Quench Your Thirst
Colombia’s hot (…with some exceptions), so if you visit you’re going to get thirsty. And when you tienes sed, don’t settle for a familiar Coke, mango juice, or Corona. Try one of these typical Colombian drinks instead. It’ll not only quench your thirst but your curiosity as well.
Alcoholic Colombian Drinks
Aguardiente, which literally translates to “water that’s burning,” is Colombia’s national liquor. You’ll inevitably try if you’re in Colombia. And you’ll inevitably get a hangover from it.
Before cracking open a bottle (or a box) of aguardiente, read these nine surprising facts about aguardiente—including how many calories sugar-free version has, and how Colombian it really isn’t.
Where to get it: Open your eyes and you will see it. It’s not magic; it’s just everywhere.
How to drink it: People mostly drink it in lukewarm shots. In colder places like Bogota, it’s common to drink it hot with cinnamon and lime what’s called a canelazo.
How much it costs: A one-liter bottle at the supermarket costs around 40,000 COP ($14 USD).
Back in the good ol’ days, chicha, which is made from fermented corn, was the local alcoholic drink of choice. Then the Spanish came along, blamed it for all of Colombia’s social issues, and introduced other drinks they could profit off, like beer and aguardiente.
According to our guide on our Bogota walking tour, who happened to have written his Anthropology thesis on chicha, it’s still illegal in Colombia, but that doesn’t stop anyone from selling it anymore, or you from drinking it. Its taste might, though. Ask for a sample first.
Where to get it: Cafe Casa Galeria in Bogota’s historic Candelaria district is the easiest and most reliable place to find it. Chris found some being sold by a street vendor in front of Bogota’s fried meat fantasyland, Doña Segunda. Otherwise, ask around.
How to drink it: It’s not that strong—anywhere between beer and wine—so you drink it straight.
How much it costs: The plastic glass-full Chris got from the vendor at Doña Segunda was 1,000 COP ($0.35 USD)
As is the case in most tropical countries, light beer is a popular choice to cool down. The most common brands are national ones like Aguila, Club Colombia, Costeña, and Pilsen.
To help you decide which of these lagers is the best, check out which Colombian lagers we discovered were the best and worst in our blind taste.
Craft beer is up-and-coming, especially in Bogota and, to a lesser extent, in Medellin. Ask around or google to find local artisanal brewers. BBC and 3 Cordilleras call themselves craft brewers, but the only thing craft about them is that they’re expensive.
If you’re spending time in Medellin, keep your eye on La Toma Cervecera’s Facebook page. They regularly organize events that unite small-scale craft brewers with big-time craft beer fans.
Where to get it: Beer is sold everywhere in Colombia, but you’ll have to look a bit deeper to find craft beers in bigger cities. Our favorites were Cerveceria Libre in Medellin and Dos Carreras and Mono Bandido in Bogota.
How much it costs: A can of beer costs as little as 1,500 COP in supermarkets and 3,000 COP in bars. A pint of craft beer is closer to 10,000 COP.
There is a Colombian wine region.
Don’t get too excited, though.
There’s good reason you haven’t heard about it. It’s not very good. You, like most people in Colombia, will probably prefer to drink imported wine. Unfortunately, it is heavily taxed and super expensive relative to other food and drink in Colombia.
Nevertheless, you might still want to try Colombian wine for the experience and to be able to say you did. One we recommend—for the experience more so than the flavor—is in the traditional town of Jerico. It’s brewed by nuns at the convent. To buy a bottle, ring the doorbell and pass the nun 20,000 COP through the grate.
Aside from grape wine, you can find wine made from other fruits in Colombia. For example, in Medellin’s Parque Arvi local vendors sell a wine made from a local blueberry called mortiño. To earn yourself a bottle, we recommend you get to Parque Arvi via this backdoor hike that has the very best views of Medellin.
Where to get it: Supermarkets across the country have a reasonable selection of imported wines and there are specialty shops in bigger cities.
How much it costs: The cheapest bottle of wine you can find is about 12,000 COP. A bottle you could reasonably bring to a dinner party will cost about 40,000 COP.
Viche is a home-brewed moonshine made from sugar cane that’s popular on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. Like chicha, it’s technically illegal, but the authorities don’t seem to care much and the people drink it a ton. It’s quite a bit stronger than chicha though, resembling a light rum in strength and flavor.
Where to get it: Ask around on Colombia’s Pacific Coast and you’ll have no problem. We asked our tuk-tuk driver and he brought us to his grandma’s house to get a bottle.
How to drink it: Locals mix it with the most sugary drinks they can find to mask its potent flavor and alcohol-level. We preferred to mix it with fresh local fruit juice.
How much it costs: The small water bottle full of viche we got from our tuk-tuk driver’s grandmother cost 6,000 COP ($2 USD)
Like in every country bordered by the Caribbean, rum is a popular drink in Colombia. While this is especially the case the closer you get to the coast, the rest of the country’s taste for rum is catching up. It’s replacing aguardiente as Colombia’s liquor of choice.
Where to get it: Everywhere. You’ll find different brands in every Colombian department (state).
How to drink it: It’s most commonly served with coke or sprite or as mojitos.
How much it costs: A one-liter bottle of basic Colombian rum will cost close to 40,000 COP in the supermarket.
Cocktails in Colombia are overpriced. Even a basic gin and tonic will set you back something like 24,000 COP ($8 USD), which is the same as a steak dinner.
Every once in a while though, if you look carefully through menus you can come across an affordable and creative only-in-Colombia concoction. For example in the untouristed but tourist-worthy town of Venecia (home of the famous pyramid mountain Cerro Tusa), we enjoyed an ice-cream-coffee-beer smoothie and a cold-brew-grape-jelly-lemonade drink from a cool new spot called Cafe Graciela.
