A new continent! South America! Woop woop! I’m very excited and super curious, now that we’ve left the rainy season in Central America behind.This will probably be our turf until July 2018, if everything works out fine.
So here we are now, starting in Colombia. We travel north to south, always on pursue of the sun, beginning in CARTAGENA.
Here are some decent restaurant options. We started at „Maharajah“ (Carreras 10, 30-36) because we haven’t had Indian food for ages. And they have a Thali on the menu (see what I wrote about Thalis in „India“), so we couldn’t resist! Good portion and good price, spicy and yummy lentils. What a pleasant introduction (not typical/local, I know. But sometimes, it just has to be a classic, be it Thai, Indian or Burgers with fries…). But there’s more to come…
It was a swell start in the day because we went to „Stepping Stone Cafe“ which opened only three months ago in Calle San Andres 30-40. Their social approach is exemplary: They hire and train youth from risk areas of the city, offer paid internships to increase future employability and are affiliated with a foundation (FEM) that empowers indigenous communities. It really felt like a good thing to eat here and support those guys a little! And also the food was nice. They have several vegetarian and vegan options, specially highlighted. I was craving for mushrooms as I haven’t had them for quite a while, so I went for „Grace’s Mushrooms“, served on a bed of wilted spinach with house made bread, and the „Tofu Scramble“ was pretty close to what I (sometimes) do on a Sunday morning in Hamburg. Definitely worth a visit!!
For dinner we headed to „Restaurante Vegetariano Girasoles“, recommended by the „Happy Cow“ website. You can stock up on all sorts of herbs, almond milk, tofu, vitamin pills and the lot in there as well. Anyway, we were there for the food. I liked that there was only a set menu, so you don’t have to make up your mind and decide what you’ll have. Sometimes, I’m bad with decisions, especially on holiday (brain on standby modus…). So we had this:
…and it was good! Super fast service, tasty food for a cheap price so we were bound to have that tempting vegan chocolate tart for desert, that kept calling my name the whole time. Bliss….
And you know what? We came back several times! For lunch they have a similar set menu (for unbeatable 10.000 Pesos) and because they change their menu daily for the evenings, we went for dinner as well. Never change a winning team I’d say! And it looked a little like this:
And then we found a unique place called „Samudra Yoga Inbound“ whose very enthusiastic owner told us all about his philosophy. Apparently, this is a Hare Krishna orientated restaurant/hostel/yoga center and offers strictly vegan food. He proudly presented the ersatz meat that was produced in Colombia and with which he imitates typical Colombian classics to hopefully attract locals (as the majority of his customers are foreigners). What a brilliant strategy and a clever approach having seen the meaty stuff people sell on the streets which looks identical to the „Fast Food“ offered here.
So after the set menu for lunch (with fresh juice, you won’t find any coke or other „artificial“ drinks here), we tried one of his Columbian „pasabocas“ with fake sausage in a sweet dressing. I liked it! Come and sit outside on the tiny balcony with views on the narrow street with burganvillas everywhere in ever so peaceful harmony. Ohmmmmm….
We treated ourselves with a visit at the somewhat upscale Indian restaurant „Ganesha“ (Calle de la media luna 10-81), which opened just 5 month ago. Due to their chef being from Tamil Nadu, they specialize on South Indian cuisine. It’s not pure vegetarian (or vegan for that matter), but they offer a wide variety of vegan dishes as well. Plus, they don’t use Ghee, but vegetable oil! And boy, it was good! You could definitely tell that there was an expert at work! All in all, it’s a very nicely decorated place that has a focus on authenticity (be it the music or the celebration of typical festivities, like Diwali) and the people are more than friendly.
On the last day in Cartagena we visited „Anacardos“ (= cashews; they are somewhat of the signature ingredient that finds its way in all the dishes here). Some of the creative treats include lasagne, quinoa, ratatouille, pasta, salad with tofu and pear etc. A big plus: When you mention that you’re vegan, you’ll get a completely different (vegetarian) menu than the one for carnivores. It’s slightly upscale with an elevated atmosphere and a chic interior. The lunch deal (with soup and fresh fruit juice) is a bargain considering the quality of the food.
Next pit stop: MINCA. It’s a small village near SANTA MARTA that many traveler chose as their base when hiking/mountain biking/bird watching/…. in the neighboring hilly forests. So did we: hiking in the somewhat cooler regions was on the list. On the way to our hotel I was delighted to see a a little sign that said „Safe a cow/Safe the forest/Eat vegan“. Why look any further?! The tiny restaurant called „Duni“ turned out to be quite environmentally conscious because they don’t use straws in their exquisite fruit juices (try the fresh passion fruit juice or the house lemonade). That’s a good start! They began putting vegan dishes on the menu (vegan sandwich/burger/soup, but they generally cater for omnivores) as there was an increasing demand by mostly European travelers. The rules of supply and demand. So thanks to all the vegan travelers who showed up before me I enjoyed a very tasty vegan burger and fried plantains (and a delicious sandwich the next day…) in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and don’t forget to try the decadent chocolate bread!
A perfect (and so necessary) treat after a 3 hour hike uphill was „Aloha Ke Akua“, from where you can walk down to the Marinka waterfall. It’s a holistic retreat that offers yoga, meditation, permaculture workshops and other courses. The view is very rewarding and well worth the ascend, you’ll forget your aching feet in no time. The welcoming owners invite you to join their communal (and affordable) lunch or dinner which they prepare vegetarian or vegan, using some veggies and herbs from their garden. They bake homemade bread from a German recipe. That one really helped us get through the day!
PALOMINO is a beach bum paradise and sort of on the way to a nearby flamingo reserve and the northernmost point in South America. It’s well worth spending a night or three, not only for the sheer endless beach and the relaxing river tubing. „Los 7 Mares“ has a variety of very good, homemade vegan burgers, e.g. with a quinoa patty or the falafel version. I tried the lentil burger with spinach, grilled onion and olives. I left very happy.
Who also made me happy was Turco, the owner of „Turcolandia“. He’s quite a character (the Colombian version of Bruce Willis) and he puts some love in his pizza!
Crusty thin base (without egg of course) and just the right amount of herbs and veggies. Heaven was just a bit closer that day.
Back from the desert in the north, we spend the weekend diving with „Reef Shepherds“ in the beautiful bay of TAGANGA. Conveniently, we found a vegetarian cafe called „Tropico“ (opposite the only football field in town) that offers salads, burgers, huuuuge wraps and delicious fresh juices (from exotic fruits such as „Tomate de Arbol“). They have vegan options, but the burger bun had most probably milk powder in it, so stick to the wrap (e.g. with dried tomatoes and mushrooms, tofu, avocado or chickpea croquette). The owner is vegetarian (quite exceptional when Colombian!) due to her husband’s influence…that’s true love!
I was not really surprised to find vegan food in MEDELLIN, the second biggest metropolis in Colombia. In a city bursting with young, innovative, arty and bohemian people, vegan restaurants are generally quite easy to be found. Luckily, just round the corner of our hotel, we found „Mr. Veggie“ (CRA 50A #62-48, Prado Centro). We had a really lovely chat with the friendly owner who explained his personal motivation to become vegan to us. They offer a vegan daily meal that consists of a soup, a juice, a mixed plate and a little desert for very little money. It’s such a bargain and changes daily, so it never gets boring (We went three times and always left with an extra pan integral de chocolate, soooo good). It turned out to be my favorite vegan place in Medellin!
I quite liked the idea of ordering a set menu: each time different, always 2-3 courses, cheap, filling, nutritious, good. And makes it easy to decide, you just can’t go wrong with it. So at „Tienda & Cocina Vegetariana“ (CRA. 45 # 52-63, El Palo), I tried it again. And guess what: I left tummy happy. It was good to see that also locals frequented the restaurant, be it for the bargain price of the daily special or because they’re vegan/part-time vegan/open-minded. Whatever the reason, this place was busy. It might as well be because it was yummy?! Or just because of the charming elderly waitress? Go, find out yourself!
