Cartagena Safety: Everything You Need to Know
Are you looking for the ultimate guide to experiencing Cartagena’s charm while keeping safety a top priority?
As a seasoned traveler with a deep love for exploring diverse cultures and a passion for ensuring safety at every step, I’m here to share my personal insights on making the most of your Cartagena adventure without compromising on security.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- How to navigate Cartagena’s vibrant streets with confidence
- Tips on staying safe at night, especially in popular nightlife areas
- Ways to make the most of local cuisine, including street food
- Where to stay and which neighborhoods to avoid in Cartagena
This Cartagena safety guide will equip you with the knowledge and practical advice to savor the city’s beauty and culture while keeping your journey secure.
Is Cartagena Safe Right Now?
Yes, Cartagena is safe to visit right now. This vibrant city, with a population of nearly one million, ranks as one of the safer destinations in Colombia, continuing to attract not only international travelers but also Colombian tourists.. The presence of law enforcement on the streets has contributed to the overall improvement in safety and a declining crime rate.
Despite its popularity, certain safety considerations are essential. While the city fares better than other regions in terms of the illegal drug trade, it’s not immune to crime. Tourists should be cautious of petty crimes like pickpocketing, bag snatching, break-ins, muggings, and assaults.
When it comes to specific areas, the walled city, La Candelaria, is the most frequented but also is relatively risky. As a tourist you should remain cautious, especially when dealing with persistent street vendors who sell low-budget souvenirs, offer drugs, or even promote prostitution. Knowing how to handle these situations can significantly reduce your stress.
It’s also important to be aware of potential disruptions caused by protests and strikes, which are common occurrences in Colombia. Authorities may implement curfews at little to no notice, leading to an increase in police presence. Natural disasters like earthquakes, cyclones, and droughts are also potential risks in Cartagena.
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Safest Places to Stay in Cartagena
Choosing the right area in Cartagena to stay is crucial for a safe and enjoyable trip. We found the following to be some of the safest areas for your visit:
Along the waterfront, Bocagrande is Cartagena’s modern hub, filled with seaside skyscrapers, international hotels, and restaurants. It’s one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Colombia, known for gated communities and an affluent Colombian population. This makes Bocagrande among the safest areas in Cartagena.
Located within the confines of the old walled city, San Diego offers an atmospheric experience with fewer tourists. This district is home to students from a nearby art college, which translates to fewer street vendors, reduced pickpocketing, and lower incidents of theft. While not a bustling tourist hub, it’s wise to remain cautious when exploring San Diego.
Cartagena’s historic center, also known as Centro, serves as the epicenter of the city’s tourism. The well-preserved streets are brimming with centuries-old relics, and though you should keep an eye on your belongings, Centro is generally considered safe due to a notable police presence.
Adjacent to the Walled City, Getsemani is a vibrant and artsy district known for graffiti, street art, and hipster cafes. It’s becoming increasingly popular, offering proximity to the action within a relaxed atmosphere.
Remember that a general rule of thumb is that the further you are from the historic center, the less police presence you’ll find, which can affect the overall safety. Choosing accommodations in one of these safe neighborhoods will help minimize potential risks during your stay in Cartagena.
Wondering Which Hostel Was Our Favorite?
Places to Avoid in Cartagena
While Cartagena has its share of safe areas, it’s important to exercise extra caution in neighborhoods with higher crime rates. Even though there are no specific travel restrictions for Cartagena from the USA, Colombia has a “reconsider travel” warning. Here are some areas you should be particularly cautious about:
- El Paraiso
- Sector La Magdalena
- La Maria
- Olaya and El Pozon
The level of danger in these areas can vary, and it’s worth noting that you can visit them if needed. While the walled city may have its share of pickpocketing incidents, these areas generally exhibit a higher crime rate. Additionally, they may lack tourist attractions. If you decide to explore these neighborhoods, it’s advisable to do so during daylight hours, staying alert and vigilant to ensure your safety in Cartagena.
10 Cartagena Safety Tips
Tip #1 – Stay At One of the More Popular Hostels
Cartagena offers a range of accommodation options that won’t break the bank, making it accessible for budget travelers. If you want a social atmosphere and affordable lodging, backpacker hostels are an excellent choice. When selecting your accommodation, thorough research is key. Read reviews and familiarize yourself with the area where the hotel, hostel, or Airbnb is located. Opt for places with 24-hour security for added safety. Ideally, choose accommodations in Getsemani, the old city, or Bocagrande. Check the location on the map to ensure proximity to amenities and avoid remote areas. Cartagena offers a variety of reputable accommodation choices to suit every budget.
