Please double check what's open before your trip and follow all local vax & mask guidelines to keep yourself and others safe! Also, ads are how we pay our bills and keep our blog free for you to enjoy. We also use affiliate links; if you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you.
Before traveling to Colombia for the first time, we did a ton of research on the best Latin American foods. We looked up what and where to eat in each country throughout South America. And oddly enough, in most of the articles we read, Colombia got the shaft.
“Not well seasoned,” some articles sneered, “there’s just not really a Colombian cuisine identity,” huffed others.
Well, let me assure you: they’re all wrong. Colombian food is delicious and well seasoned, especially tipico Colombian cuisine! During our many trips to Colombia over the years, we’ve fallen in love with Colombia’s cuisine. We discovered that each region in Colombia is home to a different specialty – all of them incredible, of course.
Whether you’re visiting a Colombian restaurant or planning a trip to Colombia, here are 19 of the most mouthwatering Colombian foods to try!
Psst: We’ve got a ton of other resources for Colombia that you’ll want to look at before you plan your trip!
Colombian food reflects its history: over the years, Colombian cuisine was influenced and shaped by Indigenous communities, Spanish colonizers, and enslaved Africans.
What Makes Colombian Food Unique?
Colombia’s cuisine is heavily influenced by the diversity of its lush landscape as well as the diversity of its people: Colombia is home to almost 90 different ethnic groups speaking 65 different languages! From Indigenous staple foods like corn and tropical fruits to African-Colombians’ hearty meals of beans and stews, eating in Colombia reflects its rich cultural heritage and complex history.
Given the ethnic influences on the country’s dishes, it’s helpful to know a bit of history. Before Colombia was invaded by the Spanish in the late 1500s, Colombia was inhabited by heterogeneous indigenous groups as early as 9,790 BCE. These people were skilled artisans and farmers, with evidence of corn cultivation in Colombia since around 3,000 years ago. Colombia’s beloved arepas were staples of the indigenous people, who considered corn a gift from the gods.
The arrival of the Spanish brought more meat, rice, and other spices to Colombia’s dishes. The Spanish, in turn, stole the land’s natural resources and enslaved many of the Indigenous people to work in mines and agriculture.
As the Indigenous population was quickly decimated by the invaders, the Spanish brought enslaved Africans to work primarily along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. For centuries, Cartagena was Latin America’s primary slave port (and, not-so-fun fact, also the Spanish Inquisition’s torture center).
As a result, there is a strong African influence on Colombia’s cuisine, especially along the coast. Beans, plantains, and thick soups such as the coastal sancocho (which uses the common African grain, guandul) are just a few examples of African-Colombians’ influence on common dishes.
These histories have shaped the nation’s most popular dishes and regional culture, and Colombian food tells the story of its history. If you want to learn more about Colombia’s long and varied history, definitely check out the Museo Nacional de Colombia when you are visiting Bogotá.
Ajiaco soup in the foreground, sanchocho in the background, and a giant Colombian tamale topped with a fluffy arepa! Soup is the BEST food in Colombia, and Ajiaco is one of the stars of the show!
The Best Soup in Colombia
Soup is first on our list of what to eat in Colombia. Surprising? It shouldn’t be! Sopa is a classic traditional/tipico Colombian food, and it’s the BEST Colombian food in our opinion. Seriously, the soup in Colombia is bomb.
From the fish soups on the Caribbean coast of Cartagena to the heartier fare high up in the frigid mountains of Bogotá, each region has its own specialty. Soup was always the best tipico Colombian fare that we had!
Ajiaco / Chicken, Corn and Potato Stew
Ajiaco is native to Bogotá, and it is warm and hearty to compliment the chilly mountainous city. It is made with 3 kinds of potatoes, one of which can only be found in this area.
The rich flavor of this soup comes from guasca, a Colombian herb, and from the giant capers which are cooked into the soup and sprinkled on top along with a generous dollop of crema. You will also find giant hunks of corn on the cob and chicken in your soup.
Ajiaco is best when you add aji picante, avocado, lemon, and extra capers!
- Region: Bogotá
- Our Favorite: The best ajiaco I had was at a hole in the wall place near Bogotá Museo de Oro called Coma Parilla. Also, the self proclaimed Mejor Ajiaco del Mundo in the Candelaria neighborhood was fantastic.
You’ll see sancocho on menus all over Latin America – many countries have their own version of this style of soup. In Colombia, sancocho is a thick, broth-based soup that’s almost more like a stew, made with potatoes, yuca, plantain, a chunk of corn on the cob, and meat. The soup is usually topped with fresh herbs (or served with an herb salsa on the side) and served with avocado and rice.
