Cartagena is a dizzying, feverish pearl of a city perched on Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. Awash with colour, and overflowing with dance, music, culture and food, Cartagena is a perfect mix of all things Latin with all things Caribbean.
Historically, this is a colonial-era city with some fascinating tales to tell. Not one to surrender to nostalgia though, there are now towering skyscrapers illuminating the cityscape over at the new development of Bocagrande. Here you will also find the city’s best beaches, upscale shopping opportunities and a slew of fancy, contemporary hotels to base yourself in for your trip.
However, Cartagena has not always had the best reputation. Whilst much of its chequered past is behind it, there are still issues to be aware of. To be blunt, you really do need to take care in Cartagena…
But Cartagena is ok to visit? Absolutely YES as long as you do take due care. This is why we have created this very handy and very in-depth guide to staying safe in Cartagena. It’s filled with all the tips and information you’ll need in order to keep yourself secure in this awesome city.
Table of Contents
- How Safe is Cartagena? (Our take)
- Is Cartagena safe? (The facts.)
- Is it Safe to Visit Cartagena Right Now?
- Cartagena Travel Insurance
- 21 Top Safety Tips for Traveling to Cartagena
- Keeping your money safe in Cartagena
- Is Cartagena safe to travel alone?
- Is Cartagena safe for solo female travellers?
- Is Cartagena safe to travel for families?
- Is it safe to drive in Cartagena?
- Is Uber safe in Cartagena?
- Are taxis safe in Cartagena?
- Is public transportation in Cartagena safe?
- Is the food in Cartagena safe?
- Can you drink the water in Cartagena?
- Is Cartagena safe to live?
- How is healthcare in Cartagena?
- Helpful Colombia Travel Phrases
- Final thoughts on the safety of Cartagena
How Safe is Cartagena? (Our take)
Cartagena today is actually pretty safe – in fact, it’s one of the safer places in Colombia.
There’s plenty of police officers on the street and the city is seeing improvements to the crime rate and general security. Most tourists who visit Cartagena have a trouble-free time.
However, it is important to know that you cannot simply wander around Cartagena like it is some sort of holiday camp. It is still after all, a Colombian city. This is a country where crime rates remain relatively high and criminal groups and gangs are still active, but it depends on which of Cartagena’s neighborhoods you’re staying in.
Pickpocketing, bag snatching, break-ins, mugging and assault all happen in this city daily. And yes, tourists are targeted.
It is not uncommon for scams and petty theft to affect tourists and, most of the time and these are the main issues that visitors to the city will face.
Another thing that may spook some people when they backpack through Cartagena are the aggressive tactics used by unofficial vendors selling things on the street. They may be touting low budget souvenirs, they may be pushing drugs or even prostitutes; knowing how to deal with this sort of issue can be the difference between a stress-free and a stressful trip.
With all of that in mind, let’s have a look now at the statistics which show the inner workings of Cartagena.
Is Cartagena safe? (The facts.)
Cartagena has a population of almost 1,000,000 and is the fifth-largest urban area in Colombia.
Unlike the city of Medellin which saw a great deal of violence related to drug trafficking gangs and which still sees a lot of crime to this day, Cartagena has historically been more of a safe and popular destination – even with Colombian tourists.
Across the board, the country has seen a handsome rise in tourists visiting since the peace deal was negotiated with FARC in 2016. The year after saw a 20% increase in foreign tourism, with 2.7 million people visiting from abroad in 2017.
The numbers are expected to grow, with the country’s president (Ivan Duque) stating that he wants tourism to become “Colombia’s new petroleum.” (because petrol is obviously Colombia’s most famous fuel-export…)
The tourism numbers are very impressive if you go further back in time. From 2006 onward, tourism in Colombia has grown an estimated whopping 300%; People seem to like it here a lot. In fact, all of us at The Broke Backpacker have backpacked around Colombia.
In 2018 the New York Times awarded Colombia second place in their list of top places to go in 2018. With over USD $6 billion being spent (on average) by foreign visitors each year, and an increasing amount of cruise ships rocking up at Cartagena’s port, it seems that the world is realising that Cartagena is not an unsafe place to visit.
While tourists are increasingly choosing Colombia as their backpacking destination, crime is gradually declining – but it remains an issue.
The illegal drug trade still affects the country although this is felt less keenly in Cartagena than in other municipalities and regions of the country.
When it comes to the crime rate nationwide, it reached a record low in 2016, with 24.4 homicides per 100,00 – the lowest since 1974. That is still a very high figure when you compare to other countries; the USA, for instance, with a homicide rate of 5.3 per 100,00 in the same year.
Tourism to this coastal city continues to rise, regardless of any government warnings or issues that may be facing Colombia at the moment.