🔗 Related: 10 Best Hostels in Cartagena Colombia
Tip #2 – Dress Modestly
Remember the Colombian saying, “No dar papaya,” which means not giving someone the opportunity to take advantage of you. In Cartagena, this phrase is especially relevant for your safety. Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself by flaunting valuables, excessive cash, or loud behavior. Keep a low profile, blend in, and exercise discretion. Being discreet and aware of your surroundings can significantly reduce your risk of becoming a target for theft or scams in the city.
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Tip #3 – Consider Buying a Local Sim Card or eSim
When traveling in Colombia, getting a local SIM card can be a smart choice. While it’s sometimes nice to disconnect from constant phone notifications while on vacation, having internet access in Colombia, especially in Cartagena, can be incredibly useful. It allows you to easily call for Ubers, check information online, contact your accommodations, or make reservations at local restaurants.
In Colombia, there are three main mobile networks: Movistar, Claro, and Tigo. A Colombian Claro SIM card is a good option and can be obtained at Cartagena airport kiosks or from street vendors. For approximately $10, you can get 9GB of data and unlimited social media access for 20 days, providing you with the convenience of staying connected during your visit to Cartagena.
While many restaurants, bars, and cafes offer free Wi-Fi, having a local number is a reliable backup, as Cartagena doesn’t have widespread free public Wi-Fi, and the airport’s Wi-Fi can be unreliable. So, getting a SIM card is a wise move to ensure you stay connected and safe during your trip to Cartagena.
Need to Always Stay Connected?
Tip #4 – Learn a Bit of Spanish
In Cartagena, English isn’t widely spoken, even in tourist establishments. Learning a bit of Spanish before your trip can be incredibly helpful. While becoming fluent is a substantial undertaking, grasping a few essential words and phrases can make a significant difference. Duolingo, a free app, is a great resource to prepare in advance.
Additionally, having Google Translate on your phone can be a lifesaver. In challenging communication situations, you can type your message into the translator and display it or play the translated audio, ensuring better understanding and a smoother experience in Cartagena.
Tip #5 – Watch Your Drink and Do Not Accept Drinks From Strangers
While enjoying the nightlife in Cartagena, exercise caution with your drinks. Keep a vigilant eye on them to prevent any potential tampering. Unfortunately, instances of drink spiking, which can lead to dangerous situations, are not unheard of. It’s advisable to moderate your alcohol consumption, especially if you’re traveling alone, to minimize these risks. You don’t need to be overly fearful, but maintaining awareness and limiting the number of drinks you have can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in Cartagena.
Tip #6 – Join Group Activities
Group tours and excursions can be a reassuring way to start your journey in Cartagena, helping you acclimate and build confidence in a new destination. If you’re apprehensive about your first visit to South America, consider taking tours during your initial days until you feel more comfortable exploring independently.
Cartagena offers several free (tip-based) walking tours, such as the Cartagena Free Walking Tour. These tours, departing from Parque Fernández de Madrid, provide insights into the city’s historical sites and context. While you won’t enter churches and museums during these tours, they serve as a great orientation, and you can revisit specific places later at your own pace.
Apart from walking tours, you can explore Rosario Islands for pristine Caribbean beaches away from the crowds or visit San Basilio de Palenque, an off-the-beaten-path town recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance.
Pre-booking tours, especially during the peak season, is advisable since they can fill up quickly. These group activities help you connect with fellow travelers and gain a deeper understanding of Cartagena’s history and culture.
🔗 Related: 7 Best Cartagena Walking Tours
Tip #7 – Know Which Areas to Avoid
While Cartagena is a tourist hub, it remains a bustling Colombian city with a significant population, including many residents living in impoverished conditions. As a visitor, it’s essential to be aware of areas to steer clear of.
In the daytime, the San Diego neighborhood within the old city is generally safe, but it can become sketchy at night. Avoid walking alone here in the evenings, and it’s best to refrain from nighttime exploration. While it’s within the old city walls, it’s somewhat on the outskirts with limited points of interest.
Other areas to avoid include Sector La Magdalena, La Maria, El Paraiso, Olaya, and El Pozon. These neighborhoods have little to offer to tourists and might pose safety concerns.
If you’re interested in experiencing a traditional Colombian mercado, you can visit the Bazurto market on the city’s outskirts. However, it’s not a tourist-oriented market, so it’s best explored with a local guide who can help you navigate the crowded market safely.
