding popular plazas for a meal, I also usually try to avoid chains. While the first time I had Juan Valdez was at an airport (and I only went because my Colombian friend told me I should), wow is all I have to say. While there are amazing local roasters and coffee shops, I’d say that a Juan Valdez is absolutely worth the stop – and for one reason only. The granizado. Essentially a blended coffee drink, this drink (for me) is the perfect balance of sweet and flavorful. It’s perfect for a pick me up on a warm day. So, while you can find Juan Valdez all over the place, I have to recommend the one located in the Centro Comercial La Serrezuela. Enjoy your granizado walk looking around at the preserved bull fighting ring!
Hotel – Casa BuGo Hotel
I know this is a place to come for gluten free food, but if you’re looking for an amazing hotel for your stay, I cannot recommend Casa BuGo Hotel more. It’s beautifually done, great value for what you spend, and the breakfast is fantastic (with gluten free options!!) Centrally located, this is a perfect place to have as your homebase during your trip to Cartagena. Breakfast was included in our reservation and I had the arepas de huevo, or egg-stuffed fried arepa every morning. It was so good that I had to get it both days! While the menu features a bunch of other gluten free options, including another corn arepa dish, where here or somewhere else, be sure to try an arepa de huevo! It’s a classic breakfast dish found in this area! You’ll also get fresh fruit, a fruit juice, and a coffee included with breakfast.