Is it Safe to Visit Cartagena Right Now?
Currently, Cartagena is safer than it has been in recent years. However, it is definitely still the kind of place where you need to be smart. Common sense, and being alert still pays off.
Colombia itself is still facing a variety of issues and there are some things that are affecting the safety of the country right now.
Protests and strikes often affect Colombia and ongoing issues mean that these are likely to continue. Additional security measures by authorities, because of these protests, mean that there is an increase in police presence and curfews can come into play at short notice.
The nationwide strikes can also affect transport, which is obviously key if you are planning to do any travelling around from Cartagena.
It is advised to monitor local media when it comes to protests and strikes, keeping abreast of the situation and definitely keeping away from any political gatherings in the street.
Many areas of Cartagena are safe, but it is within the walled city – La Candelaria – that is both the most touristy and the riskiest to tourists. Pickpockets, petty criminals and pushy vendors continue to operate in this part of the city and being alert is key.
Away from the human side of things, when it comes to nature there are various seasonal and occasional risks to your safety in Cartagena.
The city, like much of Colombia, can be affected by earthquakes. These can rock the city and, in a place where there are many old buildings, the damage could potentially occur.
The weather can greatly affect your safety if you are not careful. It is very hot almost all year round in Cartagena – upwards of 32 degrees – with a steady 80% humidity to make it feel even hotter. Protecting yourself from the sun, staying hydrated, and seeking shelter (and a break from the heat) in the middle of the day are par for the course.
With tourists comes hassle from hawkers and beach vendors. They wouldn’t be here without tourists, so as tourist numbers increase, so do opportunist vendors attempting to take advantage of tourists.
This also happens with taxis and other “services” to tourists, all of which we will be covering later.
Do you need Travel Insurance for your trip? Even if you’re only going for a few days, that’s more than enough time to get buggered by wicked men or smote by wrathful angels. Have fun in Cartagena, but take it from us, overseas medical care and canceled flights can be seriously expensive – insurance can, therefore, be a life-saver.
Travel mishaps can and do happen and it is well worth thinking about insurance before you leave home.
We have used World Nomads for years now and I have personally made several claims. Why not get a quote from them yourself?
Do be sure to read the terms and conditions to make sure that the policy covers your needs.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Cartagena may be one of the safer cities to visit in Colombia, but that still does mean this place is a Disneyland – at times, in fact, it can feel anything but. To help you navigate the potential pitfalls of a visit to this Caribbean city, we have put together this list of tips, information and do’s and don’ts for when you decide to make the leap and visit Cartagena.
- Limit the cash you carry with you – The more you have, the more you can lose (consider a money belt, too)
- Don’t walk around using your phone EVER – This does not only mean you are distracted, but don’t forget: your smartphone is super expensive and worth a lot of money to a potential thief who could simply snatch it off you and be gone in seconds
- Try to look confident as you walk – Looking less lost, more like you know where you’re going, could keep scammers at bay
- Don’t dress too much like a tourist – Being careful with how you dress, not having an SLR around your neck, and taking cues from how locals dress will help you to blend in a little more
- Don’t wear expensive jewellery – Whether gold, silver or jewellery or even if it’s not real, anything ostentatious may lead to you being targeted
- On public transport keep belongings close and be aware of surroundings – Pickpockets do operate on busy buses and around public transport hubs
- Carry a copy of your passport – A copy will suffice for ID, which you need to have on you by law, but leave the real thing in a safe place and never hand it over to untrustworthy people
- Be careful of taxi scams – We have a lot more on this later
- Keep your cool – There are countless hawkers, vendors and touts in the walled city who can really test your patience; politely decline any offers and always keep a cool head to avoid trouble
- Watch out when withdrawing money – It’s best to use ATMs inside banks, and when doing so be discreet about it
- Beware of Cartagena’s beaches – Leaving bags and valuables unattended will likely mean that they go missing
- Pay attention to warnings and local advice for water safety – The currents and riptides just offshore can be strong, so it’s important to know where you can swim safely and where you should refrain from doing so
- Avoid Vendors of Illegal Goods & Servicies – This means drug dealers and pimps. You risk arrest and they have been known to set tourists up or rob them even at gunpoint.
- Mind The Police – They target young backpackers looking for drugs so they can “fine” them. They may also simply try to rob you – if they empty your wallet for a search, watch them CLOSELY, and count the money afterwards.
- Protect yourself from the heat – And the sun. It can be very hot in Cartagena, so keeping hydrated, using sunscreen and covering up is a given
- Choose accommodation with 24 hour security – Not only is this actually more secure, but it will give you peace of mind and means there will be someone on hand to help you if you need it
- Don’t take pictures of government buildings/military installations – I mean why?