Being informed about these areas will contribute to a safer and more enjoyable visit to Cartagena.
Tip #8 – Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food
Exploring street food is an integral part of your journey in Cartagena. It’s a gateway to experiencing the rich local cuisine. While some travelers might have reservations about street food, you’ll be missing out on an authentic Colombian experience if you don’t give it a try.
A useful guideline is to look for street food vendors with long lines of locals waiting to be served. Busier stalls are often a sign of delicious food and local approval. Apply the same common-sense food safety rules you would anywhere – if it looks like the food has been out for a while or is swarming with flies, it’s best to avoid it.
Cartagena offers various regional delicacies that are worth trying. One of the most renowned local treats is the “arepa de huevo.” This deep-fried corn cake is stuffed with eggs and can be found at street-side vendors around the old town.
Another local favorite is “carimañolas,” half-moon-shaped fritters made from yuca and filled with cheese and ground beef. They are savored not only in Colombia but also in neighboring Panama.
For a comprehensive street food experience and a chance to discover hidden street food markets, consider joining a Cartagena street food tour. It’s an excellent way to sample a variety of dishes and explore local culinary traditions that many tourists overlook.
Tip #9 – Limit the Amount of Cash You Carry
Carrying less cash minimizes the risk of losing a significant amount in case of theft. To achieve this, consider opening a bank account and obtaining credit cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees. Our go to choice is the Wise Credit Card.
Using these financial tools allows you to withdraw smaller amounts of cash as needed, reducing the total amount of money you need to carry. If you must carry a substantial sum, it’s advisable to split it up. Share some with your travel companion, hide some in a sock, or use practical accessories like money belts, neck wallets, or bra pouches to keep your cash secure while exploring Cartagena.
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Tip #10 – Use Common Sense
In Cartagena, like any city, exercising common sense is your best safety strategy. Whether it’s checking your change, avoiding deals that seem too good to be true, or steering clear of unfamiliar areas, these principles apply. If an area appears rough or unsafe, it’s best to find an alternative. Following common-sense guidelines will go a long way in ensuring your safety while exploring the vibrant city of Cartagena. Trust your instincts, stay aware of your surroundings, and remember that most safety issues can be avoided by using your best judgment.
Is Cartagena Safe to Travel Alone?
Cartagena is a favored destination for solo travelers exploring Colombia, but safety remains a key concern. Traveling alone in Cartagena is generally safe, but it requires an extra level of caution. Being on your own may attract more attention, both from street vendors offering their wares and locals striking up conversations. While many are genuinely friendly, a few may have ulterior motives that could compromise your safety.
Bag-snatchers may view solo travelers as easier targets. To enhance your safety when alone in Cartagena, it’s crucial to stay vigilant and be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Many petty theft incidents involve coordinated efforts by multiple individuals, but with added awareness, you can spot potential threats and protect yourself.
Avoid walking around with your attention solely on your phone, as this can make you an easier target. Consider investing in travel insurance to ensure you’re covered in case of any unforeseen incidents during your trip to Colombia.
Is Cartagena Safe For Solo Female Travelers?
While Cartagena is generally considered a safe destination, solo female travelers should exercise additional caution due to the persistence of machismo culture in Colombia. Instances of catcalling and sexual comments are not uncommon, but the best approach is often to ignore such comments. If advances become overly aggressive, politely declining with phrases like “no gracias” (meaning “no, thank you” in English) can help deter unwanted attention.
Female travelers, particularly when walking alone at night, should be extra vigilant. Incidents of robbery and bag-snatching are more frequent for solo women, especially in dimly lit areas. Whenever possible, consider traveling with a companion. Numerous hostels in Cartagena are ideal for meeting fellow solo travelers, and it’s often safer to explore the city in groups rather than alone.
While Cartagena offers rich experiences, female solo travelers should prioritize their safety by staying alert and, if possible, traveling with others to mitigate potential risks.
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Is Cartagena Safe For Families?
Absolutely, Cartagena is a safe and welcoming destination for families. Colombian society is deeply family-oriented, and this extends to the warm reception you can expect when traveling with your children. In fact, Cartagena offers numerous kid-friendly attractions that the whole family can enjoy.
Beyond the historic old town and San Diego, you’ll find family-friendly hotels in the Bocagrande area. Bocagrande offers a different vibe compared to areas like Getsemani or La Candelaria.
One important consideration for your family’s safety in Cartagena is the climate. Located on the Caribbean coast, Cartagena experiences hot and humid weather, requiring regular clothing changes and diligent sun protection throughout the day. Staying hydrated, using sunscreen, and wearing sun hats are essential for you and your children. To avoid the scorching midday sun, plan indoor activities or take a break during the hottest hours.
Colombian culture often means late schedules, including restaurant opening times. It’s common to have lunch around 1 p.m. and dinner around 9 p.m. To beat the heat, you might consider following the local practice of resting during the hottest hours and venturing out again in the cooler evening.
In summary, Cartagena is an excellent destination for families. Despite the initial concerns some may have about traveling to Colombia with children, you’ll likely have a fantastic and memorable experience in Cartagena, where colorful local ambiance and atmosphere can be enjoyed, particularly in the morning.
Common Scams in Cartagena
While Cartagena is generally safe, it’s essential to be aware of common scams to protect yourself from overcharging and inconvenience:
- Negotiate Prices: Whether dealing with taxis, street vendors, or beach vendors, always negotiate prices in advance. Stories of exorbitant charges, especially at the beach, circulate from time to time. While extreme cases are rare, minor scams like charging for previously offered “free samples” of oysters or adding a “service” fee are common. If your Spanish is limited, it’s advisable to avoid random beach vendors and instead visit established restaurants or shops.
- Street Rappers and Pushy Vendors: Street rappers can be entertaining but occasionally disruptive. If you’re uninterested or not planning to tip, politely ignore them or say “no, gracias.” The same goes for pushy street vendors; assertively decline their offers and, if interested, negotiate the price.
- Tours and Activities: Exercise caution when purchasing tours or activities from street vendors. Avoid paying the full price upfront, and if a deposit is required, ensure it’s reasonable. It’s safer to pay as much as possible on the day of the activity or book directly through an office. Always request a receipt. Consider booking tours online in advance through reputable platforms to minimize the risk of scams.
Being aware of these common scams will help ensure a hassle-free and enjoyable experience in Cartagena without falling victim to overcharging or inconvenience.
Crime in Cartagena
In Cartagena, most crimes are opportunistic in nature, often involving petty theft and scams. To stay safe, maintain vigilance and awareness of your surroundings, much like you would in any unfamiliar city. Here are some common scams reported by locals:
- Fake Police Officers: Beware of individuals posing as police officers who request to inspect your money for counterfeit bills. Avoid this scam by walking away, requesting to see their badge, directing them to a nearby genuine police officer, or contacting Colombia’s tourist police at (1) 3374413.
- Pickpockets and Thieves: Tourist-heavy areas are often frequented by pickpockets and thieves. Keep your belongings close and within sight to minimize the risk of theft.
- Taxi Scams: Some taxi drivers may employ rigged meters to overcharge passengers. It’s advisable to agree on a fare with your taxi driver before the journey begins.
- Bar Safety: When at bars, be cautious of your drink and avoid accepting food or beverages from strangers.
To enhance your safety, refrain from displaying valuable items openly, minimize jewelry and accessories, and exercise discretion when using your phone. For additional insights on staying safe in Cartagena, consider seeking advice from local residents who are familiar with navigating their hometown securely.
Cartagena Safety FAQ’s
Are Taxis Safe in Cartagena?
Taxis in Cartagena are generally safe, but tourists should be cautious about potential scams and overcharging. Taxis in the city don’t have meters, leaving room for drivers to quote fares much higher than they should be. To ensure a fair price, it’s best to take taxis recommended by your hotel or hostel, as they are more likely to charge reasonable rates. If you choose a street taxi, negotiate the fare before getting in.
It’s crucial to opt for licensed yellow taxis in Cartagena rather than accepting rides from random individuals. Instances of taxi drivers robbing tourists are rare but not unheard of, typically occurring late at night, especially if passengers are intoxicated or under the influence.
For a more secure and transparent experience, consider using Uber or Cabify. While the legality of Uber in Colombia has been a recurring issue, it is still available in the city. Cabify offers added convenience, allowing you to call taxis and see the fare beforehand. These alternatives can provide a safer and more reliable transportation option for visitors in Cartagena.
Are Ubers Safe in Cartagena?
In Cartagena, Uber is an option that is now somewhat legal in Colombia, although its availability can be limited compared to traditional taxis. There are relatively few Uber drivers operating in the city. If you choose to use Uber or similar apps, you can expect a reliable and secure transportation service, but you might need to be patient if there’s a wait for available drivers.
Is Public Transportation Safe in Cartagena?
Using public transportation in Cartagena is generally safe and an affordable way to get around the city. The TransCaribe buses, which are large and orange-and-white, are part of the newer and more organized bus system that Cartagena has been gradually implementing. We had no safety issues when using the Trans Caribe and local buses during our visit.
