There are some excellent traditional Colombian foods to sample in Colombia – from juicy and unique tropical fruits, to savory main dishes and soups, and delicious sweet and salty snacks. We were impressed by just how many new foods and dishes there were to eat in Colombia.
We absolutely took advantage of this, eating our way throughout the cities, hitting up food stands and restaurants to bring you this list of the best and most delicious foods to eat in Colombia.
34 Traditional Colombian Foods To Eat in Colombia
In this list, we have a variety of categories: main dish/savory items, tropical fruits, best street foods and snacks, drinks, and treats/desserts. It was a tough job tasting all the foods to compile this list, but someone’s gotta do it! 😉
Main Dishes/Savory Items
This section is really a big melange of different types of savory items to eat in Colombia, including starters, main dishes, sides, and soups. They are all extremely traditional Colombian foods that definitely need to be on your cuisine bucket list for Colombia!
1. Ajiaco Soup
I had to start this list with a delicious classic. This is very traditional and popular soup in Colombia, particularly in Bogota, where it originated. It is made with 3 types of potatoes, chicken, corn, and capers.
Sometimes the corn kernels are added into the soup, and sometimes, like above, a chunk of corn on the cob is served with the soup. Also, sometimes the capers are served on the side, like above. (I prefered this, as capers aren’t my favorite flavor).
Traditionally, you take a little bit of the rice and then dunk it in the soup and eat it. However, some people prefer to dump the whole thing of rice in and mix it up at the start.
I loved the ajiaco soup, it felt particularly good in the cool Bogota weather. You will find this soup throughout Colombia, as well, as it has become a national favorite.
Restaurant recommendation: San Felipe Restaurant in Bogota
2. Arroz Con Pollo
This dish, a frequent “menu del dia” option, had spices and other ingredients with the rice. It also had a bit of sweetness as the rice had been cooked in coconut milk. The chicken and rice are mixed together in one tasty mound and are usually served as *the* main dish.
3. Bandeja Paisa
This traditional Colombian dish is a “platter” of a huge variety of food and is found on the menus of most Colombian restaurants.
The exact combination of food varies between restaurants and regions, but will often include pork rind, chorizo (and/or other meats), rice, beans, bananas or plantains, an arepa, avocado, and fried egg.
The one we had here also included a blood sausage and a salad.
Arepas are the primary bread products eaten in Colombia. They are very traditional and are served, or at least available, with every meal.
They are round and small-ish – think about the size of cookie up to the size of a corn tortilla, but much thicker. They are often served grilled.
Locals are very fond of them, so I really hate to say this, but Matthew and I found them to be a bit on the bland side. Still, due to its popularity and ubiquitousness, arepa are definitely one of the traditional Colombian foods that you just cannot miss!
Chorizo is a somewhat spicy sausage combining the flavorfulness of a Polish sausage with the spices of an Italian sausage.
That said, what was called “chorizo” varied quite a bit, even from one stand to another. Sometimes the chorizo was more like a hot dog – particularly on pizza it was more likely to resemble a sliced up hot dog. But other times it was spicy rather than just flavorful. At a vendor on the street you can pretty well tell what you’ll be getting, but at a restaurant expect to be rolling the dice.
This particular chorizo-potato dish (pictured above) was my favorite of the entire trip. We got it from a food stand set up on the exterior of the main square in Guatapé! It hit all the right notes!
6. Coconut Rice
Coconut rice is a dish very popular along the Caribbean coast, in cities such as Cartagena. The rice is cooked in coconut milk instead of water, imparting a nice flavor and making the rice even stickier.
Definitely plan to eat this traditional Colombian coastal food when you visit places like Cartagena or Santa Marta!
Traditional Colombian foods for breakfast include arepas, eggs, and sausage. Fresh fruit, fruit juice, coffee, and hot chocolate are also very common. Rice and beans are also sometimes present. This plate is about about as typical as you can get for breakfast in Colombia!
Patacones are a popular dish in Colombia, either served in small discs as an appetizer (above), or sometimes as a very large, platter-sized chip for a side or even main dish (below).