- Be Careful With Drugs – Small amounts of cocaine and weed are decriminalised but still be careful. Overdoes are common as are been sold fake stuff.
- Learn some Spanish – Many people speak English, but even a few phrases will go a long way
- Do not resist if someone tries to mug you – Though not as common as in other Colombian cities, muggers often resort to violence if things don’t go their way; it’s not worth it
- Keep up to date with local news and events – In terms of weather or protests, this can help you plan your trip accordingly
- Watch out for food, drinks and cigarettes – Scopolomise spiking is VERY common in Colombia and tourists are targeted. Keep an eye on your food and drink; do not accept these from strangers, nor cigarettes, as these things can be drugged and will leave you open to robbery and other crimes
- Go to the police if you have an issue – Many are dishonest, but they will still try to do their job if you need help
As should be the case for pretty much any destination in the world, if it’s something that you don’t do at home, then you shouldn’t be doing it in Cartagena. Though it’s generally a safe destination, there are still some things to watch out for, and being sensible and alert when exploring the city should be the way you do things here. Keep our tips in mind and you should be totally fine in Cartagena.
Keeping your money safe in Cartagena
Like in many places in the world, keeping your money safe in Cartagena is going to be one of your top priorities.
Without money, having any sort of good time in any of the world’s top destinations is going to be tricky. In fact, not having cash can mean you don’t get to eat, travel or stay at secure accommodation.
There is a simple solution to keeping your money safe in Cartagena – and that is to wear a money belt.
Pickpockets are pesky and may try their luck at stealing your money, and the best way to stop them in their tracks is to have nothing in your pockets for them to pick in the first place.
However, many money belts are a little too complicated, can be uncomfortable to wear and – worst of all – can look obvious under clothing, inviting unwanted attention.
Our recommendation, therefore, is the Active Roots Security Belt. It looks like a belt, it acts like a belt, it’s sturdy and it’s affordable, complete with a hidden zipper pocket where you can stash your cash for the day.
Active Roots have many other products that make take your interest if you are not one for belts; their infinity scarf, complete with a secret pocket for your valuables, is an ingenious product.
Solo travel is great. No matter where you are in the world, you will be rewarded by the freedom of solo travel as you get to do what you want, when you want.
However it can be a challenge; and specifically in Cartagena, solo travel can be a challenge. However, while solo travellers may be targeted more by opportunist scammers and thieves, it is, on the other hand, a great place to meet other travellers.
To help you keep on the straight and narrow, here are our top tips for solo travellers in Cartagena.
- Solo backpackers are a target for criminals in Colombia. Sorry to have to tell you but we learned the hard way…
- Book into sociable accommodation, but remember only to stay in places where you are going to be happy. Not only does this mean spending a little more to be extra comfortable, but it also means that if you don’t want to stay in a party hostel, make sure you read the reviews and ensure that you are staying somewhere more chilled.
- Don’t get completely wasted. Being drunk by yourself in a place you don’t know means you are going to be at a much higher risk of putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Alternatively, try to join something like a bar crawl offered by your hostel, find some like-minded people to go out with, or limit the amount you drink.
- Try out couchsurfing. This is a good way to meet locals and to make friends, but you should always make sure that the reviews and references are good, and take care that the person you meet is the person they say they are.
- Ask advice from locals, either at your accommodation, online, or someone trustworthy you meet when you’re out. They will know the safe areas to walk around the city, some cool things to see, do and eat, and will be able to offer you a local perspective of Cartagena away from what the guidebook tells you.
- Don’t carry all your valuables together in one place. This means not having all your bank cards in one wallet, or all your cash in one place, because if that goes missing, you won’t have any way left of accessing funds for your trip. Split things like this up, consider having a second bank account (just in case), or an emergency credit card.
- Be careful of over-friendly strangers. While people can be friendly in Cartagena, chances are when you are a lone gringo you will be approached by people you will not have your best interests at heart. Politely decline any offers.
- Do research into guides, tour companies and other people who are offering their services like that. It is overwhelming, and annoying, when people in the street are besieging you with offers of touring this or guiding you to that, but know that it is much safer to book through your accommodation via a recommended, reputable guide or company.
- Don’t leave people out of the loop. Not only will this worry your friends and family back home, but it is better for your safety (and mental health) if you keep people back home updated; let them know when you’re not feeling good.
- Similarly, know when to take a break. It can seem all too easy to think life is a never-ending tick list of “awesome things to do” and such like, but it is your experience and having burn-out when you are travelling is not good for you at all. Take it slow, take time out when you feel like it to just chill in a cafe, and get to know the city the way you want to.
