Planning a trip to Cartagena but you’re not sure just how safe the city is? This detailed guide to tourist safety in Cartagena will tell you all you need to know to prepare for your upcoming travels!
Colombia is generally known as a crime-riddled country, but that’s mostly because of the drug cartels which operate in certain cities. The seaside city of Cartagena is one of the safest places in the entire country, as well as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia.
Having a good time in the city is entirely possible, especially with these Cartagena safety tips that will help you stay out of harm’s way!
Yes! Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colombia among both local and foreign travelers. It’s also one of the safest Colombian cities, with a large police presence in the areas that are most popular with tourists.
There are still some instances of petty crime even in areas that are heavily guarded by the police, but that can happen anywhere in the world. Violent crimes against tourists are practically unheard of in Cartagena, and for the most part, you can stay safe in the city as long as you use common sense and exercise normal precautions.
The areas of the city that get the most tourists have a large police presence, which helps keep the safety concerns at a minimum. However, it’s important to note that not all the police officers you encounter might be legit, so just exercise some caution when engaging with the police in Cartagena.
In other words, if you encounter a chatty police officer who wants to inspect your cash for counterfeits, it’s likely a scam and they’re trying to rip you off. Ask to see a badge, or ask to be taken to a police station – if they start hesitating, you can just walk away.
Some parts of the city are and others not so much. Cartagena can be safe at night if you exercise enough caution, but it’s generally not advisable to walk around at night. It’s especially not a good idea to go out alone at night, but if you must do it, at least stay within the areas that are guarded by the police.
You can take some precautions to make yourself less of a target if you go out alone at night in Cartagena. The first and most important thing is to always be sober and aware of your surroundings – walking around drunk in the dead of night just makes you an easy target for petty theft and robbery.
However, the best precaution you can take to stay safe is to just not go out at night alone in Cartagena, even when you are in the tourist zones. It’s okay if you’re with a partner or in a group of people, but when you’re alone, you’re an easy target.
Also, it’s much safer to ride taxis at night than to walk around the city, even if you are staying in the tourist area.
Centro Historico is the historic old town of Cartagena, Colombia, and the best destination for tourists in the city. This is the part of the town that’s also known as the walled city, and it’s generally the safest area in entire Cartagena.
The old city of Cartagena is home to most of the city’s tourist attractions, best beaches, and best accommodation options, so there are lots of reasons to make this your base while you’re staying in Cartagena. It’s designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its historical landmarks, with the port, fortress, and monumental complex being the most notable sites.
Bocagrande is another part of the city that’s generally safe for both locals and tourists, mostly because it’s the wealthiest part of Cartagena. The seaside skyscrapers just scream luxury, and the miles of sandy beaches lined with palm trees give off Miami Beach vibes.
San Diego is the area north of El Centro, and it’s one of the more upmarket and serene neighborhoods in the city. Its seafront walls and long beaches attract sunset watchers to the area, while foodies revel in the selection of bistros and trendy fusion restaurants. The neighborhood is also home to trendy cafes and bars, as well as a fabulous handicraft market that’s situated inside a former dungeon.
Although these are only three neighborhoods in the city, they’re home to pretty much all the attractions you’d want to check out in the city anyway. Of course, you should explore beyond the walls of the historic center if you want to, just do it during the day and stay out of the neighborhoods with the highest crime rates.
Cartagena is relatively safe for solo female travelers, especially those who have some experience with traveling along through South America. Some catcalling and occasional whistling are inevitable, but it’s not something that will put you in any outright danger.
Walking around the city alone during the day is perfectly safe, but you shouldn’t go out alone at night. That’s true for solo male travelers as well, but women are generally an easier target for petty thieves and crooks.
It’s worth noting that you will generally be fine if you stay in the wealthier neighborhoods – Bocagrande, San Diego, and Centro Historico. The nightlife here is actually pretty great and worth checking out but staying safe means taking a taxi home even if your accommodation is just a 10-minute walk away from the bar.
It’s a bad idea to walk down unlit alleys anywhere in the world, and it’s smart to just be a bit extra safe while you’re in Colombia.
Public transport is mostly safe in Cartagena, but it depends on where exactly in the city you are and what public transport service you are using.
The city offers a Transcaribe bus rapid transit system, which covers a total of 16 stations. Although this is the cheapest method of getting around Cartagena, it’s not the best option for tourists because of the areas of the city it passes through.
