25 Cartagena Travel Tips: What to Know Before You Go

In this post, I’m sharing some top Cartagena travel tips – read on for details!

A town square with a stunning white steeple with a small fountain in the middle.

Cartagena is in so many ways a Caribbean paradise. The lovely old town combined with the sea views and proximity to beautiful beaches made Cartagena one of my favorite places we visited during our two weeks in Colombia.

Of course, whenever you’re visiting a new city or new country, there are lots of little things to know or be aware of, and Cartagena is no different.

In this article, we’re sharing all of our tips for visiting Cartagena to help you be prepared for your visit. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

25 Cartagena Travel Tips – Things to Know Before You Go

1. Cartagena Truly is Absolutely Stunning

A colorful alley way with lots of different colored doors and plants. There is an intricate steeple in the background

The beauty of Cartagena is 100% real – it’s definitely one of those places where it’s hard to believe it’s real life. The buildings are painted in vibrant, colorful hues of red, blue, pink, and tan. Vines, bushes, flowers, and bougainvillea weave their way up and around the buildings.

The architecture from colonial times means that you’ll stumble upon massive, ornate churches, unique door knockers, rooftop terraces, lovely balconies, and doors all over the city. It’s absolutely enchanting.

Suffice it to say, there are plenty of great photo spots around Cartagena.

2. ...But There Are a Lot of Crowds

Thanks to its charm and beauty, Cartagena has grown in popularity immensely over the past 5 years. Today, the city can get BUSY. Don’t expect to be admiring Cartagena’s charming streets alone.

3. …Unless You Wake Up Early

In fact, I 100% would recommend waking up early one morning of your trip to enjoy the streets empty and quiet. Not only will you avoid crowds, you’ll also be up before all the street vendors are out.

The sun rises around 6 a.m. year round and the city doesn’t really come to life before 8:30 or 9 a.m. Those hours in-between are magical.

4. Where to Stay in Cartagena

A balcony next to bright orange walls with white wood railings and a palm tree-like plant next to the railing.

The Walled City is the most historic and central part of Cartagena, and where most of the attractions are located. The neighborhood of Getsmani is just outside the Walled City, and has an artsy, Bohemian vibe.

The vast majority of visitors stay in these two locations, I would highly recommend you do too. It’s a gorgeous area, and it’s also within walking distance of practically everything you would want to see and do.

When booking accommodations in Cartagena, double-check that your hotel has good AC – you’re definitely going to want it!

Here are a few of my top recommended places to stay:

✔️Maloka Boutique Hostel (Budget): Despite the use of “hostel” in the name, this location offers a variety many private rooms, which are clean and have a trendy yet classic feel. A 24-hour reception, English-speaking staff, strong wifi, and complimentary breakfast are some other perks of this high-value hotel.

✔️La Passion by Masaya (Mid-Range): This boutique hotel combines old-style architecture and furniture with modern amenities. The main areas are absolutely lovely, with marble floors, grand stone stairways, tall ceilings, and a rooftop pool.

✔️Casa Del Arzobispado Boutique Hotel (Luxury): This hotel is a luxurious colonial-era hotel with marble floors, cast-iron decor, and attention to detail. The courtyard pool is a little slice of paradise, with a tiled pool area, greenery, columns, and lights, and the hotel offers a lot of extra amenities and comforts.

5. How Many Days Do You Need?

I’d recommend 1-2 days in Cartagena itself, and then another 1-2 days to spend on the Rosario Islands (and surrounding beach areas). We spent 3 days in Cartagena and it was the perfect amount of time.

6. Electricity

Colombia uses 110 voltage and type A or B plugs. This is the same voltage and plugs as the USA, so if you are coming from the States, you won’t need any type of travel adaptor.

If you’re coming from the UK or Europe, or anywhere that uses type C plugs, you will need an adaptor (like this one) to plug in your devices.

7. Money

The currency is the Colombian peso, which uses the sign “$” and is abbreviated as COP. At the time of writing, about 4200 pesos equal 1 USD.

Cash is king in Colombia – while occasionally you will find a restaurant or hotel that takes credit card, the vast, vast majority of the time we had to pay in cash. ATMs are plentiful around the city.