Non-Alcoholic Colombian Drinks
The most popular coffee in Colombia, which is used to make the tintos that you’ll see people drinking in little plastic cups everywhere, is terrible. It’s made from the defective beans that aren’t export-worthy. Unless you’re desperate for a caffeine fix, a glass isn’t even worth the twenty-five cents it costs.
There’s much, MUCH better coffee available now. Some of Colombia’s best beans are now staying put and available at coffee shops across the country. And we’re not talking about Juan Valdez. Colombia’s new cafes rival your favorite hipster cafe back home.
In Medellin, we enlisted the help of “The Coffee Hunter” to find the absolute best of the best. If you’re visiting the city, click here to see the results and try them yourself.
Where to get it: Pretty much every town in Colombia’s coffee-growing region now has a cafe that showcases the best coffee of the region. In big cities, competition is fierce, which is a good thing for coffee-loving consumers.
How much it costs: A tinto can cost as little as 700 COP ($0.25 USD). An americano from a hip cafe will cost closer to 4,000 COP ($1.33 USD).
The most Buzzfeed-worthy (literally) Colombian drink is definitely their traditional hot chocolate. That’s because it’s served with cheese inside the drink.
As someone who puts cheese on everything, this blew Chris’ mind. The taste itself wasn’t so mind-blowing, but it’s worth a try.
Where to get it: Chocolate Santafereño is most common in Bogota, especially at La Puerta Falsa, but we’ve found it elsewhere. The Chocolate House in Medellin serves one that’s about 50% cheese, 50% hot chocolate. (It’s pictured in this post’s cover image.)
How much it costs: Around 6,500 to 8,000 COP ($2.20-2.75 USD) depending on where you get it from and whether it comes with any pastries on the side too.
Limonada de Coco
Even though we researched Colombia heavily before moving here—we made a mega post with the combined tips of 50+ bloggers of things to do in Medellin for goodness sake!—we didn’t find out about limonada de coco until we arrived. We loved it so much we added it to our list of things to know before coming to Medellin.
You don’t need to be an expert Spanish speaker to decipher what limonada de coco is. Its lemonade mixed with coconut milk. But it’s more than that. It’s frothy, fresh, and friggin’ fantastic.
Where to get it: Most restaurants have it on their menu. Many recommend Crepes and Waffles’ version, but we didn’t think it was any better than the others.
How much it costs: 4,500 to 8,000 COP ($1.50-2.75 USD)
Mazamorra and Claro
We’re lumping these two together because they’re more or less the same. Both are corn-infused milk. At typical lunch restaurants (see our list of the best ones in Medellin), you’ll have the option of either.
The difference is mazamorra still has the pieces or chunks of corn in it. Claro is just the liquid. Instead of being sweetened, they typically come with a guava jelly candy and/or a cube of panela.
Where to get it: At restaurants serving traditional Colombian food. You can also get mazamorra on the streets from vendors who yell “Mazza-MORRA!!!” as they push their carts around town.
How much it costs: They typically come with your meal, which costs from 7,000 to 10,000 COP ($2.25-3.50 USD).
Exotic Fruit Juices and Smoothies
The fruit selection in Colombia is so exotic that mango and papaya are boring in comparison (though still delicious and easy to find). Some of our favorites include borojo, chontaduro, and guanabana. The only way to find your favorite is to try them all yourself.
If you’re health-conscious, be sure to ask for your jugo to be sin-azucar. If not, it’ll be jam-packed with panela. Typically the fruit is sweet enough.
Where to get it: The best juices and smoothies in Colombia come straight from the source, i.e. the markets. In Medellin, for example, Jugos Rigo in La Plaza Minorista is a great spot. For the most exotic juices made with crazy-tasting fruit even Colombians haven’t heard of, try some Amazonian fruit juices at Medellin’s La Chagra.
How much it costs: From 2,000 COP and up.
Guarapo and Aguapanela
These are both drinks made from sugar cane.
Guarapo is typically made by pressing the cane itself. You’ll likely see street vendors with the press, called a trapiche, making it and selling it right in front of you.
Aguapanela is agua mixed with panela, unrefined cane sugar.
Both are often served with lemon (called guandolo) and are offered as alternatives to mazamorra, claro, and jugo as part of restaurant menu del dias (lunch menus).
Where to get it: Every restaurant and every busy square in Colombia.
How much it costs: 1,000 to 2,000 COP ($0.35-0.70 USD) a glass.
As is the case seemingly everywhere in Latin America, people love their sodas in Colombia. But whereas Coke reigns supreme in some countries, there are quite a few local brands that hold their own here in Colombia. These include:
- Postobon: Fruity sodas.
- Pony: Colombian root beer
- Colombiana: A sort of cream soda.
Where to get it: You can’t escape it.
How much it costs: We honestly don’t know. Cheap, without a doubt.
The incredible and unique ecosystems called the paramo aren’t just amazing to trek to. (If you like camping, it’s a must.) They are also the source of clean, tasty drinking water for much of Colombia, including Medellin and Bogota. Save yourself money and save the environment by asking for agua de la llave at restaurants and drinking from the tap at home.
Where to get it: In Bogota, Medellin, and most pueblos around those cities, you simply turn on your tap. Elsewhere, ask first to be sure.
How much it costs: 0 COP, unless you’re living in Colombia and paying utilities. Then it’s probably about half a peso ($0.0002 USD) a cup or so.
Thirsty for Real Colombian Adventures?
If you’re interested in some unconventional adventures and tips for your trip to Colombia, click on over to our Colombia Adventure Travel Guide, where you’ll discover every last drop of wisdom we could squeeze out from the six-months we lived there.