But other than that, it completely varies from region to restaurant which style and kind of sancocho you may find on the menu! Our two favorite types of sancocho are fish and chicken.
There are many variations of sancocho de pescado in the Cartagena area. Most of them are coconut milk based, which makes the soup creamy and thick, much like a chowder. Fish and coconut are perfect tropical complementary flavors, and the soup is usually served with coconut rice, avocado, and crispy plaintain as well as tiny green lemons that taste almost coconutty themselves. It might be 85 degrees outside, but trust me: order the coconut fish soup. It’s delicious and weirdly refreshing (and scientifically proven to cool you down)!
- Region: Cartagena, the coast
- Our Favorite: The best versions I had were at La Casa de Socorro and Cocina de Pepina. Read more in our complete guide to what & where to eat in Cartagena!
Sancocho de gallina is found throughout Colombia, and is my go-to pick whenever I’m not near the coast. The inclusion of hearty, starchy roots like yucca and potatoes thickens the broth so that it’s filling and comforting, and there’s often an entire leg and thigh of chicken and half a corn cob topping off the bowl, too. You’ll never walk away hungry from a sancocho!
- Region: Served everywhere, especially south of the coast
- Our Favorite: The best Sancocho I had was in a random stop our bus made somewhere between Medellin and Salento. Any hole in the wall tipico Colombian stop will have good sancocho.
Traditional Colombian Poached Egg Soup called Changua.
Changua / Milk and Egg Soup
Changua is a savory milk and egg soup that is a popular breakfast food in the mountainous region surrounding Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. Made with milk, water, green onions, coriander, parsley, and egg, Changua is usually served with a slice of bread (traditionally stale bread from the day before) and is rumored to cure hangovers.
A warm and rich bowl of Changua has been the perfect way to warm up and start the day in the cold Andes region for many generations – Changua’s origins are said to be rooted in the Muisca civilization. The Muisca, or Chibcha, people have inhabited the central Andean highlands of Colombia since 1500 BCE and were skilled artisans, farmers, and builders.
The legend of El Dorado (the “Gilded Man”) comes from the Muisca’s coronation rituals, which included covering the future king with gold dust and gold offerings at Lake Guatavita, just north of Bogotá. With the violent arrival of the Spanish, many Muisca people were killed; however, many still live in the region around Bogotá, Cota, Chía, and Sesquilé.
If you have mastered the tricky art of poached eggs, you can also make this Muisca-influenced soup at home with just a few simple ingredients!
- Region: Central Andes region
- Our Favorite: Try at any local restaurant in Bogotá, like Mamá Lupe
Cazuela de Mariscos is a creamy seafood stew that is cooked with coconut milk and shrimps, clams, and fish. Photo Credit
Cazuela de Mariscos / Seafood Stew
Cazuela de Mariscos is a creamy seafood stew that is cooked with coconut milk and shrimps, clams, and white fish. Given that the country borders the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Colombia’s seafood scene is incredible, and this stew is one of the best ways to sample the region’s catch. Here is an adapted recipe from a Colombia cook that you can make at home.
- Region: Caribbean coastline
- Our Favorite: Old Town Cartagena
A street vendor selling meat skewers and grilled corn in Parque Nacional, Bogotá, Colombia
The Best Street Food in Colombia
One thing we’ve learned in our travels: always trust street food vendors. It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s delicious. Colombia is no different: street food is definitely a must on our list of what to eat in Colombia! Here are our favorite Colombian street foods.
Chuzos de Res o Chuzos de Pollo / Beef Skewers or Chicken Skewers
Oh, meat on a stick. The things you’ve given us…the ability to eat and talk with our hands simultaneously, messy shirts at carnivals, backyard barbecue eye-poking accidents.
Most cultures have some form of it, and Colombia is no exception. You’ll see street carts selling sizzling meat on a stick all over the country!
The reason it gets a mention here is the price. For 2.000 COP (like 70 cents), you can get a delicious smoky meat skewer with a tiny fingerling potato on top. As an added bonus, you can typically purchase grilled, buttered sweet corn cobs for cheap too.
- Region: All over the place!
- Our Favorite: Parque Nacional in Bogotá, and Plaza Trinidad in Getsemani, Cartagena
Unripe mango slices in Cartagena Colombia are best topped with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper! They’re a deliciously refreshing snack on a hot day.