If you plan to explore destinations beyond the Old City, the local bus system is a viable option. These local buses, often minibuses of various colors and names, may not follow set routes. Instead, they travel through specific neighborhoods, and passengers typically need to request stops along the way, often guided by the bus name or the conductor’s directions.
Having some knowledge of Spanish can be helpful when communicating with drivers or indicating your stop. Additionally, using a mapping app like Maps.me can assist in tracking your location and ensuring you’re heading in the right direction. Public transportation is generally safe, but vigilance and a basic understanding of local practices are recommended for a smooth and secure journey in Cartagena.
Can You Drink the Water in Cartagena?
Yes, you can drink tap water in Cartagena without worrying about health concerns. Many locals and tourists drink the tap water without issues. However, the water quality may vary depending which area of the city you’re in, so it’s best to confirm with your accommodation. If you have doubts about the water or its impact on your stomach, you can buy bottled water or use a filtered water bottle.
Is Cartagena Safe At Night?
Cartagena’s safety at night is generally lower than during the day, a trend common to many Colombian cities like Medellin and Bogota. Tourist areas such as the Walled City, Getsemani, and Bocagrande are usually safe, with a vibrant nightlife that attracts many people. However, when venturing into dark alleys or less crowded areas, it’s crucial to exercise extra caution.
Criminals often target tourists, especially those who may be intoxicated or less aware of their surroundings. Being cautious late at night is advisable. In crowded nightclubs and bars, pickpockets and drink-spiking can be concerns due to the often festive atmosphere. It’s recommended not to carry more than necessary when going out at night, reducing the risk of losing your belongings. While enjoying the nightlife in Cartagena, vigilance can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
Are Restaurants in Cartagena Safe?
Cartagena boasts a thriving culinary scene with a wide range of dining options. While smaller restaurants may require cash payments, well-established dining establishments, including some of the city’s best restaurants, typically accept credit or debit cards. However, street vendors typically deal only in cash, so having some local currency on hand is advisable for street food purchases.
When dining at street food stalls, it’s natural to have concerns about hygiene. The key is to choose stalls where food preparation is visible, and the place is frequented by locals. This allows you to observe the vendor’s hygiene practices and gauge the popularity of the street food stall among locals.
Cartagena’s restaurant scene is generally reliable, with honest proprietors who prioritize quality. While the city is popular among travelers, it’s wise to be cautious of restaurants that appear overly touristy or employ aggressive street promoters to attract diners. Always double-check menu prices to ensure they match the bill at the end of your meal, maintaining a smooth and secure dining experience in Cartagena.
Is Cartagena Safe to Live?
Living in Cartagena can be a dreamy and relatively safe experience compared to other Colombian cities. However, it’s essential to consider certain factors. The city’s climate is consistently hot, and during peak tourist seasons, it can become crowded with tourists, street vendors, and touts.
Additionally, Cartagena faces challenges such as poor infrastructure, inequality, and poverty. To ensure a safe and comfortable living experience, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research, speak to expatriates who have made the city their home, and carefully select the neighborhoods in which you plan to reside.
Is Cartagena Airport Safe?
Yes, Cartagena’s airport, Rafael Núñez International Airport, is generally safe for travelers. You shouldn’t encounter any major safety issues when arriving at or departing from the airport. Taxis to and from the airport to tourist areas are considered safe and a common mode of transportation. As with any travel, it’s wise to exercise the usual precautions, such as securing your belongings and confirming taxi services to ensure a smooth and secure experience at Cartagena Airport.
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Is the Weather in Cartagena Dangerous?
The weather in Cartagena can be the most significant challenge for visitors. This coastal city is renowned for its scorching heat and humidity, even in comparison to Southeast Asia. Even during the so-called “winter” in Cartagena, you need to be cautious of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
In the summer, it’s so hot that even locals avoid going out during the daytime. If you’re not accustomed to such weather, take extra precautions. Stay well-hydrated, seek shade whenever possible, and don’t forget to apply sunscreen. Cartagena’s weather can be a challenge, but with the right measures, you can enjoy your visit safely.
Well… Is Cartagena Safe?
In our opinion, Cartagena is safe and worth the visit. It’s a city with something for every kind of traveler, from its historical charm to its lively atmosphere. So, whether you have specific questions or want to share your favorite memory from your trip to Cartagena, feel free to drop us a comment. Your experiences and thoughts are valuable, and we’d love to hear from you!