- Stick to travelling during the daylight hours. This is a good idea for anybody, but especially if you are by yourself it can be risky and overwhelming to turn up by yourself somewhere after dark.
- Travel light. There is nothing worse than arriving somewhere with multiple, heavy bags and then having to navigate from A to B with all of that luggage in tow. Not only that, but it can make you quite vulnerable; walking around a city with a huge backpack on will just make you stick out like a tourist.
- Know your emergency numbers. Have them saved on your phone (with a symbol or number in front so they appear first in your contacts) and on a piece of paper in case your phone runs out of juice.
- With that in mind, make sure that your phone always has a good amount of battery charge; going out to find out that you only have 10% battery on your phone is not fun. Consider investing in a rechargeable battery pack so that you are never without a working phone.
Solo travel is great in Cartagena; there are plenty of places where you can meet other travellers, from cafes and bars, to the very social (and very good) hostels and guesthouses that are dotted around this city. You should be totally fine as long as you make sure that you explore the city sensibly, be kind to yourself, and don’t go off grid.
Is Cartagena safe for solo female travellers?
Cartagena is an awesome destination for solo female travellers. With good accommodation, other people to meet, plenty of places to socialise and explore, the city has a friendly, welcoming vibe.
However, it is not always 100% safe for women travelling by themselves. Sometimes there can be some hassle, places you shouldn’t go wandering by yourself, and some other issues you should know about to keep yourself safe; so here are the best tips for solo female travellers in Cartagena.
- Book yourself into a hostel. There are a great many hostels in Cartagena to choose from, some of which are perfect for solo female travellers. Not only will these boast dorms that are just for women, but they often have a good social scene as well. This means you can easily break the ice over a game of beer pong, or while on a bar crawl.
- Try out a class or other group activity. From dance classes and yoga to cooking classes, there are a lot of different activities on offer in Cartagena that you can get involved with and make for a great way to meet like-minded people.
- Keep your phone charged. Not only can your phone be an absolute lifeline, but it can really help you if you ever feel lost in a part of town that you don’t recognise.
- Beware of blindly following Google Maps – or any other maps app; they could lead you along a short cut that takes you into an area of the city that isn’t so safe.
- Know that there will be some level of catcalling and harassment. It does happen in Cartagena. Though most people are kind and welcoming, it is possible that men could whistle or call out at you. Howeveogor annoying or upsetting, it is best to ignore this kind of attention and move on.
- If something more serious does start to happen, and you begin to get worried, then you should make a fuss in public. This should be enough to scare the would-be harasser away. Find a nearby trustworthy looking person, lady or family and tell them; they will more than likely help you out.
- Do not walk around by yourself after dark. No matter how short the distance, it just simply is not worth putting yourself at risk. Instead, go with other people or take a taxi.
- Tell people about your travel plans. Keep someone in the loop with where you are going and what you are doing on any given day. Whether that’s a friend or relative back home, the staff at your accommodation, or preferably both, you should keep in touch with people; someone knowing where you are is much safer than nobody knowing where you are.
- Do not accept drinks from strangers. If somebody buys you a drink when you are out, it is ok to politely decline. Likewise, do not ever leave your drink unattended. Drink spiking is, unfortunately, a very real problem in Cartagena and can lead to all manner of bad situations.
- Blend in with your clothing. Although local women don’t exactly dress modestly, it is still often good to err on the side of caution. When you are by yourself, covering up with long skirts and loose pants is probably best to avoid unwanted attention.
- Don’t linger out of politeness. If you feel as though you are in an uncomfortable situation, or someone is making you feel uncomfortable, don’t feel that you have to stick around; make excuses and leave.
- Meet up with other local ladies. Head online to find out meet-ups that are happening, or join Facebook groups like Host A Sister to see if anyone’s in your area; check out Facebook group Girls Love Travel to ask for advice on Cartagena and other travel destinations too.
- Join a group tour; seeing the city with many people gives you a chance to meet fellow travellers as well as learn about Cartagena from a knowledgeable guide. Just make sure you only use reputable, well-recommended companies.
Many women make their way to Cartagena by themselves and have a trouble-free time. For the most part, it is generally quite safe, though – like a lot of destinations around the world – walking around by yourself, particularly at night, can be a little risky. The best bet is to check-in to an awesome social hostel in Cartagena, meet some fellow travellers and explore the city together.
Is Cartagena safe to travel for families?
In short, families are going to have an awesome time in Cartagena. Though it may seem like more of a cruise stop, or even a backpacker hang-out, Cartagena is also a great place for families!
Colombian society is very family oriented and this Caribbean city is no different. People are particularly warm and welcoming to you if you have your children with you when you visit.