It’s fine if you’re riding the bus just through the walled center, but only a couple of bus stops are in the tourist zones of Cartagena. The rest are in suburbs and rural neighborhoods, which aren’t the safest option for tourists.
Taxis are generally safe in Cartagena if you can manage to avoid the shady drivers who enjoy ripping off tourists. The easiest way to avoid these taxi drivers is to just agree on a price beforehand – if they are reluctant to agree to a price or they insist on using the taximeter, it’s better to just get out and look for a different vehicle.
Ubers are also a thing in Cartagena, although they’ve always existed in a sort of a legal gray area. They are popular with tourists though, especially since you can arrange rides online and get all the info about the driver beforehand. This makes it much easier to avoid scams and thefts, and it’s generally one of the safest ways of getting around the city.
It is if you are a confident and experienced driver, but there are very few benefits of driving in Cartagena. It’s a big city with lots of traffic that always appears to be at a standstill, particularly within the old walled city.
Also, locals in Cartagena can be quite aggressive when driving, so you will need to practice driving defensively. They use horns a lot, so it’s better to get used to sound sooner rather than later.
Driving in the rain is almost like an Olympic sport in the city of Cartagena. It’s common for the roads to flood when there’s lots of rain, and everyone stops driving erratically and pretty much just stops moving. A simple, 15-minute journey by car can turn into a road trip of a few hours in the rain, so it’s better to just avoid driving entirely in wet weather.
If you’d like to drive outside Cartagena, it’s honestly much safer to just rely on public transport. The roads aren’t in very good condition, they’re narrow, winding, and can be outright dangerous if you’re not experienced enough. There’s also very little lighting on the road at night, and you should do your best to return to Cartagena before sunset if you end up traveling somewhere.
It’s very easy to get lost in the narrow winding roads of the city at night, especially when it’s pitch black outside.
Yes! Tap water in Cartagena is perfectly safe for drinking and there’s no reason to purchase bottled water while you’re staying in the city. Locals use it for cooking, washing laundry, brushing their teeth, and most importantly for drinking, and you can use it too!
If you are worried that the tap water in Cartagena won’t agree with your stomach, it’s good to know that bottled water is cheap and easily accessible throughout the Colombian city. But that’s not the best idea, since it’s just such a waste to keep purchasing water when the tap water is perfectly safe for drinking.
A better solution would be to bring a filter for the tap or just a filtered water bottle and only drink water that’s been passed through the filter. That’s if you want to be certain that the water is 100% clean and safe to drink. But if you usually don’t have qualms about drinking tap water, you’ll be glad to know that the phrase no filter needed also applies to the tap water in Cartagena.
Yes, and it’s finger-licking-delicious. Cartagena is home to some world-class restaurants that offer the best food you’ll ever have in your life. At the same time, it’s home to quite a few shady establishments and tourist traps – if you want to avoid the places that aren’t entirely safe for tourists in Cartagena, just stick with the locales that have good reviews.
Whether you use Yelp, Trip Advisor, or just good old Google Maps, look for restaurants that have thousands of reviews and an average rating of at least 4. It’s also a smart idea to look for places that are recommended by the locals – that way you can avoid the overpriced tourist traps that cater to foreigners, and instead dine at affordable locales that offer outstanding Colombian cuisine.
It’s also easy to find good international restaurants in Cartagena, especially in the San Diego neighborhood. In general, the locales in the safest zones of the city are all safe in terms of food quality, but many of them cater specifically to tourists.
That’s not always such a bad thing, especially if you realized that the local dishes don’t agree with your stomach and you’d rather have a pizza or just a burger. Just keep in mind that these locales are usually tourist traps with prices that are higher than in the local establishments.
Families visiting Cartagena will be glad to know that the city is a very family-friendly destination. There are loads of fun and exciting things to do for families, as well as many child-friendly events and attractions.
The city also has a lot of hotels and resorts that will not only accommodate kids but also organize workshops and events that will keep them busy while the parents are lounging at the pool. Whether you’re looking for activities that are fun for the entire family or places that can take care of your kids while you’re out and about exploring, Cartagena delivers!
In terms of safety, as long as you stay within the main tourist areas, your entire family should be perfectly safe. Don’t let your kids go out alone in Cartagena – while this might be fine if they’re staying close to you, it’s a rather big city and they could easily get lost on their own.
There are areas to avoid in pretty much every city and Cartagena is no different. You’re better off just avoiding certain neighborhoods and parts of the city entirely, and the good news is that those have very little to offer to the tourists anyway!
