How to Get From Medellin to Cartagena: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back

medellin to cartagena

Are you thinking about the best way to travel from the lively city of Medellin to the enchanting coastal beauty of Cartagena in Colombia?

As a seasoned digital nomad and travel enthusiast, I’ve ventured through this route and can share practical insights to make your journey smooth and enjoyable. With this guide, you’ll delve into detailed transportation options for getting from Medellin to Cartagena, ensuring you can plan your Colombian escapade confidently and effortlessly.

In this digital nomad’s guide, you’ll get an insider’s perspective on going from Medellin to Cartagena, ensuring you can plan your Colombian escapade confidently and effortlessly.

Where is Cartagena?

Cartagena, the capital of Bolívar departamento in northern Colombia, is a city that’s drenched in history and alive with culture. It’s situated at the northern end of Cartagena Bay and was born back in 1533. It really made a name for itself in the mid-16th century when it became a major stop for ships gathering gold and other treasures from northern South America to transport them to Spain. Over the years, it had its share of historical importance, serving as a center for the Inquisition and a bustling slave market.

But what truly makes Cartagena shine is its Afro-Colombian heritage. About 45 percent of its roughly 1 million residents have African roots, and this cultural blend is vividly expressed in the city’s art, music, food, and the warm-hearted locals.

Cartagena de Indias is where colonial charm meets a bustling nightlife, vibrant cultural festivals, and picturesque landscapes. It’s the kind of place that promises you a perfect vacation, whether you’re into exploring history-soaked streets, savoring local delicacies, or immersing yourself in the spirited local scene. This city has a special allure that’s hard to resist.

How Far is Medellin to Cartagena?

Understanding the geographical separation between Medellin and Cartagena is a crucial first step in planning your journey. The distance and time to travel between these two Colombian cities can vary depending on your chosen route and method of travel, and it’s essential to have this information at your fingertips.

So how far apart are Medellin and Cartagena? Well, the distance between these two Colombian cities can vary, depending on the route you take. If you choose the more direct Route 25, you’re looking at a road trip covering about 630 kilometers (390 miles). Typically, it takes around 12 hours to traverse this path on a good day. On the other hand, if you’re up for the scenic route, there’s Route 45, the longest highway in Colombia, which stretches across approximately 940 kilometers (585 miles). This journey usually clocks in at around 16 hours.

Given the extensive distance between the two cities, flying from Medellin to Cartagena may be the best option to save on time, while budget travelers will opt for the cheaper bus option. A third choice for those wanting more flexibility is to hire a private transfer. In the next few sections, we’ll dive deeper into each of these options highlighting the benefits and specifics of each.

Fly From Medellin to Cartagena

How to Get From Medellin to Cartagena: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back -

When it comes to traveling from Medellin to Cartagena, flying is often the most efficient choice. Skyscanner, the go-to booking platform we use, frequently offers budget-friendly flight options for this route. Having experienced both bus and air travel, I can confidently say that if you have the opportunity, flying is the way to go. Prices start around $60 USD one way, around double the bus option. However, during peak times such as Christmas, airfares may rise, making the flights less affordable. In my experience, booking a few weeks to a month in advance often results in significant cost savings.

Medellin boasts two airports: a smaller one near the south bus terminal and a larger international airport in Rionegro. Most flights from Medellin to Cartagena depart from the international airport, but it’s advisable to double-check before your journey.

The flight itself is remarkably quick, typically taking less than 45 minutes. If you’re traveling without checked luggage, arriving at the airport an hour before your flight is sufficient. In no time, you’ll find yourself at Cartagena’s airport, ready to explore. The entire process, from check-in to landing, should take around 3 hours at most. If your flight involves a layover in Bogota, expect a longer journey.

For direct Medellin to Cartagena flights, you have several choices, with three major airlines providing this route: Viva Air, Avianca, and LATAM. Thankfully, I haven’t encountered or heard about any unfavorable experiences with any of these airlines, so you can select the one that aligns with your travel schedule and budget.

It’s worth noting that if you book a direct flight with Viva Air Colombia, they can be quite strict about their policies, especially regarding boarding passes and luggage. Be sure to carefully review the terms and conditions, as any violations can result in unexpected additional expenses. Keep in mind that if you plan to carry more than 5kg of hand luggage, you may need to pay extra, so it’s wise to account for these details in your travel plans.

Flying from Medellin to Cartagena not only saves time but also provides a comfortable and efficient way to reach your destination. If you’re looking for a hassle-free journey with minimal travel time, this option is undoubtedly your best bet.