Strolling around downtown, we came across a local who recommended „Vive Saludable“ (Car. 44 No. 47-19) to us, praising their vegan options and a menu del dia. Actually, my intention is to support vegan or at least vegetarian restaurants but this one deserves to be mentioned as well simply because of the quality of their vegan choices. There’s health written all over the place (to a degree where all the waiters wear a funny plastic protection in front of their mouth! Don’t ask..). Their service is superfast and attentive and the menu is still a bargain. And did I mention the creamy carrot soup for starters? So good…
The uber-hip barrio Poblado is a mix between Auckland’s K’Road and London’s Portobello Rd/Camden Market. Totally enjoyable, full of little bars, cosy cafes and shops. „Marietta“, a small vegan restaurant deserves this trendy location (Car. 35 No. 8 A 107). You’ll get verduras al wok, Tacos etc, but the best bet is (have a guess…) the vegan menu with a yummy pumpkin soup, exquisite soy meat on peanut sauce, Aubergine ratatouille, a fresh fruit juice and a melting chocolate cake for desert that was finger-lickin‘ good!
If it’s just a small snack in between you’re after, head to „Vital Cook“ (Calle 53 # 42-17) where you can satisfy your munchies with vegan sandwiches, hamburgers, salads, wraps and burritos. Neither the biggest portions, nor the tastiest interior, but hey: that wrap was tasty!
GUATAPE is just a two hour bus ride from Medellin hence the perfect getaway into tranquility when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. The lakeside scenery is just stunning and so is the the village due to the ever-present colorful fresco-like decorations on the walls („zokalos“). But also the foodie options were good: first, we found „Namaste“ (Calle 32 #27-23) directly on the lakefront between all the „ordinary“ restaurants. They normally have five veg dishes on the menu that all can be made vegan. That day though, they were about to close, but when they saw our disappointed faces the girls still fixed an exotic curry pasta with peanuts and veggies for us. And their self made ice cream with frozen fruits and peanut butter was to-die-for!
Another gem that we discovered was „Govinda’s“ (Car. 28 #31-48), a place I personally liked mucho. You literally sit on the floor (narrow tables and pillows) in their living room that has been transformed to host people. They also do yoga and meditation and the Hare Krishna spirit is all around. We tried the daily menu twice and all I can say is: It was a blast! Serious portions (huge spinach & ginger soup to start with…) for little money, fresh ingredients, fast and kind service by lovely hosts in a peaceful and unique atmosphere. Don’t miss this place when you are in Guatape!
It’s understandable that some people only intended to spend a night in JARDIN but ended up hanging around for a week or so. Such a pleasant and easy going little village beautifully sitting in a valley surrounded by mountains full of coffee plants. Elderly gentlemen wearing cowboy hats sit at the central square, drinking excellent coffee and watch the world go by. So did we. And went to the only vegan place in town, „Consulado Vegetal“ (Calle 10 #2-02). The welcoming owners recently moved from Medellin in search of tranquility and found it here. Their menu is 100% vegan, they buy locally grown veggies, have a zero-waste policy and the tips are donated to the local dog shelter. Need I say more? Oh, the food! Well, it was ridiculously delicious and also the range of dishes was outstanding with treads like Calentao del Consul and Pericos de Tofu on the menu. Also, this is THE place to satisfy your sweet tooth: apple crumble and waffles with hot chocolate…. It was hard to wipe that grin from our faces!
As it closes at 2pm, we found three alternatives (with vegan options) for dinner, all conveniently located at Carrera 4 Bolivar, opposite the church. Get a vegetarian pizza without cheese at „Cafe Europa“, or -here comes a secret- order the vegan Greek pizza with caramelized onions. As good as it gets, plus the place is cosy, the music is good and the guys working there muy simpatico. The pasta is a yummy as well and goes down well with a vino tinto.
If it’s not pizza or pasta you’re after, just go across the road to „Bon Appetit“, where you’ll be rewarded with decent Tika Masala or rice noodles. Never forget to get your vitamin boost and order a fresh fruit juice wherever you are. Our favorites are Mora, Lulu, Guanabana, Tomate del Arbor and Gulupa, all regional fruits that you won’t get at home!
Last but not least, again just across the street is „Restaurante Pastelatte“, where you’ll get a decent veg risotto accompanied with fresh fruit juice. Vitamins? Check!
MANIZALES is the northern most city of the so-called coffee axis, a green, hilly region plastered with coffee plantations. Our nice hostel „The Golden Frog“ had a well equipped kitchen inviting us to stay in and cook ourselves. Twice though, we ate out anyways: No thrills „Laurel- Restaurante Vegetariano“ (Calle 56 Unit 23-60) serves a decent lunch menu that attracts lots of business people spending their lunch break here (they’re open from 12-2:30pm). It’s vegetarian, but most of the time it’s vegan (or has a vegan option). The soup was awesome, and the service fast but don’t come here to expect anything as far as ambience is concerned. Although these guys have been running the place for 8 years already, it’s still just a sloppily renovated flat.
More appealing as far as atmosphere is concerned is „Rushi“ (Carrera 23c No 62-73). They also have a daily changing lunch menu, but their vegetarian menu also has heaps of vegan choices. Try also the vegan brownies, they’re really good. And there’s live music every Friday!
If you’re like me and think that palm trees are awesome, you simply can not miss Valle de Cocora, a place with stunning 60m high wax palms in a valley that looks like the Alps in Southern Europe (including grazing cows). Tiny SALENTO is a convenient base from where it’s easy to start your trek. Another benefit: there’s a vegetarian restaurant called „El Punto Veggie“ (Car. 5) serving not only the usual lunch menu but a variety of delicacies, from pasta, wraps, pizzas and salads to vegan brownies. I particularly liked the heavenly lentil burger!
Nearby FILANDIA is a pretty and slow-paced traditional coffee town where we had the best view from a restaurant in Colombia. Plus, it was a nice change to enjoy Thai food again after a long time. „Tuk Tuk“ (Calle 7 # 8-43) offers quality Thai cuisine with several vegan options and while munching on those, you’ll be staring into the vast landscape that stretches to the National Park Los Nevados. For Colombian standard it’s relatively pricy, but soooo worth the pesos!
It was time for city life again, we went off to CALI. As in most bigger cities, I expected several vegan restaurants and the third biggest city of Colombia didn’t let us down. And even before we started searching for specific restaurants, we accidentally came across „Mandarino’s“, in the food court in a mall. And as we always support tiny veg/vegan shops, we squeezed in another falafel sandwich which was surprisingly good, taken into account that we were eating in a food court. So if you need a brake from your shopping frenzy: burgers, wraps and more are waiting for you in the 3rd floor.
Noticing the next little gem during our free Cali walking tour, we headed back to „El Vegetariano“. It immediately reminded me on my university days in the cafeteria: you take a tray, pick a soup, a main dish, grab a desert and select a juice, pay 10.000 pesos (!) and shuffle to the next free table. How wonderful, that you find places like this in Colombia and that they are frequented by so many locals.
Then, we found „Govinda’s“, a branch we visited already in Guatape. Again, the Hare Krishna theme was all around, it’s 100% vegan, the people were friendly, the atmosphere lovely, the food excellent and the price ridiculous. Oh, and the banana desert was exceptional! You simply can’t go wrong here!
POPAYAN is known for their architecture and white washed walls. Here, we found some of the cheapest vegan restaurants in Colombia. Plus, the prize neither affected the taste nor the experience as we mingled mostly with locals. In fact, we hardly came across any tourists here at all!
It simply can not be any cheaper than at rustic „Salud y Vida“. They are only open at lunchtime. Their menu is vegan and comes for an unbeatable 4500 pesos. Special here is that you can choose 7 different items from a long list.
They have another branch called „Restaurante Vegetariano Mana“ which is also open in the evening (until 8pm), the same principle of choosing 7 (magic number!) delicious and vegan item (also not steaming hot…). I chose the tarta de coco as desert which was exceptionally good. We came back the next day…
A little more upmarket but only slightly more expensive and evenly frequented is „Comida Sana“ (Carrera 8 # 3-18), which is the right choice for lunch. It is just open from 12-4pm, people come early to get a seat.
In PASTO, 2 hours from the border to Ecuador, for some a special thing here is to try the local delicacy cui, a guinea pig, roasted, cooked and stuffed. Or else you might fancy a pighead by any chance? We saw many in the countless butcheries we passed. Or, like us, you go to the 100% vegan „Gira El Sol“ (Calle 20A # 27A-41B), I swear: the better choice!! Ignore the somewhat tacky interior and concentrate on the delicious menu, made from organic ingredients. They use a pretty convincing soy-based meat substitute plus their soups are top notch. If you’re only into fast food: go for Mazorca Frita con (vegan) queso, Perros Calientes and Salchipapas, just like the locals love it. Only vegan. And they have Fijoa juice, a fruit I first tried 11 years ago in New Zealand and haven’t had ever since! Choice!