Colombia : Safety by CityColombia - safety as a country
Old Town, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, colorful buildings, and ocean views greet travelers to Cartagena.
Cartagena is an oceanside city and major port of the country of Colombia.
Also known as Cartagena de Indias, this city served as a trade route to the West Indies historically.
Today, Cartagena is the capital of the Bolivar Department in northern South America.
Travelers enjoy seeing the colonial buildings crowned the Jewel of the Indies while shopping and entertaining themselves at restaurants and with nightlife.
But how safe is Cartagena for traveling from the US?
Find out with our review and ratings on the safety and danger level of travel to Cartagena, Colombia.
Warnings & Dangers in Cartagena
OVERALL RISK : LOW
Cartagena, Colombia is a tropical paradise located in a busy port that is full of affluent neighborhoods and culturally charming communities. Most of the areas of Cartagena are set up to support travelers and tourists and generally speaking, it is safe to travel here.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
In Cartagena, the common yellow taxi cab is the most reliable and safest form of transportation to and from the beaches and resorts. Taxis can be flagged down from the street at most hours except midnight to 5 am. Note, “US citizens have been killed during robberies while using taxis,” and the US Embassy recommends using ride-sharing apps.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There have been recent reports of violent crimes involving pickpocketing. In 2021, hand grenades were used in two incidents of robbery and extortion in nearby Barranquilla. In Colombia, motorcyclists conduct drive-by raids where they grab personal belongings from victims.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
Due to the tropical and coastal location, flooding is a common threat to Cartagena. However, tsunamis as a general rule are not that common and do not threaten the city.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
More affluent areas are at a greater risk for mugging, especially high-profile travelers or people with jewelry or expensive electronics. Firearms are also common in Colombia, and these are used to conduct muggings and robberies. The use of intoxicating drugs slipped into beverages is also an issue in the nightlife scene. Once drugged, victims are mugged and/or sexually assaulted.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There are risks of terrorism from domestic factions including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This group and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have been responsible for car bombings in Bogota. While terroristic plots are not as prevalent in Cartagena, there is a concern due to the proximity.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
The use of ayahuasca and other hallucinogens found in this tropical region and the Amazon as marketed as “spiritual cleansing” has attracted tourists to shamans in the rainforest. Unfortunately, this has led to reports to the US Embassy of robbery, assault, and death while intoxicated in these ceremonies.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women traveling to Cartagena should feel safe unless they are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, or forced marriage. There are no issues with cultural insensitivity from seeing women traveling alone in this city. That being said, women should proceed with the same air of cautious behavior they exhibit when traveling alone in the US. This includes not sharing personal information or being overly positive about everyone you meet. The person promising you a safe ride home may just as well be a kidnapper and extortionist.
TAP WATER RISK : MEDIUM
To reduce the risk of water-borne infectious diseases, you should only drink bottled water or bottled beverages in Cartagena. Check to make sure the seal of the water bottle is not already broken before you drink it. Also, when at restaurants or bars, avoid getting drinks with ice added. The ice, even in the city, is often from tap water, which is problematic for the spread of infectious diseases.
Safest Places to Visit in Cartagena
Cartagena and its historical charm are best experienced in the neighborhood of Bocagrande.
This is in South Cartagena in the city center and is one of the more affluent areas to stay in.
It is convenient to beaches and islands, and boat tours often embark outside of Bocagrande.
Old Town or Casco Historico is another safe place to visit in Cartagena.
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has tons of traditional Cartagena style and architecture.
Getsemani in the center of the city is another safe place, especially for solo travelers and backpackers.
Here there are more affordable accommodations, including hostels, as well as the security of the walled city.
Places to Avoid in Cartagena
Some travelers recommend staying within the walled city of Old Town as travel becomes less safe.
At the same time, due to the concentration of tourists in this area, be more cautious against scams and pickpockets, which are an issue here.
If you do travel to areas of Cartagena, not within the walls, do not walk on foot.
Use a taxi and avoid going to rural communities or villages.
Also, while Cartagena is one of the safer cities in Colombia, if you want to travel to other Colombian states, you must be cautious.
Avoid traveling from Cartagena to Soacha, Cali, Cauca, Tumaco, or Norte de Santander.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Cartagena
- It is recommended by the US Embassy that Americans avoid traveling by land or vehicle into Cartagena. This requires you to go through an official border crossing into Colombia, which is “off-limits to US government personnel unless specifically authorized.” By air or by sea appears to be the safest way for traveling to Cartagena from the US.
- To visit Cartagena, you may be required to have a yellow fever vaccination if you have been to certain national parks. To be on the safe side, go ahead and get vaccinated for yellow fever before you go.
- If you are chronically ill or require a prescription, make sure you have enough medication to cover your time in the country. Colombia does not permit the sale of some psychiatric medications, which can make filling a prescription difficult for some cases.
- The best months to travel to Cartagena are between December and April. This is thanks to the tropical summer season for the city. Travel during the peak season. You are among other travelers, and touristy areas will be open and available for accommodation, attractions, and restaurant bookings. This makes it safer and more accommodating for you as a traveler.
- Altitude sickness is a common problem for travelers to Colombia, especially when arriving via Bogota. Avoid drinking alcohol and exercising for 48 days when you get to Cartagena to avoid altitude illness.
- Several infectious diseases are prevalent in Cartagena, including Zika, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Chikungunya, and Malaria. These diseases are also all borne by mosquitoes that are infected and bite humans. To protect against these airborne kamikazes, pack insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets to sleep under when traveling to more rural areas or if you are sleeping outdoors. Pack mosquito repellent to wear on your skin to protect against bites during the daytime.