Who Doesn’t Love Cheap Flights?

How to Get From Medellin to Cartagena: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back -

Skyscanner is your trusted service for buying cheap flight tickets, with no extra fees or markups! Their flight search will not only find the best option for your specific dates, but it will also offer another period when the cost may be even lower.

Medellin to Cartagena By Bus

How to Get From Medellin to Cartagena: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back -

Traveling from Medellin to Cartagena by bus offers a hassle-free alternative to air travel. If you’re not keen on navigating the procedures of airline security, repacking, or weighing your bags, the bus journey can be your ticket to a more relaxed experience. This option is particularly ideal if you’re on a budget and not confident about driving yourself to Cartagena.

So which buses go to Cartagena from Medellin? The two prominent bus companies serving this route are Expreso Brasilia and Rapido Ochoa. These buses provide a range of amenities that can make your road trip more comfortable, including reclining seats, air conditioning, toilets, and charger sockets. Some buses even offer Wi-Fi, although its reliability may vary. In my experience, Expreso Brasilia tends to be ahead of Rapido Ochoa in terms of services and amenities, but Rapido Ochoa buses are usually slightly cheaper. If saving some pesos is a priority, Rapido Ochoa might be the better choice for you.

So where does the bus to Cartagena from Medellin depart? In Medellin, the buses bound for Cartagena by Expreso Brasilia and Rapido Ochoa depart from Terminal del Norte (North Terminal). You can find this bus station at Carrera 64C # 78-580 in Medellin. The Caribe station, accessible via Line A of the metro, is your gateway to the North Terminal. Once you arrive at the Caribe metro station, simply head over any of the bridges on either side of the station, and you’ll find the North Terminal right ahead.

If you prefer, you can also take a taxi to the North Terminal bus station. Yellow cabs are readily available in Medellin and are relatively affordable compared to taxis in North America and Europe. These cabs are safe both day and night and are metered, with a standard fare structure. It’s recommended to ensure the driver activates the meter when you board, but most taxi drivers in Medellin are cooperative in this regard.

Once inside the North Terminal bus station, you’ll find multiple ticket windows operated by different bus companies. Seek assistance from security personnel or station staff to guide you to the ticketing window of your chosen bus company, be it Expreso Brasilia or Rapido Ochoa. Early booking offers the advantage of selecting your preferred seat, especially if you wish to sit far from the restrooms.

So how much is a bus from Cartagena to Medellin? The bus fare from Medellin to Cartagena can vary slightly depending on the bus company and the type of bus. At the time of writing, Expreso Brasilia charges approximately 154,000 pesos (39 USD) for their premium bus.

Here’s some other tips for traveling to Cartagena from Medellin by bus:

  • Dress warmly, as it can get chilly on the bus. Carrying a blanket might be a good idea.
  • A neck pillow can add some comfort during the journey.
  • Consider bringing earplugs if you’re sensitive to noise.
  • Remember that bus toilets may not have toilet paper, so be sure to carry your own.

Once you arrive in Cartagena, you’ll be dropped off at Terminal del Transporte. From there, it’s easy to hail a yellow taxi to reach your destination within the city. However, be aware that unlike the metered cabs in Medellin, taxis in Cartagena are often unmetered. To avoid overcharges, it’s advisable to negotiate the fare with the driver before getting into the taxi. As of 2023, the minimum taxi fare in Cartagena is approximately 8,800 pesos ($2.25 USD). Alternatively, take a local bus from the bus station to downtown Cartagena.

Private Transfer From Medellin to Cartagena

While private transfers are an option for getting from Medellin to Cartagena, I must honestly advise against it for most travelers. However, if you’re someone who values convenience and cost is not a primary concern, you can explore the possibility of hiring a private transfer service. This allows you to have an English or Spanish-speaking driver at your disposal to chauffeur you across Colombia.

The cost of arranging a private transfer to drive you from Medellin to Cartagena is quite substantial, with an estimated price tag of around $300 USD. This option is certainly more luxurious and convenient, but it may not be the most economical choice, particularly if you’re traveling on a budget.

For the majority of travelers, the bus or a flight will offer more cost-effective and efficient ways to reach Cartagena. These options provide better value for money and are well-suited for exploring Colombia without breaking the bank. However, if you prioritize a personalized and comfortable experience, the private transfer is available as a premium choice for your journey.