What exactly are patacones? They are doubled fried plantains. They may have some sweetness to them (when ripe plantains are used) or be more salty and savory (my preference) when the plantains are greener. They are often served with guacamole, beans, or meat.
This was one of my favorite foods to eat in Colombia – they are delicious!
9. Mondongo Soup
Mondongo soup is very popular throughout Colombia (and in many Latin American countries). It’s main ingredient is beef tripe, which is the edible lining of the animal’s stomach.
Despite that perhaps unusual meat source, the Mondongo soup we had was really quite good! The soup was nice and thick, like a stew, and also had peas, onions, and other veggies in it. It was savory and flavorful. Soups in Colombia are generally served with a side plate of rice, avocado, and banana or plantain.
10. Trucha (Trout)
Trucha (or trout) is a very popular dish in the coffee region of Colombia, and we saw it on just about every menu in Salento.
The trout is often served whole, as above, and can be prepared in a variety of ways. I liked the creamy herb and garlic sauce that came with my fish. It was tender and fairly mild-flavored. Pineapple and coconut were other frequent flavor options.
Recommended restaurant: Restaurante Meraki, in Salento
Traditional Colombian Foods: Snacks
All over the cities in Colomba you can find stands on the street, or bakeries with their shopfronts open to the street selling a variety of hot, savory snacks and sweet treats. While there are definitely even more varieties of savory “grab and go” snacks you can find in Colombia, these are the ones we most enjoyed and saw aaaaalllll the time!
Empanadas are half circle shaped pastries that are filled with a savory (usually meat filling) and then baked or fried. It’s similar to a turnover – you can hold it in your hand as you eat it. Empanadas are a very typical food in Colombia, and can be found in little bakeries or street carts all over the cities.
A pastel is very similar to an empanada, as it is dough stuffed with meat or cheese and then cooked. However, pastel dough is thinner and when fried it gets extra nice and crispy! I generally preferred the pastels over the empanadas as a street food to eat in Colombia.
13. Pan de Bono
This Colombian cheese bread is ubiquitous throughout the country and without a doubt a delicious food to eat regularly in Colombia.
It’s made with cassava flour, and has a chewy texture and savory flavor, without tasting overly cheesy. We loved these and ate them a lot!
14. Hormigas Culonas
Your eyes do not deceive you – yes, these are ants. Big butt ants, to be specific!
Look, I’m not here to say these toasted and salty ants are delicious. But they are sold on street corners everywhere in Colombia. These are traditional Colombian “foods”, as locals have been snacking on them for hundreds of years.
If you’re feeling brave and cultured, try the ants!
All sorts of interesting, unique, and delicious tropical fruits are readily available to eat in Colombia.
The cities will often have big fruit markets you can visit for fresh fruits, but there are also stands set up all around the city selling freshly cut fruits – usually mango, pineapple, mango biche, and watermelon. Mamoncilla were also commonly found on the street, while the other fruits in this section we saw mainly at the markets.
I won’t highlight the pineapple or mango here (even though there were so delicious), since those are more common and familiar to people coming from the US. Between being so interesting, so juicy, so unique, and so cheap, fruits are some of the best foods to eat in Colombia – here are our 10 favorites.
Mangosteen was such an cool new fruit to try. You peel back the rind, which is almost like a dry, thick husk. The inside looked like a white, peeled clementine, and it pulled apart like a clementine.
Several slices had no seeds, but 1-3 would have a solid seed in the slice. The flesh was super sweet, juicy, and flavorful. We loved mangosteen!
Lychee has a dinstictive spiky exterior, but when you crack open the exterior shell, you find the white, bulbous fruit. We thought the texture was similar to the mangosteen, soft but not too soft. The taste was mild yet sweet.
17. Mamoncilla (Spanish Limes)
These green fruit are sold on street carts around the city – you can buy just a few for a couple hundred pesos and make for a quick, fresh snack while you’re walking around.
Again, these fruits have a leathery exterior shell, which you can crack easily with your teeth and pull apart. The interior is sort of gummy and gooey, with a large pit – you kind of just have to suck the fruit off the pit. If that sounds like the lychee fruit, that’s because these are related to lychee and not actually a citrus fruit.
