The Colombian coastal city of Cartagena is an absolute gem of a destination. Famous for its tropical climate and the nearby Rosario Islands, it offers travellers a slice of paradise, combined with rich history and culture.
But is Cartagena safe? As with any Colombian city, there is no black-and-white answer. However, heed the following safety advice and you’re far more likely to enjoy a trouble-free visit to the queen of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
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Safety in Cartagena
Is Cartagena Safe for Tourists?
Cartagena is generally safe for tourists. In fact, it is one of the more safe cities in Colombia. Despite this, crime still can and does happen and tourists should take personal safety precautions when visiting.
Scams are common in this type of tourist city so travellers should be aware of what to look out for. The colourful Palenqueras (the ladies in bright dresses who wear fruit on their heads) may offer to have their photo taken with you. If you take them up on their offer, remember that you will be expected to pay for it.
If you’re headed to Cartagena for a little bit of sunshine, don’t fall for the following scam. It starts with you visiting a beach bar and ordering food and drink. After receiving your cocktail, you sit down on one of the sunbeds. When you get your bill, you see a hefty charge for sunbed rental. Don’t sit down unless you are willing to pay extra for it!
Watch out for counterfeit notes which are common in Colombia. You are most likely to be given fake notes if you need a lot of change or use a currency exchange. It is far better to use an ATM if possible.
Crime in Cartagena
Travellers are at the biggest risk of petty crime in Cartagena. Pickpocketing is particularly common in the Walled City (also known as El Centro) which is the most touristy part of Cartagena. Avoid flashing your valuables and consider using a money belt or alternative if you have one.
During the day Cartagena is pretty safe, however, travellers should avoid walking around at night alone, especially in less touristy areas. Being robbed or mugged is also a risk in Cartagena.
Cartagena is one of the most expensive cities in the whole of Colombia. Add on top the unofficial Gringo tax that you will likely pay in many areas and your trip can get quite expensive. To avoid being ripped off by tourist prices (as much as you can), do your research and speak to the locals to check you are not paying well above the normal price.
What Neighbourhoods in Cartagena Are Safe?
One of the major factors to staying safe in Cartagena is choosing a safe neighbourhood in which to stay. The most popular neighbourhoods for travellers are Getsemani, the Walled City or Bocagrande. You will find most of the main attractions and amenities within walking distance from these areas and they are generally pretty safe.
This area used to be one of the most dangerous in the city, ruled by criminal gangs. However, it has undergone huge changes over recent years and is now one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Cartagena.
Having thrown off its impoverished past, Getsemani is now a thriving barrio, most famous for its vibrant street art scene. There are a number of upscale bars in this area as well as super cute hostels. Walking tours of Getsemani are highly recommended.
Bocagrande is the main beachy neighbourhood within the city and is easily recognisable for its high-rise buildings. It is a generally safe area, however, it does cater to high-end tourists with more money to spend.
The Walled City (El Centro)
El Centro is the most touristy part of Cartagena and one of the safest in terms of violent crime risk. Despite this, it is the most common area for pickpockets who hang about waiting to target tourists. If you are out enjoying the city’s nightlife, make sure you stick with a friend when you head back to your accommodation.
The colonial architecture here is what makes it into the tourist brochures – it really is a picture-perfect city. Embark on one of the city’s walking tours to learn the history behind the buildings.
Are Taxis Safe in Cartagena?
As with any city, you should avoid unlicensed taxis. All licensed taxis in Cartagena have ‘servicio publico’ labelled on them. The license plate should also be on display. Unlike taxis elsewhere in Colombia, there are set rates for taxis in Cartagena, however, sometimes the drivers will assume that you don’t know that.
To avoid getting ripped off, make sure you check how much your journey will cost with your accommodation beforehand. Always agree on a price with the driver before you commit to ride. It is not recommended to flag a taxi down at night. Instead, travellers are urged to ask a hostel, bar or restaurant to call one.
It is always worth having the name and address of your accommodation written down somewhere so that you can access it offline. The taxi drivers won’t always know your hostel or hotel but are very familiar with the tourist districts.
While Uber is available here, it is used less commonly than in cities like Medellín so it shouldn’t be relied upon, especially if you are heading to the airport to catch a flight or similar.
Is Cartagena Safe for Solo Travellers?
Yes, Cartagena is safe for solo travellers provided you follow basic safety protocols and don’t stray too far from the centre. If you are out enjoying Cartagena’s fantastic nightlife, don’t walk alone at night. As with anywhere in Colombia, drugs (buying or selling) come with a huge risk and should definitely be avoided.
Is Cartagena Safe for Female Travellers?
In general, yes. While most of the Colombian people are friendly and welcoming, there is still a culture of misogyny within the country. Women should bear in mind that catcalling regularly happens in Colombia. Avoid confrontation with anyone doing this and remember to keep an eye on your drink when you’re in clubs and bars.
Is Cartagena Airport Safe?
Cartagena is served by Rafael Núñez International Airport; one of the busiest in Colombia. It is close to the main tourist areas in Cartagena and visitors can get into the city using taxis. These wait in a rank outside the airport. Look up prices so you know how much you should be paying beforehand.
Safety Tips for Visiting Cartagena
1. If You Don’t Want to Buy Anything, Avoid Street Vendors
There are a lot of people trying to sell stuff to tourists in Cartagena, from sweets to hats and selfies. If you engage with vendors with no intention to buy, it can be very difficult to get away. Save yourself the hassle and only approach street vendors if you are genuinely in the market to buy.
2. Don’t Flash Your Valuables
As with anywhere in Colombia, you should avoid wearing expensive jewellery or flashing your phone when you’re out and about. By far the biggest risk to tourists in Cartagena is crimes of opportunity and sometimes, these can turn violent.
3. Choose a Safe Neighbourhood
Pick accommodation in a safe neighbourhood. Getsemani and Bocagrande are the two best options.
4. Make Sure You Know How Much Taxis Cost and Agree on a Price Before
Taxi fares in Cartagena are set. If you are arriving in the city by bus, keep an eye out for posters which say how much a taxi to each area should cost. It is well worth doing a bit of research online beforehand to give you an idea of the prices. If you’re not sure, you can always ask a local.
Don’t Wander Around at Night Alone
As with any Colombian city, travellers shouldn’t wander around at night alone. Areas that are largely safe during the day can become sketchy once night falls. If you have to be out after dark, try to buddy up with someone. There is safety in numbers!
Safety in Cartagena – A Round-Up
Cartagena is a must-visit destination on any Colombian itinerary. Its laid-back vibe, picturesque streets and Caribbean climate make this an absolutely wonderful destination for backpackers and beach bums alike.
While crime does happen in the city, you can easily stay safe in Cartagena if you take basic precautions. Keep your head and avoid making yourself a target and you are likely to be just fine.