Run a Google search for vegan restaurants in Cartagena, and the initial results look positive. However, a quick scan over Happy Cow’s Cartagena listings tells a different story, with most restaurants actually being meat-based restaurants with vegan friendly options.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that I’m able to find anywhere at all in South America that will accommodate my cruelty-free diet, but my little animal-loving heart bursts with pleasure when I come across an establishment that is deliberately set up for vegans and vegetarians. Throw in hipster-style exposed brick work and some overgrown ivy and I’ll never leave.
My usual vegan city posts outline a list of about 5 or 6 restaurants to visit whilst travelling the area. I’ll do the same here but I’d like to focus on one to begin with. In my opinion, it’s the only one you really need to know about.
Samudra Govindas – Cartagena’s best vegan food
Samudra Govindas was the top listing on Happy Cow for vegan food in Cartagena. We arrived in the city during its Independence Day, a holiday commemorating the day Cartagena became the first Colombian city to declare independence from the Spanish. The atmosphere was fantastic; non-stop parades running past the city’s old town wall, locals and tourists alike dancing through the streets, music playing from every doorway. However, almost every business was closed for the holiday, including restaurants.
Conveniently listed in the Historical Centre area, we took a gamble and made the short journey across the square, hoping that the restaurant would be open, despite the festivities. They weren’t.
Dismayed and hungry, we were just about to walk away when the door to the restaurant opened. A woman carrying Tupperware stepped out. “Is it open?”, we asked her. She turned back into the doorway, shouted up the stairway in Spanish, and down came the owner. On learning that we were vegan, he welcomed us in, enthusiastically explaining that although he was closed, he’d rustle something up. Our host brought us fresh juice, and a healthy sized plate of pasta and vegetables – charging us next to nothing for the hassle.
Whilst we ate, he asked us how we’d come to happen upon his restaurant and was delighted that Happy Cow had directed our custom. On learning about our love of cruelty-free businesses, he energetically showed us his restaurant’s Facebook page, detailing the work he’d been doing with the Cartagena community to raise animal cruelty awareness. He continued, talking to us about the different ways he experimented with food in order to create meat substitutes, and encouraged us to return when they were fully open to sample their budget accommodating set lunch, and their evening menu.
We were hooked! I visited a few other places for vegan food in Cartagena, but the passion of Samudra Govindas just kept drawing me back. Set lunches were different every day, with creative fresh juice concoctions and filling Colombian meals at a much lower price than most of the city’s local food haunts (around £3 per set meal). Evenings provided huge fresh juice smoothies – blueberry, mango, banana (to name a few), and large plates of fast food dishes; vegan hot dogs, vegan cheeseburgers, vegan shrimp cocktails and a Colombian style vegan poutine.
The restaurant delivers simple aesthetics, doubling as a yoga centre and hostel. However, you’ll be delighted by the their quaint, colonial balconies, adorned with comfortable rattan chairs and giving you premium people watching views from above one of the main streets.
Love animals and good vegan food? This family-run business is a delight to visit, support and spread the word about.
Gokela vegan-friendly health food
Gokela is a chain of takeaway health food stores. Caratgena’s is located in El Centro and is good place to pick up a fresh sandwich or wrap whilst exploring the city. If you’re looking for fresh juice, the team are happy for you to explore your own combos. It’s a bit pricey for what it is, but a nice change from a sit-down meal with great opportunity to create your own salads and meals.
Beiyu Acai Cafe
Aimed more at the vegan Cartagena customer, this all-day cafe seems to have a focus on breakfast bowls and hearty lunch options. They have a number of meat dishes on their menu but, for the most part, keep it vegetable based. If you’re in the bohemian Getsemani district, its open until 7pm and can be used as an alternative dinner stop.
Restaurant Donjuan Cartagena
Travelling with meat eaters that just refuse to go somewhere completely vegan? I came across a recommendation for Restaurant Donjuan Cartagena online, noting that they make a concerted effort to cater for vegans visiting Cartagena. I’ve heard the green papaya salad with tamarind vinaigrette, peanuts and noodles is to die for!
A vegan can always find SOMETHING to eat in a Middle Eastern falafel stop. Fill your little vegan tummy with their hummus options, alongside baba ganoush, rice, falafels, tabbouleh, pita, and lentil dishes.
Already been to Cartagena? Did you get the chance to visit Samudra Govindas? Did you find anywhere else in the city that you loved for their charm and good food? Let me know in the comments below!