Away from all the backpacker hostels of the old town, family-friendly hotels in Cartagena are located in the modern area of Bocagrande. This area can, at times, feel like an entirely different city to the one to be found in Getsemani or La Candelaria.
Among the high rises of Bocagrande you will discover plenty of family friendly places, from malls and restaurants to beaches and world class hotels. In the more historic areas of town, there are colourful streets to discover, crumbling old colonial buildings to see and museums to visit.
Exploring the city with your children in tow will be an interesting experience for all of you. From soaking up the local life and street art of Getsemani and riding bikes around town, to wandering the eerie tunnels of the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas fortress and even visiting the chocolate museum of ChocoMuseo, there’s a ton of stuff to do.
Simply finding a local square early in the morning (which is great, because kids tend to wake up early in the morning anyway) is a great way to soak up some colourful local ambience and atmosphere.
Family-friendly hotels can be found not only in Bocagrande, but elsewhere in the city; guesthouses and hotels can also be found in the more historic centre of Cartagena, where older children may be more appreciative of the charming surroundings.
One of the main things you are going to have to consider is the climate. Being in the Caribbean, Cartagena is a hot, humid place, the sort of place where clothes-changes throughout the day are necessary.
Keeping hydrated is key, as is sunscreen and sunhats for you and your children. Avoiding being out in the sun, on the beach or the streets, at midday or early afternoon, is essential to not getting overheated.
The best time of year to go in light of this can be tricky to work out. December to April is the dry season, often thought of as the best time to go; the rainy season, from May to September, can be an option as it’s cheaper and temperatures tend to be cooler in the afternoon (it doesn’t rain every day anyway).
Culture in Colombia often means that things happen late, including restaurant opening times; lunch times begin at around 1 p.m., with dinner at around 9 p.m. It might be worth sleeping in the hottest hours – as many locals do – and coming out again when it’s cooled down in the evening.
At the beach, make sure to keep an eye on your children, as lifeguards will not always be present.
It is also essential to bring any essential items you may need for your children, like a good first-aid kit or any prescribed medicine they might need, as it can be difficult to come by.
All in all, Cartagena is a fine destination for you and your family. People may think you are crazy for going to Colombia with your children, but chances are you are going to have a ball in Cartagena.
Is it safe to drive in Cartagena?
Driving in Cartagena is a mixed bag. Unless you want to explore further afield, it is not really worth driving yourself around the city.
People in Cartagena tend to drive quite aggressively and erratically. Though not a huge challenge, you will have to be comfortable with driving defensively. Note that driving standards will probably not be as high as they are in your home country.
Statistically, driving in Colombia is probably not as safe as in your home country either. Traffic accidents are common and driving standards are generally low.
Drivers use their horns a lot, which is something you will have to get used to. Being a Caribbean city, people are also a little more laid-back compared to somewhere like Medellin. Still, working your way around in the city in your own vehicle can be hair-raising at times.
In fact, the World Health Organisation found that, in 2017, Road Traffic Accidents Deaths in the country were at a rate of 18.2 per 100,000 – to put that into perspective, the same rate in the UK was just 2.58 per 100,000.
It can therefore be hazardous to drive in or around Cartagena. That said, many people do choose to rent a car to explore further afield, some wanting to drive between Cartagena and Medellin, for example.
You can hire a car from the airport or a reputable chain rental company in the city. Make sure that you make note of any pre-existing damage before you take the car out so that you are not blamed for it when you return the car.
It is also important to note Cartagena’s “pico y placa” system. In order to ease traffic and curb pollution levels in the city, this license plate-based system states what cars are allowed to drive in the city from Monday to Friday between the following times rush hours at 7-9 a.m., 12-2 p.m. and 5-7:30 p.m.
Rain in Cartagena can very much affect the speed of traffic in the city. After or during a downpour, roads are quick to flood and everyone starts driving slowly.
It is important that you remember that in Colombia you drive on the right; if you’re from the UK or somewhere cars drive on the left, you should be aware of this!
Drink driving is obviously against the rules; it is also illegal to not wear a seatbelt. You should also pay attention to pedestrians who can be unpredictable in crossing the road.
Driving at night is not a good idea at all. Not only is it easier to get lost, but it’s harder to see hazards in the road and you will put yourself at more risk – especially if you are going on a road trip outside the city. Aim to be back in Cartagena before sunset.
When parking, do not leave anything on show. Even a map or a book may mean, to opportunist thieves, that there are valuable things hidden elsewhere in the car. Park in a secure area, always.
In conclusion, driving in Cartagena is generally safe, but it is definitely for people who are confident drivers and who know what they’re doing when it comes to driving abroad. Therefore, the experience of driving somewhere like Colombia will help.
