Start your day with the most quintessential of Colombian foodstuffs – the Arepa. Made using ground corn dough, these tasty treats take many forms; white, yellow, fried, grilled and stuffed.
Opt for a substantial, stick-to-your-guts serving of the Arepa de queso that will keep you going 'til lunch. White corn dough is mixed with cheese, shaped into oval patties and grilled until golden. Definitely a hearty starter, the best arepas are prepared with oodles of melted butter, cheese and topped off with sour cream mixed with a dash of hot sauce, or guacamole.
Another Cartagena classic is the Arepa de Huevo. These round, yellow parcels of joy originate from the Colombian coast where the locals like their tuck fried hard.
Made with yellow corn dough fried first before opening up to add an egg and returning to the deep-fat fryer. The hardcore versions include meat. Be sure to get them fresh out of the fryer for finger-licking flavour.
The best vendors can be found on the main thoroughfares close to Calle del Pozo, Getsemani or in San Diego close to the Exito supermarket.
If you're watching your waistline, a tropical fruit platter might be a better bet. Wave down one of the colourfully dressed Palenque women - Palenqueras - and watch as she transforms your plastic plate into a work of art - Maracuya (passion fruit), Lulo, Carambola (star fruit), Pitaya (dragon fruit), Sandia (watermelon), Nispero and Papaya are arranged decoratively for an antioxidant hit that tastes as good as it looks.
Pick up a small slug of black coffee or tinto from one of the thermos-toting vendors then head to a bench in one of the Plazas to enjoy your breakfast al fresco.
Either side of lunch you'll be chasing something to tide you over or fix that lagging hangover. The streets of Cartagena do not disappoint.
For a late morning pick-me-up you can't beat a bag of mango biche. Colombians eat their mango unripe, crunchy and doused in lemon, salt and dried chilli powder. You can also buy green guava served in the same way. You will find carts selling the skinny soldiers of sliced fruit throughout the city.
For an alternative tropical snack, find a coco frio cart - the vendor will pop a straw into the chilled coconut for you to slurp away. Hey presto, instant hangover cure. The mineral rich coconut water will put the spring bakc in your step. Ask the vendor to hack open your finished coconut with his machete so you can gobble down the other white meat jelly inside.
If you make your way past the Torre de la Reloj towards Getsemani, you'll stumble upon another foodie-find and a perfect afternoon snack: cheese with guava. Eat the white, spongy cheese with a slab of the tart, ruby-red guava paste for a fantastic food sensation.
Consider it a tropical version of a cheese platter and fig chutney, only with the added benefit of sunshine.
Munch on Lunch
For Cartageneros lunch is the most important (read largest) meal of the day. Locals will usually either paper-bag a meal from home or grab a styro-foam pack filled with fish, pork, beef or chicken grilled with onion and peppers and served with rice and lentils.
Strangely sometimes it comes with a portion of what seems to be tinned spaghetti. Go figure. Push carefully to the side.
To nab your own, simply ask someone on the street already eating, "De donde comprastes tu almuerzo, vale?" and s/he will point to a vendor walking the streets with large plastic bags filled with stacks of the styro-foam lunchboxes.
Be warned, there is a limited window for this option, normally between noon and 1.30pm.
Alternatively, make yourself a traditional lunch of fritanga- round two of your fried foodathon.
Try some empanadas - semi-circular pastry pillows with assorted fillings (beef, chicken, cheese). Then be sure to load them up with plenty of salsa!
The freshest are found where the buses drop off the Cartagena workforce every day parallel to the wall at Calle 38 and Calle Zerrezuela (near the Exito supermarket in San Diego). There's plenty of competition so don't stick all your arepas in one basket, so to speak.
You'll probably also need something to wash it all down with. No problem. Juice on wheels is a Cartagena specialty. You won't need to look far to locate one of the vendors pushing along a giant fish-tank filled with icy juice in the most vibrant colours.
Try the sweet and sour tartness of a tamarind juice or a lemon/lime juice, to cut through that lunchtime grease. If you are in need of a porridge fix grab some Avena - a white drink made on oats and served both hot and cold. You can spot these vendors because the beverage is kept in giant silver vats.
Bypassing restaurants doesn’t mean you need to miss out on dessert. Sweet-toothed locals gather in the Portal de los Dulces, opposite the Torre del Reloj (the Clock Tower) for a post-lunch sugar rush.
The stalls are stacked high with sweet-filled glass jars bursting with coconut and fruit flavoured candies.
Examples include fist-sized mounds of coconut and condensed milk, tiny blocks of caramelized peanuts, slabs of sour guava or tamarind dipped in sugar, bolas de panela (brown sugar and popcorn balls) and muñecas de leche (milk dolls).
If you've got kids they will love a raspao, the equivalent of a slush
puppy, made from crushed ice and fruit flavourings.
Pick a Winner for Dinner
If you're harbouring some nostalgia for the gloriously 80s dish that was the prawn cocktail – you're in luck! They never went out of fashion in Cartagena.
Just beside the Torre del Reloj in the most commercial stretch of the city, La Matuna, you will find a string of stalls selling coctel de camarones or ceviche as they call it here.
Choose your cup size (the different sized cups are on display and conveniently have the prices written on the outside) and your seafood preference - prawns/shrimp, squid, mussels, octopus or a combination.
The vendor will combine your selection with finely diced red onion, garlic, lime-juice and a home-made thousand-island sauce. Spice it up with some aji if you're in that sort of mood. Eat your prawn cocktail with the water crackers provided and be sure to accept the complimentary mint for your garlic breath!
Our favourite sits beneath a giant rubber tree and an over-sized Sombrero Vueltiao in front of the Palace of Justice, a large white Republican-style building.
So you've worked up an appetite shaking your stuff at Havana all night? Or perhaps you need something savoury to soak up one too many Cuba Libres? The man you need to see is DJ Hotdog.
With his unique combination of pumping beats and calorific buns, this Costeño character is top dog in the Plaza de la Santisima Trinidad.
Grab one of his sandwiches laden with every conceivable condiment (give the pineapple or piña a try) and gulp it down whilst getting down to his Rhythm and Blues.
The plaza serves up a unique melting pot with more than its fair share of late-night eateries for a cosmopolitan crowd of gringos and locals. From Mama Roadkill Kebabs to the Patacones con Todo (Plantain with everything) drive-thru there's something for everyone.