Anthony Bourdain describes Colombia’s destinations as spectacular, its people as warm, proud, and fun, and its food as great. He goes so far as to say it’s ludicrous that this place exists and everyone doesn’t want to live here, describing it as one of the best places he’s ever been and a place that continuously surprises him.
Anthony Bourdain liked Colombia so much that he chose to feature it twice: he visits Colombia in Season 4, Episode 12 of No Reservations, and again in Season 1, Episode 4 of Parts Unknown. In both, he can’t stop raving about the wonder of Colombia.
He contrasts this wonder with the bad reputation that Colombia has garnered from its difficult past of drug trafficking and internal conflict. Tony correctly points out that this is an unfortunate past and one with complex and far-reaching consequences for Colombia’s population. However, he also draws light to the hopeful optimism that has permeated Colombia more recently as the country attempts to move forward.
In the time since these episodes aired, Colombia signed a peace agreement with the largest rebel group, and significant progress has been made in making safety and development. Colombia is quickly becoming a popular travel destination for all types of travelers.
If you’re planning to visit the “Gateway to South America” and want to visit the same places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Colombia during his travels, this guide will give you all the info you need to know about where to visit and what to eat.
Recap of Bourdain’s Colombia Visits
You can see the groundwork for this in Tony’s two visits to Colombia, where he talks about Colombia’s history and progress with locals and gets a taste of the up-and-coming food scene in the country, one that’s only grown since.
During his first trip to Colombia on No Reservations, Tony sticks to a bit easier-to-reach places. He begins in the city of Cartagena, a colonial city on the Caribbean coast, visiting the local market and trying one of the early innovators in the restaurant business there before enjoying freshly caught fish at a beach village across the bay. Next, he heads to Medellín, where he samples some street food in the countryside, explores the revitalized former hometown of Pablo Escobar, and then heads into the barrios for a sancocho, or traditional soup barbecue.
In his return during Parts Unknown, Tony goes to true parts unknown, even to most Colombians. He visits the jungle outpost of Miraflores, hitching a ride on a WW2-era plane to get there. This small town is in the province of Guaviare, a former conflict zone, that has a quickly growing tourist industry today around the capital of San José del Guaviare. Then he heads to explore Colombia’s massive capital city of Bogotá, visiting a market and chatting with a chef.
Next, he heads to the salsa capital of Colombia, Calí where he plays Tejó, sort of a mix between horseshoes, bowling, and bocce ball but with explosives, and beers of course! He concludes by visiting Riohacha, a town at the gateway of the Guajira Desert Peninsula in northern Colombia.
Many of the places Tony visits on these two trips are street, market, and beach stalls – and hard to pinpoint exactly where to go to visit them; where I could, I share where he went but also highlight the foods he tried and where you might be able to find them.
Where Anthony Bourdain Ate in Colombia
As you can see from the above map, there are a number of places visited by Anthony Bourdain across Colombia. Below you’ll find a detailed list of each city he visited, the places he ate there, and even what he ate if you want to seek out the same experiences.
It was Cartagena Tony described as the place that it was ludicrous everyone didn’t want to live. Here, Tony samples one of the first restaurants to innovate in Cartagena and hits the city market before visiting an isolated beach.
- La Cevichería – Located inside Cartagena’s charming Walled City, La Cevichería serves up great ceviches but also a variety of other creative seafood dishes. Tony tries an octopus in corozo sauce, a tart berry that is a favorite of Cartagena locals as a juice. Since Tony’s visit, La Cevichería has become recognized as of the best restaurants in Cartagena.
- Bazurto Market – the chef and owner at La Cevichería then takes Tony to the place he sources much of his fresh fish and produce: the Bazurto Market, located outside the touristy areas of Cartagena. Here Tony samples lots of different fruits, marvels at the fresh fish for sale, and samples food from a stall run by a lady named Cecelia. He tries some turtle and turtle eggs before learning that these animals are endangered (it has since been prohibited to eat them). Bazurto is a labyrinth, as Tony learns when they struggle to find Cecelia’s spot, and it can be a bit dodgy to go on your own, but there are a number of well-run tours that will take you on a similar experience to Tony today, minus the turtle meat.
- Tierra Bomba Beach – Tony concludes his visit to Cartagena by taking a boat across the bay to the island of Tierra Bomba, where the fishing village he visits contrasts to the skyscrapers of the ritzy Bocagrande neighborhood across the bay. It’s not clear exactly where he is on the island, but there are several beach spots here and boats can be taken from the beach by the hospital in Bocagrande. Tony enjoys some fresh lobster before relaxing with the view and some fresh fried fish with coconut rice and patacones, fried plantain patties, a classic coastal dish that goes perfectly with the Cartagena beaches.
Tony visits several restaurants as well as a famous market in Bogotá. Below are three places he ate here.