I loved the flavor of these mamoncillas and was very happy to eat these regularly throughout the trip. They had a bit of tartness, but were way less tart than real limes like we’re used to in the US.
18. Mango Biche
Mango biche are unripe, green mangos served with salt and lime. They are found in street carts around the cities, and are very tart.
While Colombians really love mango biche, these were too sour and crunchy for our taste. I’m still glad we tried it though, and I’d recommend you at least try it too!
19. Sapote (alternate spelling: Zapote)
On the outside, this fruit almost resembles a beet, with a muted, light brown color to it. The inside, though is this vibrant orange color, with a mild melon taste and a bit of an earthy flavor.
While the exterior of this fruit is bright yellow and spikey, peel the rind off and you have a soft, white fleshy center that you can bite into. The fruit is very soft and juicy (juicier than a watermelon, I would say). The flavor is mild and sweet.
There are a lots of seeds throughout the fruit. You can’t avoid the seeds – they’re really soft, though, so just chew and swallow like normal.
You will find a lot of Guanabana flavored drinks and ice creams in Colombia, and while I definitely enjoyed the fruit itself, I really liked the guanabana-flavored products!
21. Naranjilla (Lulo)
Naranjilla *almost* look like they’re oranges but they’re a VERY different fruit. (Actually the green-yellow fruit in the upper right hand corner of the picture – those are Colombian oranges!) The fruit is also known as lulo – especially when it is a juice. If you see “jugo de lulo”, that’s the juice of this fruit.
Naranjilla have a thin, rough peel and sweet and tart taste, somewhat similar to a kiwi. In fact, the interior is green and has black seeds like a kiwi, too. Matthew thought it was too sour, but I really liked the taste and flavor of the naranjilla!
This classic tropical fruit has a bright pink interior, full of small white seeds. We didn’t notice those seeds when we ate them. Also, it is safe to eat the peel and it was soft, like a pear. In fact, overall the texture was very similar to a pear, though it tasted very different.
Chicha is an ancient, traditional Colombian drink made from corn, with a really interesting history. Long ago, women used to chew the corn kernals for a long time until the sugars were released, and then spit the corn into a pot. Water was added, the pot was then covered and buried, and the drink fermented for about a week until it became an alcoholic drink. Once sugar cane was brought to the Americas, sugar cane juice was also added.
It was traditionally only drunk at ceremonies, but the joke is that there was a ceremony every day, so everyone was always drunk. Back in the 1920’s, chicha was banned thanks to a PR campaign by a competing beer company that wanted to corner the alcohol market, but speakeasys opened up in the cities where you could find chicha to drink. In the 1970’s chicha was officially made legal again.
However, the chicha you find today in Colombia is not made by people personally chewing the corn, and only ferments a couple days which means it is not inherently alcoholic and is more like a cider. But, you can still easily find chicha that has been mixed with alcohol , and in fact almost all that you find sold on the street will be mixed with beer, whisky, or some other alcohol. The natural color of chicha is a dull yellow, but many bottles have bright colors added to it.
It has an interesting taste and smell, kind of like a mix between drinking corn bread and apple cider together. It is also described as similar to kombucha.
The place we saw chicha the most was at the Plazoleta Chorro de Quevedo in Bogota, so if you want to try this traditional Colombian drink, head there when you’re in town! If you want it non-alcoholic, you’re best off asking at a nearby restaurant.
24. Hot Chocolate
Hot chocolate is a ubitiquous breakfast drink in Colombia. Interestingly, the style of the chocolate varied from place to place and somewhat region to region. In cities or established restaurants, you are more likely to get “chocolate con leche”, a creamier version and more typical of what I am used to in the US.
However, we also frequently (particularly in rural areas) were served a version of hot chocolate that was water-based, less strong, and had a distinctly earthy flavor. It was more lightly sweetened and was not creamy. In fact, it seemed more like a cocoa tea and I suspect it was made using the whole bean being steeped in hot water.
Both versions were good, but they were definitely different!
