8 No-nonsense Tips for Staying Safe in Cartagena

ViaHero · October 18, 2018

Among Colombia’s cities, Cartagena is known as one of the safest. However, just like anywhere else, there are certain steps you should take to ensure your time in Cartagena is all fun and no fuss. With that in mind, here are 8 no-nonsense tips for staying safe in Cartagena. Once you’ve given them a read, feel free to message us directly with any questions you still have.

Want to make the most out of your trip? Tap into our network of local travel planners—Heroes—who build unique, locally-curated trip plans, designed just for you. Get started.

1. Most neighborhoods are fantastic—but there are some you should avoid

Like any big city, Cartagena has some areas that are full of fun and interesting activities, and others that just aren’t worth visiting. These neighborhoods are particularly safe, and ideal for overnight accommodations:

The Walled City

True to its name, the Walled City is not only beautiful and full of history, but also extremely safe and welcoming. Given its central location, wealth of highlights, and popularity with travelers and locals alike, the Walled City boasts ideal accommodations in a stunning and traveler-friendly environment.


Reminiscent of Miami’s South Beach, Bocagrande is Cartagena’s beachside strip. Perhaps one of the more traveler-inundated areas, Bocagrande is charming and safe nonetheless.


Getsemani is Cartagena’s hipster heaven. Known for offering a uniquely Colombian feel, the neighborhood boasts street art, a wealth of coffee shops, and the always-popping tunes of Afro-Caribbean music. Like most up-and-coming neighborhoods, however, there are mixed reviews about staying in Getsemani. Many locals and travelers say it’s perfectly safe and have had no issues; others claim the opposite. Educate yourself, but remember that for every horror story, there are a dozen positive experiences.

While there are countless interesting and safe areas to explore in Cartagena, there are also some areas that present higher risks and simply aren’t worth the visit:

La Popa

La Popa is rather touristy and therefore draws more attention to pick-pockets and petty thefts, so it is best visited during daytime hours. Additionally, it’s known to become seedy once the sun goes down.

Sector La Magdalena

Sector La Magdalena is another area to avoid. A poorer neighborhood, it’s definitely much grittier than other parts of Cartagena. Given that there’s not much to do in this neighborhood, though, there aren’t many reasons any traveler would find themselves there.

The bottom line: if you’re not sure where to settle in for your vacation in Cartagena, don’t stress—one of our local Colombian travel experts can easily help you find the best neighborhood to suit your tastes.

2. Stay away from narco-tourism

Cartagena is one of the greatest places in the world to visit, and ruining your trip by engaging in narco-tourism simply isn’t worth it. Nearly all of the potential safety concerns in traveling to Colombia can be avoided by following common sense and basic travel etiquette, and with so many fantastic things to do in Cartagena, your nights out are sure to be thrilling even without doing anything sketchy.

3. Be aware at the beach

Cartagena is well-known for its stunning beaches, and for good reason! However, while you’re enjoying the crystal clear waters and fine sands, don’t forget to be aware of your surroundings and belongings. Don’t leave valuables unattended to take a dip in the ocean, and pay attention to marked signs warning you of any rip currents or natural hazards. The majority of beaches in Cartagena have lifeguards ready to assist in the case of emergency, and your Hero can clue you in on the best ones to enjoy. Pack lots of water and sunscreen and you shouldn’t have any reason to worry while you relax on the beach.

4. Educate yourself on Cartagena’s customs

Each country has its own customs and quirks, and it’s important for travelers to be aware of them. Being cognizant of common scams or potential threats is the best way to ensure your trip is all smooth sailing. You should be aware of how you present yourself (blending in is always better than standing out) and also be sure not to flash your valuables. As the locals say, “no dar papaya” —essentially, don’t make yourself an easy target. The majority of crimes encountered in Cartagena are merely those of opportunity, and can be avoided with common sense and situational awareness. Take it as a fun chance to learn how to blend in with the local culture, and you shouldn’t have any problems!

5. Stay alert, even when you’re partying

Cartagena is known not only for its stunning colonial-era architecture, but also for its vibrant nightlife. Most travelers don’t experience any threats to their safety when they’re out on the town, but you can always benefit from using common sense and caution. Just as you’d do at any bar or club in the US, don’t leave your drink unattended and make sure to keep your belongings in sight. And if bars and clubs aren’t your scene, no worries—your Hero can add loads of thrilling nighttime activities to your itinerary based on whatever you’re into. But remember, the same safety rules apply!

6. Make sure you’re up-to-date on your vaccines

If you’re an American citizen, you likely have all the vaccines you need for Colombia already. Just as a good rule of thumb, though, make sure check up on your vaccine status before you travel. Colombia is safe for Americans, but getting sick can ruin your vacation in a flash. If you have any questions about which vaccines are necessary to visit Colombia or concerns about other health limitations you may have, feel free to reach out to one of our Colombian Heroes!

7. Avoid the cabs—use Uber instead

If you’re looking to get around Cartagena, your best bet is to use Uber. Usually thought to be a better option than cabs—due both to language barrier and safety concerns—Uber is a safe and easy way to navigate the city. And that advice doesn’t just go for Cartagena—you can use Uber Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bogota as well.

8. Utilize your local trip planner's wisdom and experience

Traveling to a different country can be intimidating and you’re sure to have lots of questions about visiting Colombia—but that’s why we're here! Your local Colombian Hero will provide you with a custom itinerary, a personalized guidebook, and custom offline maps—as well as on-the-ground support throughout your trip and anything else you might need. Make sure to take advantage of their experience by getting the inside scoop on Colombian culture and customs, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

More questions about staying safe in Cartagena? Here’s a list of our local Colombian travel experts who can help you, or you can message us any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to check out: