Exciting and ever-evolving, Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and prime foodie destination. Talented chefs from around the world have descended upon this Spanish-colonial hub to open many noteworthy restaurants. The city is known for its seafood, especially ceviche—raw fish marinated in lemon juice and doused with chili. But Cartagena has something for everyone, from world-class haute cuisine to humble stalls selling delicious local favorites—often amid live music and dancing spilling onto cobbled plazas.
You’ll find plenty of choices within the walled historic center as well as in nearby Getsemani, especially around Plaza de la Trinidad. And other notable restaurants are sprinkled further afield. We’ve distilled seven of the best for family dining into the following options. For hotel ideas for you and your brood during your Cartagena stay, see this article.
Demente is a newer restaurant with a lot going for it. First, its location right off Plaza Trinidad in the colonial and trendy Getsemani neighborhood is ideal. Then there's the food. The place does a great mix of fusion tapas like crab dumplings, tuna tartare, and pork with chimichurri sauce. They also have a good selection of local beers. Kids will love their wood-fired pizzas, which are delicious. They'll also get a kick out of the restaurant's open-air garden, as well as the fact that just outside you can find Mexican-style "paleta" ice cream bars being sold on the plaza.
Cra. 10 #29-29, Plaza de la Trinidad, Cartagena
There’s no shortage of ice cream outlets to choose from in Cartagena, but our favorite is Gelatería Tramonti, just two blocks from Plaza Santo Domingo. The Italian owner—he fell in love with both Colombia and a Colombian—conjures up delicious artisanal Italian gelatos and sherbets in tropical fruit flavors. Maybe the kids will want to try lulo? Or passion fruit? Or even tomato (yes, it’s a fruit)? Or they can stick to popular standbys like mint-chocolate. And how about addictive mojito ice cream for the grown-ups? There are even flavors for vegans.
Calle de Ayos #4-50, El Centro, Cartagena
Restaurante Don Juan
With a lovely bistro-style ambiance and heaps of light, the upscale Restaurante Don Juan—one of Cartagena’s finest—is favored by Colombia’s jet-set, including President Juan Manuel Santos (his favorite dish is grilled sea bass). So it pays to reserve well ahead. It’s on the pricey side, but well worth the splurge for such Basque-inspired dishes as grilled octopus, crayfish, and lobster risotto. Or try the grilled lamb chops with artichoke aioli and yucca fries. The joint may be fancy, but kids are welcome too. They'll love the desserts like chocolate cake and pan tres leches (three milks bread) with fresh cream. Plus there's the delicious spectacle of flambéed pineapple with rum, coconut milk ice cream, and sweet red fruit syrup. Plus, Chef Juan Felipe Camacho offers cooking classes for the whole family.
Calle de Colegio #34-60, El Centro, Cartagena
When it comes to satisfying your kids’ sweet tooth, make a beeline for Mila. This pastelería (bakery-café) is the brainchild of Colombian celebrity chef Camila Vargas. For lunchtime fare, she prepares soups, salads, and gourmet sandwiches using fresh-baked bread. Then there are the irresistible desserts, which feature everything from Oreo Cookie brownies and Key lime cheesecake to chocolate cake with gold-flaked icing. There's no way kids won't love the crispy churros (fried dough pastries) dipped in hot chocolate. They're also sure to enjoy a taste of home in the form of Mila's famous brownies, hot chocolate, and a breakfast special of pancakes topped with crispy bacon.
Calle de la Iglesia #35–76, El Centro
If there’s one specialty dish that’s synonymous with Cartagena it's ceviche: a bowl of delicious raw fish—and sometimes octopus and shrimp—marinated in lime juices. At Chef Jorge Escandon’s renowned La Cevichería, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unkown” TV show, mango and coconut are added for a delicious sweet-and-sour tang. The atmosphere here is perfect for kids—the dining room is as bright and animated as the colorful dishes. For food, they'll enjoy the crab claws with honey-mustard vinaigrette, or maybe something simpler like fish cubes and French fries. For beverages, they'll definitely love the blended limonada (limeade), and especially the limonada cerezada (cherry-flavored limeade).
Calle Stuart #714, El Centro, Cartagena
Restaurante Club de Pesca
If your kids love to make forts out of couch cushions, then they're bound to love Club de Pesca. That's because this is Cartagena’s only restaurant built into an actual colonial fort—Fuerte San Sebastián del Pastelillo. The setting overlooking the harbor towards the historic center is fantastic, especially at sunset. It has both indoor and outdoor dining—request a private table at one of the cannon emplacements—and specializes in seafood but serves of other options. Kids might be tempted to dance to the live salsa or bossa nova on offer. Also, the restaurant offers a free shuttle service to/from the historic center. It’s very popular with locals, so reservations are essential.
Fuerte San Sebastián del Pastelillo, Manga, Cartagena
For a fun family experience, hire a horse-drawn carriage for a tour of the Walled City and end at Paco’s, located in front of the cathedral on cobbled Plaza Santo Domingo. Named for its founder, the late Paco de Onis, this lively restaurant is a great place for the whole brood to sit under patio umbrellas and soak in the vibrant street life. Paco’s serves sandwiches, soups, and stuffed crêpes, but also makes a mean family-sized chorizo and seafood paella, best washed down with a delicious coco limonada (coconut lemonade) or sangria. On weekend evenings, Los Veteranos de Ritmo invite you and the children to dance to Cuban riffs. For desserts kids and adults will both love, try the tiramisú or caramel flan.
Calle 35 #5, Plaza Santo Domingo
Everywhere in the historic district, you’ll find street carts selling fresh fruits or tasty arepas de huevo (fried corn cakes stuffed with egg), buñuelos (deep-fried maize and cheese balls), empanadas (fried pastries stuffed with meats or veg and potato), and refreshing coconuts. Eating off these carts is a great way to get to know locals and introduce kids to Colombia's culture. Be sure to wash your food down with fresh fruit juices or coco limonada, and always be conscious of hygiene standards. We recommend sticking to stalls in the tourist zone, within the Walled City or Getsemani. If you or the kids have a weak stomach, avoid the carts selling ceviche and fruit-flavored shaved ice drinks.