In general, it’s best to avoid the entire northern area of Cartagena entirely. Everything from El Paraiso to El Pozon has higher crime rates than the neighborhoods south of the main highway, including Sector La Magdalena, La Maria, and Olaya.
It’s important to note that these aren’t crime-riddled neighborhoods where you’ll get robbed or stabbed the moment you step foot there. These are parts of the city that you can also explore safely during the day, but they are the poorer areas of Cartagena with a higher crime rate.
Also, there aren’t really any tourist attractions in this part of the town, so unless you want to see as many parts of Cartagena as possible, it’s not worth it to go into these neighborhoods anyway.
Absolutely! Generally speaking, Cartagena is one of the safest Colombian cities to live in, but the overall safety does depend on which part of the city you choose to live in. The wealthier areas of Cartagena are the safest, while the poorer neighborhoods usually have higher crime rates and worse infrastructure.
It’s worth noting that Cartagena is a pretty affordable city. Your largest expense would be rent, with one-bedroom apartments in the city center averaging some $600. Compare that to the average salary in the city of some $400, and it’s easy to see how you can live luxuriously even if you’re earning no more than $1,500 a month.
Apart from the rent, everything else in Cartagena is pretty cheap. You can cook a decent meal for less than $3, taxis are dirt cheap, and the same goes for movie and theater tickets. The cost of living in this city is surprisingly low, especially when you see just how many fun and interesting things it manages to offer to its residents.
The best time to visit Cartagena is during the dry season, between December and April. The city lies on the Caribbean coast, which means it has a tropical climate that can be divided into the dry and rainy seasons, while temperatures remain pretty much the same throughout the year.
The weather is warm during the dry season, with temperatures in the high 80s during the day and high 70s during the night. A few days of rain are common at the beginning and end of the dry season, but for the most part, the only water you will see in Cartagena during this period is the Caribbean Sea.
Cartagena’s dry season is also the peak tourist season in the city, so don’t be surprised to encounter crowds in the city’s inner center. The city’s port is also very busy in the dry season because Cartagena is a very popular stop on a lot of cruises. It’s common to see massive cruisers docked at the port and they go hand in hand with a huge influx of new crowds in the tourist areas.
Staying safe in Cartagena is really not that difficult, especially when you follow these safety tips for the Colombian city!
The best safety tip anyone can give you about travel, in general, is to just use your common sense and listen to your instincts. If you meet someone who seems just a bit too friendly, then they’re likely trying to scam you or get something out of you. If something doesn’t seem like a good idea or you’re not sure about a specific locale, then just stay away from it.
Don’t walk down a dark alley alone at night, don’t go out looking for trouble, and if you end up in a neighborhood you don’t recognize, go inside a store or a restaurant and ask for help instead of standing on the street and looking lost.
Try to blend in as much as possible. You don’t have to adjust your entire fashion sense just to dress like the locals, but it’s better to not wear flashy designer labels and expensive jewelry. Also, try to keep your valuables somewhat hidden – don’t carry your phone or wallet in the back pocket of your jeans and opt for a hidden neck wallet or an anti-theft pouch instead.
Although credit card acceptancy is rising in Cartagena, many local businesses still accept only cash. This means that you should always have cash handy in Cartagena, but you need to be smart about how you’re storing it.
Don’t go flashing wads of cash while you’re paying for something because this could make you an easy target for pickpockets. Try to be discreet, keep your wallet in a secure place (not the back pocket of your jeans), and always be alert of your surroundings.
If you’re traveling to Cartagena for a vacation and you want to spend most of the time at the beach, staying at a hotel is the best option. Hotels are mostly located in the busy tourist areas of the city, so all the popular attractions will be close to you.
Also, there’s the benefit of hotel staff who can help you find a cab, pick a good restaurant, and just generally be there in case you need anything. Your hotel room should have a safe, and it’s smart to lock up all your most valuable items. If you brought anything that’s too important to lose, just keep it in the safe.
Travel insurance is always a good idea when traveling overseas, especially if you’re going to a city that’s known to have issues with petty theft and crime. Although Cartagena is generally much safer than the rest of Colombia, it’s still smart to just get travel insurance. Then you don’t have to stress as much, because even if you are a victim of petty theft, at least you’re insured.
Additionally, look into travel insurance packages that include medical insurance, especially if you’re going to be staying in Cartagena for a while. You never know what can happen, and it’s much better to have medical insurance in case you end up having to go to the doctor while you’re in the city.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!