Unless renting a car and driving around everywhere you go in the world is your thing, we would say that there is no need to drive in Cartagena anyway.
Is Uber safe in Cartagena?
Uber has a complex history in Colombia and has had some controversy surrounding it in the past.
While in some places, like the capital city Bogota, Uber drivers have been attacked, in Cartagena there don’t seem to be the same issues and is free for you to use.
There are no shortage of taxis in Cartagena. But using Uber means that you can hail a taxi easily, without risk of scam, having to worry about language, having the right change on you or having to take money out of an ATM.
A good tip would be to sit up front with the driver, so it does not look as obvious that the car is an Uber, just in case there are any Uber-haters in the vicinity.
Are taxis safe in Cartagena?
There are a lot of taxis in Cartagena and using them is one of the easiest ways to get around the city.
Chances are that, on a trip here, you will end up using one of Cartagena’s numerous taxis.
They are however, some of the most expensive taxis in the whole of Colombia and the prices can begin to stack up. Next t0 that, there is also the legitimate worry that taxi drivers could be taking advantage of tourists.
First and foremost, it is essential that you get into a licensed cab. In Cartagena, the taxis are yellow and you can spot a licensed one by checking out their license plate; it should have the words “Servico Publico” printed somewhere on it.
While you can flag taxis down in the street, this does come with a higher risk of being potentially scammed by a taxi driver. The best way to get a taxi, therefore, is to get your hotel – or the restaurant or bar you are at – to call one for you. That way you will not have any language barrier to worry about and you can be safe in the knowledge that you are getting a licensed taxi.
In addition, you can also use a taxi-hailing app called EasyTaxi. This Uber-like service means you can hail a taxi via the app, pay through the app, track your journey and see reviews of drivers before you book.
When it comes to getting a taxi in Cartagena it is important to remember that you should always set the price before you take a journey. The taxis here do not run on the meter and therefore taxi drivers do have a habit of making up prices and overcharging foreign visitors.
Not all taxi drivers are dishonest. However, it’s not uncommon for even domestic tourists to be overcharged by taxis in Cartagena.
Before you get into a cab, you should tell the driver where you are going and ask how much the fare will be. Do not get in until you’ve established a price that suits both of you – if you are not happy with the offered price, negotiate or find another cab.
There are actually set fare rates that are established by the city, based on the different municipal zones. However, they are clearly not always adhered to. All drivers should have a copy of the legal table of fares in their taxi and they should provide it to you if you ask for it; this is not always going to happen.
You can also find out a list of prices online, so you have a good basis for negotiating with drivers. So you know, in 2019, the minimum fare as defined by the city was 7,000 pesos.
Other fees can be added on top of the fare. For example, between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., an additional 500 pesos is added on; there are also special rates for shuttling visitors to and from the airport.
When you do arrive at the airport, you may be overwhelmed by taxi drivers trying to hustle you for business. A good tip, however, would be to go to the Electronic Kiosk that can be found immediately as you exit customs. Here you should enter the address of where you are staying, and you will get a ticket with the correct taxi fare printed on it. This is always a good idea.
At the end of the day, taxi drivers in Cartagena are used to tourists and will not be afraid to rip you off. Occasionally you will not have to be worried about having to spend an extra few thousand pesos to just get going. But you should ask where possible to see the official fare card; it is technically illegal for a licensed cab to overcharge.
To save you any hassle, using EasyTaxi is a good idea; alternatively, asking for recommendations through your hotel or other establishments will more than likely result in an honest taxi.
Is public transportation in Cartagena safe?
The public transport in Cartagena is limited, and not that well developed when compared to other Colombian cities. It lacks a metro system, so you will be relying wholly on buses.
First off, there are the collectivos, also called busetas in Cartagena. These ubiquitous vans and minibusses drive along set routes throughout the city, and can usually be identified by rapid beeping horns and pointing fingers from the driver.
If you want to use one of these “collective taxis”, hail it down along its route. Note that they are usually uncomfortable, packed full of other people, and a little bit crazy in terms of driving. Still they can also be a great option for saving some money, especially if you haven’t got loads of luggage. It will also be a proper local experience.
Hail one down and you’ll be asked for money by the guy running the show – these are sparrings. Routes are labelled on the fronts or on the windshield. There are no designated stops. Don’t worry if the sparring takes your money and you don’t have change yet; you’ll get it eventually (they are surprisingly efficient – and helpful too).
The main public transport system, however, in Cartagena is called the TransCaribe. This opened in 2016 and is basically an alternative to a metro or tram system. Like Medellin’s Transmilenio, this is officially a BRT or Bus Rapid Transit, and consists of a number of bus-only routes that connect a network of lines and stops around the city, allowing smooth, traffic-free lanes.
