Food and drink
Whether it’s a platter full of starch or a suckling pig stuffed with rice, Colombian food is anything but light. Breakfast usually consists of huevos pericos, scrambled eggs with onion and tomatoes, accompanied by a fried maize pancake (arepa) stuffed with chopped pork, rice, potatoes and more. The midday almuerzo or comida corriente consists of soup, a main course and dessert. Dinners, after 6pm, also tend to involve meat or fish.
In Bogotá and other major cities there is an excellent array of Western and international cuisine.
Each region in Colombia has its own local speciality. The national dish is the bandeja paisa – an enormous platter of ground beef, chorizo, beans (frijoles), rice, fried banana (plátano), a fried egg, avocado and fried pork – usually found at inexpensive market stalls (fondas).
In rural areas, vegetarians will be hard-pressed for options, but in medium and large cities you can find a decent spread of vegetarian dishes.
Other Colombian favourites include ajiaco (a thick chicken stew replete with vegetables, maize, three types of potato, cream, capers and sometimes avocado), and mazamorra (a similar meat and vegetable soup but with beans and corn flour). Both are often served with patacón, a mashed and heavily salted cake of fried plantain.
More unusual regional specialities include hormigas culonas – fried giant ants, found in the Santander area. In Cali and southern Colombia, grilled guinea pig, known as cuy or curí, sometimes crops up on the menu. The coast is renowned for its fish and shellfish, served with aromatic arroz con coco, slightly sweet rice with caramelized coconut, while the Amazon is known for its unusual and delicious fish. The islands of San Andrés and Providencia specialize in locally caught crab dishes and lobster.
Though Colombia used to export its best coffee, demand from travellers has led to a proliferation of Juan Valdéz café branches; good coffee is now available in other establishments as well, though the majority of Colombians still drink heavily sugared, watered-down black coffee (tinto).
If there’s one thing you’ll pine for when you’ve returned home it’s Colombia’s exotic variety of fresh fruit juices. Some are completely foreign to Western palates and lack English translations. Worth trying are guanábana, lulo, mango, feijoa, maracuyá, mora and guayaba.
Beer is reasonably good and inexpensive (try light, fizzy lagers like Dorado, Club and Aguila). Far more popular among locals is the anise-flavoured aguardiente, pure grain alcohol, and rum (ron), both of which are drunk neat. Brave souls won’t want to pass up any offer to try chicha, a frothy drink, often prepared with maize or yucca, found in rural areas and made with the fermenting enzyme found in saliva: pieces of the peeled root are chewed, spat into a bowl and the juice is left to ferment.
Everything you need to know before you set off.
Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners
Planning your trip to Colombia
Everything you need to plan where to go and what to do.
The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.
24 breaks for bookworms
1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …
Providencia: an introduction to Colombia’s Caribbean island
Colombia meets Jamaica? Not quite, but two competing images loom large over the Caribbean island of Providencia: Bob Marley, adopted saint of the local Raizal p…
15 things everyone learns backpacking South America
South America has become a favoured destination for the intrepid backpacker, and while it’s impressive in the astounding diversity of its nations, there are a…