It’s always a little scary to travel to South America for the first time, especially in Colombia, which has a poor reputation because of television and Netflix.
However, one city in Colombia has managed to shine on the international scene: Cartagena de Indias.
Are you heading there soon? Do you wonder whether Cartagena is safe to travel to?
You’ve come to the right place.
In all, I stayed more than 2 months in Cartagena. This article will help you avoid scams and give you many safety tips.
👉 Don’t leave without reading our Cartagena Travel Guide. It’s the only online resource you will need to plan the perfect trip.
The quick answers
Is it Safe for Tourists in Cartagena, Colombia?
Cartagena is a safe city and has been for many years. You will find many police officers in touristy areas like the walled city, Getsemaní, and Bocagrande. Avoid drug dealers and prostitutes, watch out for pickpockets, and you should not encounter any safety issues. 👉 Still, don't forget your travel insurance!
Is Cartagena Safer Than Medellín?
Both cities are safe if you stay in the tourist areas and use cabs late at night instead of walking. But if I have to choose between the two, I would say that I feel safer in the city of Cartagena.
Colombia & Coronavirus:
Must be vaccinated at least 14 days before coming, or you will have to present a PCR test less than 72 hours old
Is Cartagena Safe for Solo Woman Travelers?
Yes, it is safe to explore Cartagena for a solo woman traveler.
Is it Safe to Drink Tap Water in Cartagena?
Locals told me yes. However, it took a while for my stomach to agree. I suggest you drink filtered or bottled water.
Discover Cartagena better than any other traveler
Tourists make many mistakes when visiting Cartagena. After two months of exploring the city, here are my (free) tips to organize the best possible adventure.
Transportation and Safety in Cartagena
The sights are close together, and you won’t often need to take a taxi or Uber – let alone public transportation.
1# Taxi Drivers in Cartagena, Colombia
Nobody uses taximeters, and there are no official rates.
Most taxi drivers will try to charge you more because you’re a foreigner. It’s sad to say, but it’s the truth.
To minimize unpleasant surprises, you should:
- Get an idea of the rates before arriving in Cartagena.
- Ask for the price BEFORE you get in the taxi — Voy a Getsemaní. 8,000?
To help you, this is a list of prices you should pay in 2022 in Cartagena:
- A trip between Getsemaní, Bocagrande, old town: 8 – 10,000 COP.
- Airport – Bocagrande: about 23,000 COP.
- Airport – old town: about 15,000 COP.
- Bus terminal – old town: about 25,000 COP.
- Round trip Old town – La Popa (+ 1 hour waiting time): about 50,000 COP.
Safety tip: You can ask your hotel/restaurant to call a taxi driver and confirm with them the average price.
For me, the most challenging moment was at the airport.
You’ll have your luggage. You’ll be tired.
If you don’t want to bother, you should book a private airport transfer.
2# Uber in Cartagena
Once in Cartagena, you can also use Uber.
It’s kind of legal in Colombia now.
The problem is that there are few Uber drivers available in the city.
If you don’t want to wait too long, you can use other apps like Easy Taxi or Easy Tappsi — I’ve never tried them, though.
Girls, drugs, and Rock&roll in Cartagena
Yes, there are drugs and prostitution in Cartagena.
Unfortunately, some travelers travel to Cartagena for this reason only. Most incidents happen to tourists who put themselves in this kind of situation.
It’s legal in Colombia, but there is no legal framework. Simply put, if anything happens to you, the police won’t do anything.
In Cartagena, you’ll see many prostitutes at night in front of the Clock Tower.
More than 3000 travelers have already used our Colombia travel guide
I’ve been exploring Colombia since 2015, and I’ve put all my knowledge into one Ebook. It’s free and accessible now. 👇
Marijuana, cocaine, and so on are illegal in Colombia.
5# Is Cartagena Safe for Partying
I often went out in the historic old town, and it was fine.
There are usually many people in the streets until 1-2 am, especially from Wednesday onwards.
My safety tips are:
- Do not leave your glass unattended or accept drinks from people you do not know. A drug called scopolamine can turn you into an obedience zombie — you’ll answer all questions and remember nothing.
- Better to party with a group of people than alone.
- To return to your hotel, take a cab unless you are close and there are still people in the streets.
- Bring a photocopy of your passport and some cash—instead of your credit card.
Street Vendors in Cartagena, Colombia
The street vendors in Cartagena are exhausting. They will see you from miles away trying to sell their products/services. Let’s see how to deal with them.
6# It’s Their Bread and Butter
Even if they annoy you, keep in mind that they are not doing this for fun.
You must act respectfully and firmly. If they see you hesitating or embarrassed, they will continue to talk to you.
This is what I do:
- I look at them in the eyes and smile.
- Then, I say “Está bien papa, gracias” for a guy and “No, gracias mi amor” for a woman.
- Then I go on my way without worrying about their answer.
If you’re not comfortable saying no, you can try to ignore them. Personally, I prefer the first technique.
7# Oyster Sellers, Shrimp Sellers, and Masseuses
You’ll find them on the beach, trying to offer you a free sample.
Keep in mind this: It’s NEVER free.
