Cartagena Is Perfectly Safe. Here's Why.

Cartagena Is Perfectly Safe. Here's Why.

ViaHero · Updated March 14, 2019

Cartagena's crime rates have dropped hugely in recent years, and it is now the safest metropolis in Colombia

However, as in any other major city, certain areas should be avoided and steps should be taken to ensure safety.

Here are important tips for traveling safely in Cartagena, including which areas are visitor-friendly, which should be avoided, and precautions that will keep your trip secure and fun.  Any questions? Message us.

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.

    Cartagena neighborhoods

    Visitor-friendly neighborhoods

    • In general, Old Town (aka the Walled City) is where you'll find the strongest police presence. Just be aware of pickpockets (it is a tourist destination, after all).
    • Bocagrande and Manga are famous for their palm-lined promenades and Miami-ish vibe. Like Old Town, they're quite safe both day and night.
    • Getsemani is particularly known for its hipster vibes, outdoor cafes, and abundance of street musicians. It's one of the safer areas of town, but it also has some not-so-nice areas, especially after dark.
    • San Diego is full of students and hipsters. That means it's very safe during the day, but a bit sketchier at night. You should especially beware of pickpockets and drug dealers here.
    • Centro and Pie de Popa have some cool attractions but are also best visited during the day due to theft concerns.

    It’s very important to note that Cartagena is just as safe as any other city. Just stay aware, be cognizant of your surroundings, and you'll be fine in any or all of these neighborhoods, day or night.

    Areas to avoid

    • In general, the further from Old Town, the less savory the neighborhoods.
    • Neighborhoods like Sector La Magdalena, La Maria, El Paraiso, Rafel Nuñez, Piedro de Bolivar, and other barrios north or east of Old Town area should be avoided.
    • Make sure to run your itinerary by a Colombian local before you plan your trip—there's very little for a traveler to see or do in these neighborhoods (if anything), but it's best to make sure you don't wander in by accident. 

    Theft and scams are common, but violent crime is incredibly rare

    Petty theft and scams are by far the most common crimes reported in Cartagena, and violent crime against tourists is nearly nonexistent (so don't it deter you from getting started on your Cartagena itinerary).

    To quote the US Department of State, "Crime levels in the major tourist areas of Cartagena, including the historical center (El Centro, San Diego), neighborhoods of Getsemani, Bocagrande, El Laguito, and Castillogrande are considerably lower and are rarely violent, but petty theft, scams, and similar crimes remain common in these areas. "

    • Translation: The majority of crimes committed in Cartagena are merely those of opportunity. An unattended bag, an unzipped purse, a cell phone left out, or an unlocked hotel door can all provide an easy target for mischief.

    By remaining attentive and keeping your wits about you, you can avoid the most frequently reported crimes in Cartagena.

    Common scams and how to avoid them

    • One common scam involves fake police officers asking to "check your money for counterfeit". This is obviously a scam. Ask them to take you to a police station instead.
    • Pickpockets and thieves are common in tourist-heavy areas. Be sure to keep your belongings close and in sight. Keep your money in your front pocket, and always carry cash in at least two locations on your person (that way, if the worst should happen you won't lose everything).
    • Taxi drivers will often scam passengers with rigged meters. To avoid this, decide on a fare in advance or use Uber.
    • Watch all of your drinks being made, and keep an eye on them. As is the case anywhere else in the world, drugging is an issue
    • Don’t flash valuables openly. Use discretion when texting or making calls, as it's easy for someone to come up and grab your phone.
    • Again, if you're traveling independently we'd recommend getting some local advice from a Colombian travel expert. Don't travel blindly!  

    You probably have all the necessary vaccinations

    Don't worry about getting sick—you probably have all your necessary vaccines already. The CDC also recommends getting the hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines before traveling to Colombia, although they are not required. If you're visiting smaller or more rural areas of Colombia, it may not be a bad idea to talk with your doctor about receiving these shots.

    Read on: Colombia travel FAQs

    You can still use Uber

    Although taxi fare in Colombia is regulated by the government, scams can happen. By using regulated apps like Uber, EasyTaxi, and Tappsi, you can guarantee you won’t be taken advantage of. Don't worry about what you've read in the news about an "Uber ban"—everyone still uses it. It's also cheap and easy to book airport transportation on websites like GetYourGuide.

    The tap water is safe

    The tap water in most of Colombia’s major cities, including Cartagena, is perfectly safe to drink. If you are still concerned about the water, however, bottled and purified water is cheap and accessible everywhere. With that in mind, lettuce, fruits, and salads are all fine to consume—even from street vendors.

    Be sure to wear sunscreen

    Cartagena’s proximity to the equator is a recipe for sunburn, and you really, really don't want to deal with that. Pack plenty of sunscreen. Even if you’re spending minimal time in the sun, it’s still a good idea to lather up several times each day, as Cartagena’s sun is powerful. Additionally, Cartagena’s beautiful beaches are home to miles of pristine coral reef, so to protect your feet—and the reef—it isn’t a bad idea to pack water shoes.

    Conclusion

    Is Cartagena safe for travel? Absolutely! Just stay aware, make sure to get some insider info from someone who lives in Cartagena before you go (or have a local help plan your trip) and you'll have a fantastic time!

    Emergency numbers everyone should know

    In the off chance that you run into any trouble while galavanting through Cartagena, here are some numbers to call for assistance.

    • National Emergency Number: 123
    • Tourist Police: (1) 3374413
    • Information: 113
    • U.S. Embassy in Colombia: (+57) (1) 275-2000

    Ready to see all that Cartagena has to offer? Plan your personalized trip with the help of one of our Heroes (aka local trip planners) to make sure you stay safe and don't miss out on the *authentic* Cartagena. Additionally, you can message us with any questions you have. And before your trip, make sure to check out:

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