Getting to the Medellin Airport

The Medellin airport, located in Rionegro, is approximately an hour away from the city. Travelers have a couple of transportation options to reach the airport:

  1. Colectivo: For a budget-friendly choice, you can opt for a colectivo, which typically costs around $15,000 COP ($4 USD). These shared transportation services can be found at the San Diego shopping center and often park near the petrol station.
  2. Private Taxi: If you prefer a more private and direct journey, you can hire a taxi, which costs approximately $80,000 COP ($20 USD). This option offers convenience but comes at a higher price.

Getting to Downtown Cartagena From Cartagena Rafael Nunez Airport

How to Get From Medellin to Cartagena: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back -

Upon arriving at Cartagena’s Rafael Nunez Airport and needing to make your way to downtown Cartagena, the most convenient and common choice is to take a taxi. While there are buses available, they typically require a payment card, as cash is not accepted. This makes the bus a less practical option unless you plan to spend an extended period in Cartagena and will be using the bus frequently.

A taxi ride from the airport to downtown Cartagena is generally affordable, with a fare of no more than $10,000 COP. This cost-effective and straightforward transportation method ensures a smooth journey to your destination in downtown Cartagena, allowing you to start your exploration of this vibrant city with ease.

In summary, when you land at Rafael Nunez Airport in Cartagena and need to reach downtown, taxis are the preferred choice for convenience and affordability, providing a hassle-free way to begin your adventure in the heart of the city.

How Long Does it Take to Get From Medellin to Cartagena?

The travel time from Medellin to Cartagena can vary, typically falling within the range of 12 to 15 hours, with the possibility of up to 18 hours depending on traffic conditions and other factors. It’s important to keep in mind that road conditions, traffic congestion, and unforeseen delays can impact the duration of your journey.

When planning your trip, it’s advisable to account for potential variations in travel time and choose your mode of transportation accordingly. Daytime and nighttime bus options both have their advantages, with daytime trips allowing you to appreciate the scenic views, while nighttime journeys might offer less traffic and time to rest. Flexibility in your travel plans can help ensure a smoother and more enjoyable experience when traveling from Medellin to Cartagena.

Looking for the Best Hostel in Cartagena?

How to Get From Medellin to Cartagena: 3 Best Ways to Get There and Back -

Viajero Cartagena is located in Cartagena’s iconic walled city, offering unique accommodations in a colonial house on a colorful street, with options of shared dorms and private bedrooms, daily activities like salsa lessons, and a vibrant nightlife scene.

Medellin to Cartagena FAQ’s

How much is a Bus Ticket from Medellin to Cartagena?

The average bus ticket price from Medellín to Cartagena is $39 USD one way.

How much is a Flight Ticket from Medellin to Cartagena?

The average flight ticket price from Medellín to Cartagena is $60 USD one way. Tickets tend to rise as the travel date approaches, so it’s best to book your tickets as early as possible.

How Long is the Bus from Medellin to Cartagena?

The average travel time from Medellín to Cartagena by bus is around 15 hours. The fastest bus will take around 12 hours, and if traffic is slow due to weather or road closures, it could take up to 18 hours.

How Long is the Flight from Medellin to Cartagena?

The average travel time from Medellín to Cartagena by flight is around 45 minutes, although you will need to allow 3 hours to include security and check-in.

How Many Daily Buses Are There Between Medellin and Cartagena?

The number of daily buses between Medellín and Cartagena is on average around 20. Some buses have direct routes, while others have several layovers. You can compare the various bus options on platforms such as Busbud or 12go.asia.

How Many Daily Flights Are There Between Medellin and Cartagena?

The number of daily direct non-stop flights between Medellín and Cartagena is on average around 10. There are several others which have layovers in Bogota. You can compare the various flight options on platforms such as Skyscanner.

Which Bus Companies Travel Between Medellin and Cartagena?

The two best bus companies traveling between Medellin and Cartagena are Expreso Brasilia and Rapido Ochoa. Expreso Brasilia tends to be ahead of Rapido Ochoa in terms of services and amenities, but Rapido Ochoa buses are usually slightly cheaper.

So… Which Option is Best for YOUR Medellin to Cartagena Trip?

The best transportation choice for your journey from Medellin to Cartagena depends on your preferences and priorities.

  • Fly: If you value speed and convenience, flying is often the best option. Look for affordable flights on platforms like Skyscanner, especially when booking a few weeks in advance.
  • Bus: Buses are a cost-effective choice, but travel times can vary from 12 to 18 hours. Select a daytime or nighttime bus depending on your preferences and budget.
  • Private Transfer: Private transfers are the most luxurious option but come at a higher cost, around $300 USD.

Consider your priorities, budget, and travel style to make the right decision for your Medellin to Cartagena adventure. Safe travels!


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