Always refuse the free sample.
Then, you can ask for the price if you’re interested.
A full body massage on the beach shouldn’t be over 100,000 COP.
8# Street Sellers Inside the Old Walled City
You’ll meet street sellers who want to sell you hats, cigars, and so on.
Don’t hesitate to bargain.
A hat should cost from 20 to 40,000 COP.
When you visit Cartagena, you will also meet the palenqueras. They are women dressed in colorful clothes and with a fruit basket on their heads —they traditionally come from the village of Palenque.
To make a living, they offer tourists to take pictures of them. In exchange, you give them a tip.
It should 10 to 20,000 COP per palenqueras.
Finally, you will also be the “victim” of the rappers. They carry around a speaker and do improvised raps on passers-by. Don’t hesitate to tell them “no gracias” from the beginning and then let them sing. You can also enter one of the many coffee shops to escape them.
The Rosario Islands
It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Caribbean Coast. As a result, there are a few scams to avoid.
9# The Guy Who Wants to Sell You the Perfect Tour
My advice is the following: don’t buy tours in the street.
Mainly for 2 reasons:
- They’ll tell you anything to get you to buy the tour.
- You’ll always end up paying more than the official price.
Besides, from my experience, these island tours aren’t great.
You’ll waste at least 1 hour at the dock to get on a boat packed with many other tourists. Then, the captain will lead you to the most crowded parts of the Rosario Islands.
To help you, I’ve listed the best things to do in Cartagena.
10# Playa Blanca & Isla Cholón Are Overrated
You’ll probably doubt me on this one. However, it is true.
Both places are crowded with people, vendors, and noise.
If you don’t mind, go ahead. The setting is still beautiful.
The best option to visit the islands of Rosario is to stay 2 nights on Isla Grande or south of Isla Baru — or rent a sailboat!
The other alternative is to rent a private boat with local captains (see next point).
11# Cartagena Boat Rental
Many travelers like to rent a boat when visiting Cartagena de Indias.
It’s the best way to explore the Rosario Islands in the Caribbean Sea if you only have 1 day available.
You should book through a reliable local agency that uses as few intermediaries as possible. You want it to be in a direct relationship with the boat’s owners.
Read the following post to learn many tips from our Cartagena Boating specialist
👉 Wanna rent a boat in Cartagena? Ask Aymeric.
Before saying, “Yes, I do.”
As I told you before, some locals will charge you more because you are a foreigner. It will be difficult to argue about the price if you don’t speak Spanish.
Here are a few tips to avoid these annoying situations.
12# Restaurants At the Beach
I advise you to go to a restaurant where the prices are displayed. It’s not that simple, but there are a few.
If you want to spend a few hours on the beach of Bocagrande / Laguito, you will like to take shelter in the shade. Don’t hesitate to negotiate for free the carp+ plastic chairs if you order food and beverages.
13# Double-Check the Bill
Check that you have not been given an extra drink or dish at the bar or restaurant.
You will also observe that most add a line “propina voluntaria.” This corresponds to a tip of 10% of the bill.
You do not have to pay for it — although it is customary to do so if you are satisfied with the service.
The tourist areas of Cartagena are safe. Let’s see which ones.
14# Is Cartagena Safe: El Centro
It is the most touristic area of Cartagena. It’s also one of the favorite areas to go out for travelers. You’ll find nightclubs, luxury hotels, and rooftops. There is a strong police presence, day and night. Beware of pickpockets, though.
15# Is Cartagena Safe: San Diego
This is the quieter part of the walled city of Cartagena.
You will find some bars and restaurants open until 11-12 pm. As long as there are people in the alleys, no worries. Afterward, I would advise you to call a cab if you need to return to your hotel.
16# Is Cartagena Safe: Getsemaní
This neighborhood is great for young travelers who want to enjoy Cartagena’s nightlife without breaking the bank. It’s my favorite neighborhood to go out because the atmosphere seems more authentic.
No security concerns during the day and early evening. Afterward, some of the alleys become a bit dodgy and deserted.
Once again, as long as there are people on the streets, you can walk.
17# Is Cartagena Safe: Bocagrande
This is the modern area of Cartagena, with seaside skyscrapers. Many locals choose to stay there because it is closer to the beach and the accommodation prices are more economical. You’ll also find many beach resorts.
Avoid venturing onto the beach at nightfall because there is no public lighting.
For the rest, there is nothing to worry about.
Crimes in Cartagena, Colombia
No one will kidnap you or shoot you. But you should be careful with petty theft.
To avoid them, you must use your common sense:
- Don’t keep anything in your back pockets.
- Don’t show off with your valuables.
- Don’t leave your stuff unattended (restaurants, beaches).
- Find all our Colombia Safety Tips.
The Bottom Line
The magical city of Cartagena is a safe destination. Most of the trouble happens to travelers looking for drugs and prostitutes. Use your common sense and safety tips in this article to avoid potential scams and petty theft.
So, ready to go?
Where to travel after Cartagena
- San Bernardo Islands
- Rosario Islands
- Rincon del Mar
- Santa Marta
- Paso del Mango
- La Guajira
The 6 best experiences you shouldn’t miss