The buses are large, red and green, modern affairs, which regularly every 15 to 30 minutes throughout Cartegena.
All the main thoroughfares of the city are covered at the moment, but the TransCaribe is currently expanding to work its way out across the whole city.
It is actually quite affordable, too; one ride costs 1,300 pesos. However, you won’t have to be using exact change or anything like that; to make things even easier, you can only use a metrocard-type IC card. These can be picked up at ticket offices at stations for 4,000 pesos and subsequently topped up.
The service is fairly safe, being as modern as it is, however, there are still some things to consider if you are planning on using this newfangled transport system. The TransCaribe stations, and the buses themselves, can get very busy, with pushing and shoving being the norm at peak times. Therefore, make sure to leave plenty of time for your journey and keep your belongings close to you.
Because the TransCaribe is still developing, it is currently still augmented by the old bus system it is supposed to be replacing. The connector buses between TransCaribe lines and stations are called alimentadores. They’re smaller than the TransCaribe buses and they stop at rectangular bus stops with “SITM” marked on them.
Be careful which alimentadores you use, as some are express services stopping at only a few stops. They work just like buses, with buttons to press when you want to get off.
Though limited, public transportation in Cartagena is generally safe. Watch your belongings and surroundings on buses, especially late at night, and be careful around transit hubs – especially the inter-city variety.
Is the food in Cartagena safe?
Food in Cartagena is a bit of delight. A mix of the Caribbean and Latin flavours, there’s a whole lot of seafood on offer, plus some ubiquitous Latin American favourites featuring rice and beans, with fresh fruit and sweet treats in abundance.
Go with an appetite to explore the culinary delights, of course, but you should also be wary as not all eateries are going to be equal in their hygiene or quality. To help you figure it all out, here are some top insider tips for eating in Cartagena.
- Do not be afraid to go local. There are so many places where you can sit at a small restaurant and enjoy some classic homemade recipes; but some are better than others. Consider asking for some local advice – the staff at your hostel, reception staff at your hotel, guesthouse owners – as chances are everyone will have a recommendation.
- If you are already out and about with nobody to ask, make a beeline for somewhere that is busy with locals (not tourists). Not only does this mean that the food will most likely be good, but it will also mean that the food will have been cooked fresh and ready for someone to devour it quickly, rather than having been sat around for ages.
- Totally try out street food. It is one of the best things to do in Cartagena. You will be missing out on something special if you do not indulge in some of the street stalls and vendors that are dotted around the city.
- When buying fruit (or vegetables), it is generally a good idea to not purchase anything that has been pre-peeled and chopped up for you; it may not have been washed properly and could give you an upset stomach. Instead only opt for things that you can wash, peel and chop yourself.
- Beware the gringo menu. In tourist areas, or otherwise, it is possible that you end up paying a little extra for the privilege of being able to see an English menu, with items costing more and the whole menu occasionally lacking cheaper menu items altogether. It is a good rule of thumb to avoid any tourist-oriented restaurant.
- Some Spanish would be helpful; not only will you be able to avoid the gringo menu, but you will also be able to walk into any local joint and ask questions about what it is they’re serving up.
- Watch out for seafood. While on the whole, it can be quite good, be sure that what you’re eating is fresh. If it smells or tastes weird, don’t eat it. Food poisoning from seafood and shellfish is not nice at all.
- Be careful with fried goods from street food sellers, however; occasionally the frying oil that is used will not have changed for some time and could end up affecting not just the taste of what you’re eating, but the state of your stomach as well.
- One thing that you might want to avoid completely is sopa de mondongo. This “soup” is filled with all manner of things that you will not be used to eating, including cow’s udder, tripe and intenstines – offal, in a word. If you have ordered the comida corriente (set lunch) ask what soup comes with it; if it’s sopa de mondongo, you may want to give it a miss.
- Just in case, you may want to bring along a supply of anti-diarrhoea medication and rehydration sachets. Not that the food is unsafe in Cartagena, but just that a change in diet can actually lead to a bad stomach.
- Wash your hands. It is a simple thing to do, but after exploring the city all day and having the grime of traffic and dirt all over your hands – and who knows what germs and bacteria – sitting down to eat a meal without having washed your hands is just not smart.
There you have it – some great pointers for enjoying the food that is on offer in Cartagena. If in doubt, simply ask around for the best places to eat at; there will be no shortage of recommendations from the locals who are working in the hostel or hotel you’ll be staying at.
Whatever you do, do not just opt for tourist restaurants or the buffet/dining options at your hotel. You will be missing out on a whole other world of local food experiences – something which is a huge part of what makes Cartagena what it is.