25. Chocolate Santafereño
In a twist on your typical hot chocolate, Colombians love a good “chocolate con queso” or chocolate with cheese. This is often known as Chocolate Santafereño.
A chunk of cheese is served next to the cocoa, which you are then supposed to submerge completely in the chocolate until it is gooey and melty. Use your spoon to lift up a piece of the melty cheese or drink it with the chocolate.
It is definitely a more unusual pairing, but it’s actually not bad! It’s also a very traditional Colombian food that’s worth trying at least once.
26. Jugo con Leche
We loved – and I mean LOVED – the jugo con leche (juice with milk). It’s essentially a fruit milkshake or smoothie, though not particularly thick, and is on the menu of most sit-down restaurants, particularly in Medellin and Salento.
Because you have so many fresh fruits in Colombia, the flavor of the fruit juices they use for the jugo con leche is fantastic. We saw classic tropical – mango, pineapple, and guava, familiar but unexpected – grape, and unique – guanabana (favorite!) and lulo.
We drank soooo many of these during our time in Colombia!
27. Colombian Sodas
While you’ll certainly run across American staples like Coke, Fanta, and Sprite in Colombia, they have several brands of their own. The most prolific was Postobon which came in variety of flavors. The most common were orange, grape, and Manzana. This pink one (pictured) was both the most unique and Matthew’s favorite. It had a flavor reminiscent of cotton candy or bubble gum, but not as sweet.
Two other very common brands were Colombiana and Quatro. Colombiana is a cream soda and Quatro is a citrus blend – not just lemon and lime, but also orange and grapefruit. Both were delicious.
The last one you’ll see frequently is Pony Malta. This non-alcoholic drink has a taste similar to a stout beer or molasses. It was… not our favorite, but very popular locally.
28. Fresh-Squeezed Sugar Cane + Lime Juice
This was a drink we bought from a street vendor, and the whole concept was exceptionally cool to us. They slice a whole sugar cane open and then stick cut limes inside. Then the entire stalk, limes and all, gets fed through a grinder, pumping the lime and sugar cane juice out into a bowl to be served to the customers.
It’s a drink and a show!
You can find a wide array of fresh juice stands. We also availed ourselves of fresh limeade and were very intrigued to see fresh watermelon juice/slushy being sold.
Aguapanela is a sugarcane drink – the name literally means “sugar cane water.” It’s made by smashing up a block of unrefined sugarcane and mixing it with water and a bit of lime. We had this drink served both hot and cold – personally I preferred it cold! It tasted kind of like a brown sugar lemonade.
This was a fun drink to make at the cooking class in Cartagena that we did – more details on that in the “Recommended Experiences” section towards the end of this post!
You may also run across Limonada Natural – a lemonade with panela mixed in. We didn’t enjoy this mixture; we thought it tasted like drinking a lemon cough drop. *Shudder*
Traditional Colombian Foods: Desserts
I have a big sweet tooth so you know this was a favorite category of foods to eat in Colombia! These were some of our favorites and traditional Colombian treats we saw regularly.
30. Churro con Arequipe
In Colombia, you will see arequipe flavored desserts everywhere. Arequipe is simply the Colombian term ‘dulce de leche’, which is a deliciously sweet, caramelized milk. In fact, you may even see people just selling pure arequipe on the street!
These churros con arequipe were actually donut shaped, filled with the arequipe, and dusted with sugar. They were so delicious!! They varied from region to region and we thought the ones in Medellin were the best, but we were happy to eat them everywhere.
31. Artesenal Ice Cream Popsicles (Helados)
These artesan popsicles were particularly popular in Medellin and Guatapé and tasted really fresh and flavorful. The popsicles are made with either a milk or water base (Matthew’s milk-based cookies n cream one was delicious) and are served in little plastic cups!
Obleas are an extremely popular traditional Colombian food and a dessert that we saw aaallllll over the place!
This is esssentially a sandwich cookie, with two thin, crispy, and lightly sweetened wafers on the outside, and a filling – usually arequipe, but could be jam or chocolate as well – on the inside. This particular one had arequipe and cream and the crispy wafer and creamy filling paired perfectly together.
