Courtesy of WBD


Shay Mitchell Knows The Best Places For Coffee (& Under-The-Radar Spirits) In Cartagena

The Thirst host’s guide to one of her favorite Colombian cities.

Interview by Samantha Nik

When we were all in the pandemic, I missed traveling more than anything. I love making that human connection with people in different places, and I have such a curiosity for what's different from what we do where I'm from. When I had the idea for Thirst, I wanted to explore the history, culture, and human connection through drinks. Not just alcoholic, but through the specific ingredients that come from those places. It was about the recipes and the ceremonies attached to them. There are a million food shows out there, and rightfully so. But when you’re sharing a meal, there’s always a drink there, too.

Surprisingly, the most historically significant beverage in Colombia is also the most current: coffee. Colombia is one of the top exporters of the delicious beans that so many of us are obsessed with and reliant on each day. I loved visiting Cafe del Mural in Getsemani for a looser and creative interpretation of coffee, compared to our visit to Epoca, an espresso bar where we enjoyed a slower, more ritualistic experience. Either way, you’ll get your fill of caffeine throughout the city. You honestly cannot go wrong anywhere you turn, but if you go to Cafe Del Mural, order a beer with a coffee shot. Trust me!

If you’re looking for a drink drink, Alquimico is an amazing place and has been named one of the 50 best bars in the world. It's really special. The bar is housed in a revitalized former colonial mansion, and they source all their hyperregional ingredients from farms around Colombia that give an innovative, trendy spin on the classics. There are three full floors, and the overall vibe feels like a fancy, sexy laboratory. You have to try this spirit you can only find in Colombia called viche. Similar to moonshine, it has been made under the radar for the last 300 to 400 years, but was recently legalized. I had an amazing cocktail with viche at Alquimico. That, and the cocktails made with lulo [a tropical fruit] and Colombian ginger are forever in my brain.

I also can’t say enough about our experience at Celele, a notable restaurant in Cartagena. Two drinks in particular stand out on the menu: the Dirty Collins and the Mama Africa. The Mama Africa is their signature cocktail and is a sensory experience of taste and smell. They spray a fragrance around you and in the glass before your first sip! Other go-tos for amazing meals are Carmen, CANDE, and Juan Del Mar.

The architecture in Cartagena is beautiful; every street and every doorway is a site in itself. I loved wandering the neighborhoods for that reason, but one of the things you notice most when you first arrive in the city is the wall. I was told and also read that it was originally built to protect the city from pirates because the port in Cartagena was a “mouth through which many things flowed.” Now, it is a historical symbol reclaimed by locals who gather at the end of the day to celebrate life when the weather is nice. It’s impressive!

Behind the scenes, traveling through Colombia was all about the adventure. Cartagena had been at the tip-top of my bucket list for a long time, and I didn’t really have any expectations — but every single restaurant, dish, cocktail, coffee, and person we met left a lasting impression. I will definitely be back for more.