Mango Biche con Sal y limon / Unripe Green Mango with Salt and Lemon
I love mango. I can eat mango spears all day. I’ve always like them more than Mango Aguillera. I’ve made that joke before, admittedly. Guess I should say “Oops I did it again.” Ba-dum-shh!
Anyway, in Colombia one of the most delicious street foods you can get is actually unripe mango, topped with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt (pepper too if you ask for it – and you should).
This snack is the perfect, refreshing mix of sweet, savory, and sour! Ripe mangoes have a tremendous amount of sweetness, but these guys are only slightly sweet. They’re the perfect rehydrating snack for a day on the beach, a stroll through hot Cartagena, or a long bus ride.
- Region: Most common in the northern coast
- Our favorite: Cartagena
A coconut caramel obleas, one of our favorite street foods in Bogotá, Colombia! Street food is high on our list of what to eat in Colombia.
This sweet treat is sold all over Bogotá, Colombia. It consists of two wafer cookies (kind of like a stroopwafel) and a choice of fillings: caramel, blackberry jam, chocolate, nuts, shredded coconut. We built one with arequipe – incredibly sweet Colombian caramel – nuts, and shredded coconut. Delicious!
Obleas throughout Colombia are often associated with Mick Jagger: you’ll find Rolling Stones logos on street carts, themed menu descriptions, and so on. We were incredibly confused by this for years, until we finally dug into the research to figure out why: in 2016, just months before my second visit to Colombia, the Rolling Stones performed in Bogotá for the first time ever. During their visit Mick Jagger was photographed strolling down the street munching on an obleas he purchased from a street cart.
Now obleas street carts are forever associated with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones!
- Region: Bogotá
- Our Favorite: Hit up any street cart with the Rolling Stones logo on it in Bogotá.
Arepas are one of the most famous street foods in Colombia. They’re made with corn masa and griddled on smoking coals on the street. Our favorites were stuffed with cheese and meat and oozing with hot, melty deliciousness. Original photo credit: “Arepas con Chorizo” (CC BY 2.0) by william.neuheisel
Arepas are basically cornmeal pancakes, and you will have them with pretty much every meal in Colombia! Sometimes your restaurant meal will include plain arepas on the side, which are tasteless and a disservice to superior arepas (and the country of Colombia, IMO).
However, the street arepas are really good: they might be stuffed with cheese, fried eggs, meat, veggies, or even chocolate! In San Gil we had one with ham, cheese, mayonnaise, and a hard-boiled quail egg. It doesn’t get much more Colombian than arepas!
Pre-dating the Spanish’s arrival, arepas have been eaten by Indigenous people of Colombia for centuries! There are so many varieties to choose from: the plain arepa de maiz is often served as a side to a soupy dish to help soak it up, but we prefer the salty, fried arepa de choclo stuffed with fresh cheese, or arepa de huevo, stuffed with eggs.
- Region: All over
- Our Favorite: Arepa con Queso in Centro Historico, Cartagena
Merengón is a baked meringue, filled and topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits, that is the perfect end to any meal. Colombians call it an addiction since once you try it, you will want to have this sweet, soft AND crunchy dessert every day. Photo credit
Merengón / Baked Meringue
Merengón is a baked meringue, filled and topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits, that is the perfect end to any meal. Colombians call it an addiction since once you try it, you will want to have this sweet, soft AND crunchy dessert every day. Also known as pavlova, merengón actually comes from Australia (or New Zealand, depending on which island nation you ask) but became so popular in Colombia that most Colombians believe it originated here.
What makes merengón in Colombia so different is the variety of tropical fruits that top it, including guanaban (aka soursop), a delicious native fruit that is said to smell like pineapple, taste like strawberries and apples, and have the texture of a banana. Although you most likely won’t be able to find guanabana at your average U.S. supermarket (though if you do find it, chances are it’ll be in the frozen aisle) you can make merengón at home with strawberries, bananas, and kiwis.
- Region: Everywhere!
- Our Favorite: Look for street carts serving heaping helpings. If you like berries, try the merengón de fresa y mora – it’s topped with strawberries and mora, a tropical type of blackberry
A heaping plate of cabro, sausage, steak, and steamed yuca in Barichara, Santander, Colombia. Can you believe this was only $8.50?
The Best Meat in Colombia
Wander through any Colombian village and you’ll see cows, goats, sheep, and chickens happily grazing and roaming free. Without having to ask for it, the meat in Colombia is all locally sourced, farm fresh, and pasture raised. AKA, they lived a happy life, so you can feel less guilty about eating them. And you can taste the difference in quality! Colombian meats are cooked differently in different regions. Here are our favorite Colombian meat dishes.