Just be careful when you’re eating them, as these treats can be really drippy and messy. (Worth it though!)
Solteritas are a sweet, crunchy, orange-flavored snack popular in Colombia. They are served topped with a sweet, orange jelly and is often drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.
We found these on a street cart outside a market!
34. Strawberry Meringues
A delicious light and refreshing treat on a warm day, these meringues have cream and strawberries inside, and then the strawberry flavored meringue on top. We didn’t see these very often, but if you do, definitely get yourself one stat!
Two Recommended Food Experiences to Have in Colombia
There are two food experiences we had in Colombia that were really fantastic and I would highly recommend to anyone. The first was a food tour, and the second was a cooking class.
➡️An Engaging and Fun Food Tour
Food tours are a really great way to learn more about a country’s culture and some of the most interesting and traditional Colombian foods from different regions. We did a food tour in Bogota, and tried many unique and delicious foods from all over Colombia.
Our tour guide was interesting and relatable, but also super chill and down-to-earth as we hung out for four hours, eating and drinking our way through 7 different restaurants and small meals. It really felt like we were hanging out with freinds for the afternoon.
We learned more about Colombian culture and heard some fun stories about the foods and drinks we were trying. Really, I would recommend a food tour to anyone who loves to eat and try new things! Plus, the value for the food + expeirence is unbeatable!
Not stopping in Bogota? Check out this highly rated and delicious food tour in Medellin:
➡️An Involved and Delicious Cooking Class
I love cooking classes because they are so hands-on, and without fail have delivered some of the most delicious meals we’ve eaten when visiting a new country.
We did a really fun cooking class in Cartagena that was absolutely a highlight of our time in the city. It was set in the kitchen of a local restaurant, but in a separate, smaller kitchen dedicated for the cooking class.
You do two hours of cooking, where you prepare a full meal together full of traditional Colombian foods. When we went, we made coconut rice (including making the coconut milk from scratch!), patacones, empanadas, sugar cane juice, and a whole red snapper.
The instructors were really fun and playful, the instruction and tips were really interesting, and it was fun to learn and see the process of how to make these very traditional Colombian foods. The time passed quickly!
This experience is also really nice because it starts mid-afternoon, after you’ve been in the heat for a long time and are ready for a break. It’s nice to come inside to the strong AC (hallelujah) and do some cooking in a fun, relaxed environment.
This cooking class is super fun, super interesting, and a great value for the absolutely fantastic, full meal plus instruction time.
Not visiting Cartegena? Check out this excellent cooking class in Medellin:
Tips for Restaurants and Eating in Colombia
- A 10% gratuity is often automatically added to your bill. If it’s not, it’s polite to leave a 10% tip on your own.
- Tap water is safe to drink in Colombia.
- However, if you order water at a restaurant, you will be brought bottled water to drink, not tap water.
- If you don’t speak Spanish, I would highly recommend you download the Google Translate app and use their camera feature to read menus. You can hover the camera over whatever document you need to read, and the translated text in English will show up on top of the Spanish words. It’s really handy!
- Food is generally very inexpensive in Colombia. We usually spent between 10-20 USD total for a sit down meal and drinks for two people at dinner time, and less at lunch time.
- Street food and snacks are very inexpensive. Fruit is often around 50 cents USD, and pastry items also around a dollar or less.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. (If covid has taught me anything, it’s that you never know what could happen!)
I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.
Final Thoughts on the Best Traditional Colombian Foods to Eat in Colombia
We were extremely impressed with the large variety of traditional Colombian foods – they were unique and delicious! Some required a bit of bravery, but we definitely made some new favorites, too. Keep an eye out for the items on this list and enjoy these fantastic foods to eat when you visit Colombia!
Check Out My Other Colombia Articles:
- 28 Unique and Amazing Things to Do in Cartagena
- Our Colombia Travel Budget: What Does a Trip to Colombia Cost?
- The Absolute Best Things to Do with 3 Days in Bogota, Colombia
- 14 Incredible Things to Do in Salento, Colombia (A Travel Guide)
- How to Get from Pereira to Salento, Colombia