Can you drink the water in Cartagena?
There are mixed reports regarding whether or not you can drink the water in Cartagena. The UK government, for example, says that tap water in Colombia is only safe to drink in Bogota. However, other sources state that it is also safe to drink in Cartagena. I drank the tap water here. Whilst it came out of the tap’s kind of warm, it never made me ill.
Therefore we would stay on the side of caution and recommend not drinking the water in Cartagena.
Stick to bottled water, or filter water yourself – either with a refillable bottle with an in-built filtration system, or purification tablets, or boil water yourself (over 1 minute of vigorous boiling will do).
Is Cartagena safe to live?
The thought of living in Cartagena is pretty dreamy. You get to live on the Caribbean sea, with good, warm weather year-round, a good choice of food to eat, a vibrant culture – plus it is relatively safe compared to other Colombian cities.
There are certainly some things to think about if you are considering a move to Cartagena. The weather is one of those things; although it sounds good, it is generally very humid and temperatures are almost always above 30 degrees. You will have to get used to being hot and sweaty year-round.
Some people may be able to assimilate and their bodies get used to the hot, humid conditions but other people may not be able to. One thing is for sure and that is you will need to have air-con pretty much all the time. This isn’t great for the world.
Transport and infrastructure can also be an issue in Cartagena and takes some getting used to. If you come from somewhere with a good transport system, this could be an irritating fact of life.
More and more people are visiting the city than ever, overloading the already inadequate transport system.
With the increasing numbers of tourists, you will also have to get used to the fact that certain areas of the city will be – at certain times of the year – overrun with tourists and everything related to them, including touts and vendors. Everyone is trying to get a piece of the tourism pie.
This also reveals the inequality that you will see in Cartagena. Poverty is, unfortunately, part of life in Cartagena, and – like it or not – you will be part of this. It’s an expensive city to live in compared to other places in Colombia, which can make poverty all the more affecting.
Speaking Spanish is a must. Without speaking the local language, you will be left on the fringes of the city having to rely on English menus and ex-pats for company.
While it is much safer than other places in Colombia, without a crazy list of things to worry about in terms of living there, it will still be a big leap compared to what you are probably used to. Research, speaking to ex-pats, finding good neighbourhoods to live in are essential.
How is healthcare in Cartagena?
The healthcare in Cartagena is of an acceptable standard. You will be able to get access to adequate medical care while you are in the city, and will be able to visit doctors who speak at least some level of English.
Medical facilities do vary in Cartagena, however. Private clinics provide the best quality of care for routine treatments; some complex treatments may require a trip to either Bogota or Medellin instead.
For this reason especially (though you should have some anyway), good medical travel insurance is necessary to cover the costs.
If you do have a serious, life-threatening medical issue and it cannot be treated properly in a Colombian hospital, you will have to be evacuated to a country with a higher standard of medical care; Miami, for example, is just a short flight from Cartagena.
Pharmacies work as a good first port of call for any minor health issues you have. Be aware, however, that the pharmacist may not be able to speak English; having somebody with you who can speak Spanish will be a great help.
Be careful of the medication you pick up from pharmacies. Quite often you can get things without a prescription, but it may not be in date or it may not be what you expect it to be, so be sure to check (and double-check) the labels.
It is only recommended to use a public hospital in the case of an extreme emergency. If you are in need of one, for an ambulance you dial 123 – be warned, however, that the service is in Spanish only.
Overall, healthcare in Cartagena is OK, but it is not quite on the same level as the USA or Western European countries. If needs be, speak to your accommodation for a recommended healthcare facility; otherwise, you can contact your embassy if you need advice.
Helpful Colombia Travel Phrases
Learning a bit of Spanish is a great way to get the most out of your trip. When I became fluent in Spanish, it really changed the way I was able to travel in Colombia and beyond. It is such a useful language to know! You can speak it in over 20 countries! Check out this post for some Colombian slang.
Here are a few helpful travel phrases with English translations for your backpacking Colombia adventure:
Final thoughts on the safety of Cartagena
Colombia has had its fair share of issues in the recent past, but the country seems to have come out of the other side and is again a destination. Nowhere is this more evident than in Cartagena; with beaches, historic old town, big-name hotels, boutique guesthouses and a slew of restaurants and bars, it’s a fun city to explore. Safer than other cities in the country though it is, common sense still pays off here.
Insurance is always a good idea, so make sure you get a good plan before heading off on a trip to Cartagena!
Yay For Transparency! Safety conditions change all over the world on a daily basis. We do our best to advise but this info may already be out of date. Do your own research. Enjoy your travels! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means we earn a small commission if you purchase your insurance through this page. This costs you nothing extra and helps us keep the site going.
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