- While Uber is not in operation, there are some ride-sharing services and apps for hailing taxis, including Beat, Didi, Cabify, EasyTaxi, and InDriver that operate in Colombia and may work in Cartagena.
- Be more cautious when visiting high-profile places, like synagogues during a holiday or sporting events in a stadium. These are more likely to be targets for terrorists. If you are out and about in these places, do not carry an expensive camera or use a smartphone to avoid standing out.
- Outside of a hotel resort or affluent neighborhood, travelers to Cartagena are less likely to have access to the otherwise regulated tourism industry. Consider staying in a centralized location, such as on a cruise ship ported in the city or in an all-inclusive resort. This can reduce the likelihood of pickpockets and mugging.
- If you are an LGBTQI+ traveler, you can enter Cartagena, Colombia without legal discrimination or legal recourse. Same-sex sexual relations are allowed, but in rural areas, there may be societal discrimination or abuse. Use precaution when visiting restaurants and bars in rural areas, and avoid drinking alcohol so you can keep your wits about you, especially in loud crowds, such as at concerts.
So... How Safe Is Cartagena Really?
Cartagena is a major urban city with a ton of historical charm.
The coastal town was founded in 1533 and is one of the oldest European cities in South and North America.
Today, it remains one of the safest places to visit in Colombia.
While Colombia has long been seen as a hot spot for cocaine and other illegal drug activities, such as ayahuasca, this is not the full spectrum for this country.
Cartagena, exclusively, is a fully vibrant tropical port city ready to host any bevy of travelers and tourists from abroad.
Whether entering the city by cruise ship or by air, this Caribbean paradise has long been a popular destination.
The city scape rivals that of New York City, and the surrounding ocean and beaches are well manicured and easy to appreciate.
This is a welcoming and safe city in northern South America that offers plenty to do and enjoy as a traveler from the US.
Plan for ample adventure thanks to the plethora of islands and beaches in this well-to-do coastal resort town.
How Does Cartagena Compare?
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- Visas - Visas are not required to visit Cartagena, Colombia unless you are staying for 90 days or longer. In that case, a tourist visa is required by the US Department of State. If you are planning on visiting often, consider enrolling in the Migracion Automatica program established for frequent travelers from the US to Colombia.
- Currency - Colombia uses the Colombian peso and the peso symbol is the same as the $ symbol in the US. When looking for the Colombian peso at money exchange stations and banks, the abbreviation is COP. The Colombian peso bills include bills ranging in value from 50 to 100,000 in coins and banknotes. Ideally, bring US dollars in cash and exchange these for the Colombia pesos within the Walled City. This is the place to get the best exchange rates.
- Weather - As you pack for Cartagena, Colombia, the clothing should be tropical and breezy, especially if you are traveling in the summer season from December to April. The city has a tropical climate and is next to the ocean, bringing in humidity and precipitation. Temperatures average 88 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, so pack for summer weather, whatever the season when you arrive.
- Airports - Cartagena, Colombia is mainly served by the El Dorado Airport in Bogota and Medellin international airport. However, air travel into Cartagena direct from Miami, New York, and other major US cities is provided by Rafael Nunez International Airport, as it has been since 1920.
- Travel Insurance - Having travel insurance protects against medical emergencies or the loss of personal belongings. Travel to Cartagena with peace of mind in terms of personal and medical security. However, you need to have travel insurance as US health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, is not applicable in Cartagena. Also, many health care providers in Cartagena only take cash payments, which is something to consider. You may want to go 50/50 with travel insurance and cash on hand to cover an emergency. Keep in mind the travel limit is $10,000 US when going through the border.
Cartagena Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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3 Reviews on Cartagena
Such a cool place
Colombia as a whole gets a bad rep and for a good reason but if you know how to pick your destinations you will actually enjoy your stay. A friend recommended Cartagena for its colorful views and nightlife and he was right. We had the best time and when this awful pandemic slows down a bit we want to go back.
We’re both in our mid 30’s so we manage very well with google maps, booking apps and everything digital-related that you need when traveling. However, I made sure we weren’t mindlessly scrolling on the street to prevent having our phones stolen.
Police officers are all over the city – which I’ve found a bit intimidating at first – so the chances of being pickpocketed in broad daylight when they’re around are almost zero. Nonetheless, I still took all the precautionary methods I always take: money belt, phone out of sight, not using ATMs on dodgy streets etc.
Must-see locations: Ghetsemani and Bocagrande. The first one is a very Instagram-worthy location with colorful displays, wall murals and cool bars. We were very impressed by the overall vibe of the place, everything felt very alive and safe at the same time. Their local markets were full of people so I would recommend keeping your wallet and personal belongings very close.
Locations we were told it’s best to avoid altogether: La Maria and El Paraiso. General rule here was to stay as close to Old Town as possible and this is what we did. I know it may seem fun and wild to adventure outside the ‘marked perimeter’ but why risk it? Just so I can take a cool photo?
Also, spiked drinks seem to be a trend here so we’ve always had our drinks with us.
As always when traveling to foreign countries, ask the taxi driver for an estimate, you will find that you’ll get very different prices from different drivers.
Do I recommend visiting Cartagena? For sure! I for one wouldn’t go there alone, I don’t think I would feel safe. But I had zero reasons to indicate something might happen, it’s just my feeling.
Not as safe as it is showed
Most of the stats showed here are wrong. Cartagena in some zones is full of pickpockets and muggers, for being more specific on the area where the night life is located. Also I’ll say that the scam risk is HUGE, not only for foreigners but also for locals, since some of the people here abuse on their prices to certain products or services, doubling the price for locals from other regions and for foreigners they quadruple the price for some simple things. It is true that Cartagena is a beautiful city, but you should be really careful with pickpockets, muggers, and even more, with scammers
you are right
unfortunately things are not so safe anymore