Cabro or Cabrito Santandereano / Goat or Baby Goat, Santander Style
I’m not a goat person. When I see goat on the menu, it’s always the last thing I want to order. But trust me – you want to try the goat in the Santander region of Colombia!
It’s marinated until tender and flavorful and grilled until smoky. Typically served with pepitoria, a delicious rice dish made with the juices and other parts of the cabrito that were cooked along with the entree portion. This meal, pictured above, was hands down the best food we had in Colombia.
- Region: Santander, San Gil, Barichara
- Our Favorite: El Compa in Barichara, which was also one of the best tipico places we went in Colombia!
Carne Oreada / Sun-Dried Steak
This delicious thin marinated steak has incredible flavor and a chewy consistency that is not unlike beef jerky. The more you chew the meat, the more flavor is released! Unlike any steak I have ever had, this Santandereano classic food is usually served with fresh boiled yucca
- Region: Santander, San Gil, Barichara
- Our Favorite: El Compa in Barichara yet again. We ordered a giant mixed platter for 25.000 COP ($8.50 USD) which included cabro, pepitoria, and carne oreada.
Posta Negra Cartagenera / Cartagena Black Beef
A classic Cartagena dish: tri-tip is marinated and slow cooked in a sauce that reminded us of a dark, syrupy, spicy mole – but there is no chocolate in this dish. One recipe said to use Coca-Cola. Another said orange juice. What we ate had just a hint of sweetness, perfectly balanced with acid, spice, and a deep, rich robustness. This is a must-try while visiting Cartagena.
- Region: Cartagena de las Indias
- Our Favorite: Cocina de Pepina
Bandeja Paisa platter with arepas, one of the most iconic Colombian dishes! Try it in Medellin.
The Best Restaurant Dishes in Colombia
Bandeja Paisa / Countryman’s Platter
This tasty variety platter is known for its generous serving of red beans, ground meat, chorizos, fried pork belly (‘chicharrón’), eggs, plantains, arepa, rice, and avocado. Translating to “Countryman’s Platter,” the dish is basically designed to fill up a hungry farmer – and you won’t go hungry after eating one (if you can finish it).
Due to the sheer amount of different foods it contains, Bandeja Paisa is traditionally served on a large platter: ‘bandeja’ is Spanish for platter. It’s also one of the country’s most popular dishes; it almost became the country’s national dish, but sancocho won out in the end! Bandeja Paisa is also representative of the many cultural influences in this area of Colombia: Indigenous (arepas), African (beans and plantain), and the colonizing Spaniards (chorizos and ground meats).
Bandeja paisa is ubiquitous on menus throughout the Antioquia region, especially in Medellin. If you want to try making Bandeja Paisa at home, check out Paisa local Erica Dinho’s recipe.
- Region: Antioquia
- Our Favorite: Most restaurants in Medellín offer incredible Bandeja Paisa, including ‘extended’ platters with steak and grilled pork.
Patacones / Deep-fried Green Plantains
Patacones are smashed and deep-fried green plantains and are crunchy deliciousness incarnate. Plantains are a starchy type of banana and are a staple in many Colombian dishes, and are eaten both as platanos – sweet and soft, made from ripened plantains – and patacones, the savory, crunchy version made from under ripe plantains.
Patacones often come served as a standard side with most meals, and can be eaten just with a sprinkling of salt or topped with a variety of meat, cheese, and vegetables.
Already craving the dish? If you can find plantains at your local store, try your hand at this recipe at home.
- Region: Everywhere – try Aborrajados de Plátano (a cheese-stuffed fritter variation) in Valle del Cauca
- Our Favorite: Eat patacones with hogao, a simply delicious tomato and onion salsa/dipping sauce, or try Aborrajados de Plátano, a heavenly variation of the dish, that is stuffed with cheese, battered, and then deep-fried.
Colombian fish ceviche served at a restaurant in Cartagena, served with crunchy fried patacones.
There are some things America really screws up: healthcare, treatment of minorities and women, gun control, and ceviche. Before our fateful dance with Colombian ceviche, Lia was convinced ceviche was rubbery shrimp with some sort of weird cold tomato soup. Thankfully, she now knows better!
You’ll find a couple versions of ceviche in Colombia. In restaurants up north near the coast, you’ll usually find a more traditionally Peruvian version of ceviche, featuring different kinds of fresh seafood marinating in a delicious liquid called “tiger’s milk”. The Colombian twist is to top the ceviche with fried patacones (rather than the traditional Peruvian topping of fried, crunchy corn and soft sweet potatoes) and occasionally, to use coconut milk in the marinade.
The other, arguably more Colombian version of ceviche is actually street food, which may be advertised as either ceviche or Coctel de Camarones. It’s really more of a delicious, fresh, tangy shrimp cocktail than ceviche. If you’re on the beach and a guy with a cart offers you a styrafoam cup with some shrimp in it, BUY SOME. I know it sounds sketchy as hell, but just trust me!
- Region: Cartagena, anywhere on the coast
- Our Favorite: Bocagrande, Getsemani, or the Walled City, Cartagena
Fruit in Colombia is next level! If you see one of these fresh fruit stands in Cartagena, jump in there and buy whatever they’re selling.
The Best Fruit in Colombia
Colombian food is probably most famous for the incredible variety of exotic native fruits. There are so many unique fruit species that grow native here, many which can’t be found anywhere else in the world!
Although we developed a taste for our favorites, you should try EVERY exotic fruit you encounter in Colombia! You can go to any local market and ask for una muestra, a sample. Before you know it you’ll be bringing home guanabana, pitahaya, and lulo for dessert!
Mark Twain once said “Cherimoya is deliciousness itself.” And no, I didn’t just make that up. He actually said that. I had been looking forward to trying this fruit the whole trip and it did not disappoint.
There are several varieties. The one we had most of was antemoya, which looks like a shriveled up artichoke. Opening it up doesn’t help either: it looks like alien brains on the inside.
But listen: looks are decieving! The texture is like a custard with seeds. Some people say that this intriguing fruit tastes like banana mixed with pear. I’ve also heard pineapple mixed with papaya.
Personally, we think it tastes like bubble gum and honeysuckle!
- Region: We had the most luck finding them inland in local mercados.
- Our favorite: The produce market in San Gil was selling them for 2,000 COP a pound.
Granadilla / Sweet Passion Fruit
We love passion fruit, but we had no idea there was a sweeter variety until we came to Colombia. Instead of the puckering you get from the sour maracuya/passion fruit, granadillas are very sweet with a slight tartness from the crunchy, chewable seeds. The inside of a granadilla looks a lot like passion fruit, but the jelly around the seeds is a pale yellow.
They’re fun to eat, too: just rip open a granadilla with your hands and suck the seeds out! Eating fruit isn’t supposed to be glamorous, right?
- Region: Everywhere
- Our favorite: All of them
Cousin to the lychee, these little guys look like limes, but grow like grapes. They’re a labor intensive fruit that are actually fun to eat: break the very thin skin with your teeth and a fuzzy little citrussy fruit pops in your mouth.
The tough thing about this fruit is the pit is so large, and the fruit surrounding it doesn’t come off easily. You basically have to suck on the pit to get the fruit, then you spit it out when you’ve gotten it all.
It will leave your hands sticky, but it’s worth it. Wink wink.
- Region: More common in the coast
- Our Favorite: Get a bag in the old walled city in Cartagena for cheap! Bring a napkin, they’re sticky.
Jugos Naturales / Fresh Juices
Other than enjoying Colombia’s many tropical fruits straight off of a street cart, our favorite way to enjoy them is in a freshly made juice, or jugo.
You’ll find sweet, refreshing jugos naturales on every menu, but they’re not the kind of juice you’d get at a juice bar in California: they are blended, smoothie-like drinks made from fresh or frozen fruit, sugar, and either milk or ice.
When you order one, you’ll be asked whether you want it with leche or agua (ice). Personally, we prefer the milkshake-esque flavor of a juice blended with milk for most jugos (especially strawberry/fresa and soursop/guanabana), but some fruits are best when blended with water, like watermelon.
Try as many flavors as you can and experiment to figure out which ones you like! We’re in the habit of ordering one with every meal whenever we visit. You can try making a Colombian-style juice by following Erica Dinho’s many Colombian-inspired juice recipes.
- Region: Everywhere, and varieties available will vary by location
- Our Favorite: Guanabana/soursop with milk, strawberry/fresa with milk, and watermelon with water. If you see lulo or cherimoya on the jugo menu, jump on that!
Which delicious Colombian food made your mouth water? What will you be looking for on the menu at the next Colombian restaurant you visit? Leave us a comment below!
Oh hey! We’ve also got a ton of other resources for Colombia that you’ll want to look at before planning a trip:
Psst: Wish you could visit Colombia with a local’s help? ViaHero connects travelers with local experts to help you plan your perfect trip! You’ll get customized recommendations and tips while traveling responsibly and supporting local communities. Check it out!
Did this post make your mouth water? Save it for later on Pinterest!