- Mercado Paloquemao – Spanish for burnt wood, the Mercado Paloquemao is a huge market west of downtown Bogotá that has been in operation since the 1940s. He stops for breakfast here, trying one of Colombia’s famous arepas and a fresh juice. He then samples the hearty caldo de costilla, a soup with beef rib tips and potato. You can, of course, find arepas and fresh juice at street stalls and restaurants all over Colombia. Caldo de costilla is also easy to find served up for breakfast at many restaurants. Tony rightly points out it’s great for a hangover!
- La Puerta Falsa – After his visit to the market, Tony heads to La Candelaría, the historic sector and one of the best places to stay in Bogotá. He stops in at La Puerta Falsa, a long-time favorite of locals and tourists alike that serves up traditional favorites. Tony samples their tamales, a mix of corn dough, rice, vegetables, and meat slow cooked in a plantain leaf. Tamales, also called pasteles on the Caribbean coast, have different variations throughout Colombia’s different regions. Although Tony doesn’t get it, La Puerta Falsa is also famous for its ajiaco, a chicken and potato soup served with capers and a cream sauce.
- Tabula – Finally, Tony visits the restaurant of the chef that has been showing him around Bogotá. Located just around the corner from the National Museum, Tabula serves up a fashion of food inspired by Colombian traditions and recipes. Tony tries pasta with chorizo sausage and a Colombian take on Ossobuco.
Tony notes in his visit to Medellín the transformation of the city from having extreme violence during the Escobar years to becoming one of the safest and most on the rise cities in the Americas. He sticks to mostly smaller joints here, but there are several foods worth trying that he samples.
- Roadside stands in San Antonio – On his way into Medellín, Tony stops at a roadside stall and tries chunchurria, also called chuncullo or chinculines. They are deep-fried pig intestines, and this town west of Medellín is famous for it. If you don’t make it here, you can find this unique food at many places in Colombia’s interior. And, of course, there are plenty of other great street foods in Colombia if you’re not quite up to trying this one!
- Queareparaenamorarte (CLOSED) – Tony heads to lunch at this roadside restaurant, also located southwest of Medellín. There he tries a number of dishes inspired by traditional Colombian recipes and ingredients, including different regional variations on chorizos. Unfortunately, this place closed down, but you can find lots of similar restaurants scattered around Colombia. Just look for where lots of cars are stopped!
Tony visits a few other places in Medellín off the map. He visits an unnamed local market where he tries a calentao, which traditionally was the leftovers from the night before warmed up. It usually includes beans, rice, meat, an arepa, and a fried egg. Originally meant to give fuel for a long day in the fields, it’s a heavy breakfast and is served in many places around Colombia.
For lunch, he enjoys a bandeja paisa, one of Colombia’s most famous dishes and originally from Medellín. It is also a heavy meal, with beans, rice, a fried egg, chorizo, chicharrón, avocado, and meat. Tony’s is served with a cut of grilled beef here, but it’s most common to see it with ground beef. You’ll find bandeja paisa all over Medellín and at many restaurants elsewhere in Colombia too.
Finally, Tony enjoys a Colombian take on a barbecue. Called a sancocho, it’s a big pot of soup, cooked for hours in a huge pot over a wood fire. This is popular for block parties, family get-togethers, and birthdays. You can find sancocho served at many restaurants, especially on weekends, but if you happen to have the opportunity to attend an authentic one like Tony here, don’t pass it up!
Other Cities Visited by Anthony Bourdain in Colombia
- Calí – Tony visits a dive bar and tejo court in Calí at an unknown address. So, let’s talk about the food he tries there. He has a picada, or a huge platter of meats, potatoes, yuca, and plantain. You’ll find this at places all over Colombia and is the perfect meal to share with a group. He also samples some ceviche, which you’ll find variations of on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts as well as a seafood stew.
- Riohacha – In Riohacha, Tony goes for an ATV ride through the desert before relaxing at a beachside shack and food stall at Mayapo Beach, a small town on the coast. Again, no address is known here, but you’ll find beach shack restaurants all over the beaches in Colombia. Here Tony samples a seafood stew known as cazuela de mariscos, which is also commonly served in Cartagena restaurants.
- Miraflores – This tiny town along the Vaupés River in the northern Amazon forest is actually the first place Tony visits in Colombia on the show. However, it is extremely isolated and is not reachable by tourists. It’s still worth mentioning here as a former conflict zone, a testament to the changes Colombia has undergone in recent years. Many other previous no-go zones are now open to tourism and easier to get to. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t eat here but does hang out in a local tienda bar drinking beers and chatting with the town’s mayor. Getting some cheap beers and filling the table with empty bottles (to know how many you need to pay for) is a fun way to rub shoulders with locals all around Colombia.
Food Tours in Colombia to Try
As you can tell, Anthony Bourdain visited a ton of spots in Colombia – making it a bit hard to follow his footsteps unless you’ve got a pretty big budget. However, there are some awesome food tours in Colombia you might want to try to sample the many incredible flavors in the “gateway to South America.” Here are some food tours I think Tony would approve of:
Have any questions or comments about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Colombia? Let me know in the comments!