Meet the Colombian version of a food truck:
We were two days into our Colombian adventure when we spotted the mini van-turned carving station serving up slices of a whole-roasted pig. I consider myself to be a pretty adventurous eater and expected to wander from food cart to food cart tasting the street-food delicacies of Colombia, but it became quickly apparent that I was totally out of my league.
As soon as I stepped in front of Porky (and again in front of the large intestine draped across a nearby display case, above), I heard the bottles of lomotil and cipro jingle in my purse, the memory of my gut-tearing Delhi Belly flashing before my eyes. Before I knew it, I was cowering in the face of street food greatness and ready for a restaurant that required reservations. That night, my cousin Kath and I shared two cliff bars and toasted our travels with cups of boxed wine donated to us by a fabulous Delta flight attendant.
The next day we went in search of Ajiaco, a potato based chicken soup served with corn on the cob and capers, a specialty of Bogota. My overflowing lunch was delicious (the fresh avocados were to die for) and hot soup, unlike cold street food, fit the #1 most important criteria for staying healthy while traveling: most of it had been boiled. I was starting to get my sea legs back and was excited for what food was going to come my way next.
As we traveled up to Cartagena on the Carribbean coast, I set my sights high once again with the prospect of fresh fish caught right off the docks and tropical fruit salads begging for a magazine cover shoot, but I was met with disappointment as the fish often came fried and the plantains dry. I shouldn’t complain though, because after the day’s death-defying roller coaster of a boat ride back from Playa Blanca, I was happy to be alive.
By the fifth day we were out of cliff bars and on our way to Santa Marta, the city everyone told us to skip for the late-night parties of Taganga or the Eco-Habs of Tayrona. Within minutes of leaving our hostel, we stumbled into the vibrant public market which overflows into downtown, where vendors line the streets offering promocións on everything from freshly scaled fish to glittery tube tops.
Everything in Santa Marta was for sale… I was in heaven! As we lost ourselves in the market maze we stumbled upon a pedestrian street lined with cafes and sat down at a popular one for a cappuccino and a glass of lulo juice and decided to try a couple of their gourmet arepas. The hot cheese-infused corn cake loaded up with curls of chorizio, sauteed plantains, salsa fresca was the perfect combination of savory and sweet. This was the food we had been missing.
When we arrived in Medellin I felt like we had done it all. We had explored big cities and little towns, relaxed in an island paradise, roughed it on a sweaty hike through the jungle, hailed buses off the side of the road, and took a tram up to the top of a mountain. What we hadn’t done yet is feel like a local, but that all changed when we met our hosts, Noah and Marcela at Su Casa Colombia. On our first night in Medellin they took us to their favorite local bar, where, with help from a little aguardiente, we were singing along with the band until the wee hours of the morning.
On our last day we found ourselves wandering high in the hillside barrios near the Bibliothèque España in Medellin dodging the collectivos with ease and snacking on hot buñuelos from an enthusiastic local baker. On our way back to our B&B, we stopped by the market and gathered up a sampling of all the fruit we didn’t recognize, just to make sure we didn’t miss anything before our flight home.
Want to do it yourself? Here’s our itinerary:
Friday 1/27 – Arrive in Bogota at 10pm | Spent Friday and Saturday nights at Chorro de Quevedo B&B in La Candelaria neighborhood
Sunday 1/29 – Noon flight to Cartagena | Spent Sunday and Monday nights at Yolanda B&B in the Getsemani neighborhood
Tuesday 1/31 – Leave at 8am on a 3 hour bus ride to Santa Marta | Spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Aluna Casa y Cafe in downtown Santa Marta
Thursday 2/2 – Leave Santa Marta on a 2pm flight to Medellin | Spent Thursday and Friday nights at Su Casa Colombia B&B in the Estadio neighborhood
Satuday 2/4 – Leave Medellin at 8am and spend the day at the Zipaquira salt mine outside Bogota before our 11pm flight home.