Whenever I’m visiting a new country, I always just pull cash out at an ATM at the airport when I arrive. I have found this is the simplest and cheapest way to get local currency. Definitely don’t stop at the currency exchange counters – those places are a rip-off!

8. Language

A very colorful and bright alley with yellow and pink buildings on a stone and cement street.

Spanish is the main language in Colombia, and most people in the country do not speak English. Do not plan on speaking to locals in English in Colombia. We do not speak Spanish at all (just a few words) and we got along okay by relying heavily on Google Translate.

I would highly recommend downloading the Google Translate app; with a downloaded language, you can translate even without good data. There are also options like talk-to-text translation as well as a camera translation feature.

The camera translation is a nifty little feature. In the app, point the camera at a paragraph of text and the translation will appear over the words on the screen. This feature is very helpful for reading restaurant menus and placards in museums.

9. Plumbing

Do not flush your toilet paper in Colombia – the plumbing pipes are old and not set up to handle the TP in the system. Just toss your toilet paper in the bin next to the toilet.

10. Arriving in Cartagena

Most people arrive in Cartagena via the international airport – Cartagena de Indias Airport (CTG). This airport is only about 15 minutes from the walled city and is very easy to get to.

11. Street Vendors

Cartagena’s streets are filled with vendors selling trinkets, food, and services. Be prepared to be approached very frequently throughout the day by people (mostly men), who will either approach to sell things they are carrying, or will call out to you from their stands.

Cartagena relies heavily on tourism as part of the economy, so remember that everyone is just trying to make money for their families. The people of Colombia are very nice, though, and they will generally move along without further pushing if you just shake your head, or say “no gracias.”

If you do want to buy something from a vendor, definitely consider haggling the price. Generally, the price quoted to you will be exorbitantly inflated – try to get it down to about 50% of their initial quote.

12. Notes on Taking Taxis

Taxis in Cartagena do not have meters, so definitely remember to agree on the price before getting in the car. Taxis will usually try to overcharge you for a ride, so I’d recommend haggling on the price before getting in the car.

Unless you speak Spanish very well, I would recommend using the calculator on your phone to write out the price, so you both are on the same page for what you are agreeing to.

For reference, a cab ride to/from the airport and the walled city will run between 15-20,000 pesos (4-5 USD)

13. Is Cartagena Expensive?

Cartagena is definitely more expensive than the rest of Colombia, and we noticed higher prices on taxis, hotels, and food in our Colombia travel budget here.

I would say that entrance fees are similar to other places in Colombia, such as Bogota, Medellin, or Salento, with a range of prices for different attractions.

14. How to Interact with the Palenqueras Fruit Ladies

2 women hold the sides of their dresses up together. One of the girls is balancing a bowl of fruit on her head in the streets of Cartagena.

All over Old Town, you will see women in bright-colored dresses, balancing bowls of fruit on their heads and smiling for a photo-op.

 If you want a picture, you will need to tip the Palenqueras ladies for the photos. Make sure you settle on a price per person before taking any pictures (and if they offer to bring someone else in while you’re taking pictures, be prepared to pay double).

If they say they just take tips, 20,000 pesos is a good place to start.

15. The Islands Are SO Much Better Than the Beaches in Cartagena

A luxurious island with a large wood house with a large balcony looking out at the deep blue / teal water.

The beaches in Cartagena are… not that nice. For a true tropical beach experience, you’ll want to head out to Isla Baru or the Rosario Islands.

The beach of Playa Blanca on Isla Baru is one of the most easily accessible beaches in the area, with soft sand and glittering turquoise water. However, it does also have a LOT of vendors trying to sell you food and trinkets.

I would actually recommend going on a boat tour of the Rosario Islands. This tour leaves from just outside the Walled City, and you will zip around to 5 different islands on a sports boat, having time to relax on beaches and snorkel in the blue Caribbean waters.

👉Check availability for this Boat Tour to Rosario Islands here

16. Water is Safe to Drink

Tap water in Cartagena is safe to drink. We used the tap water without a problem in Cartagena.

17. Getting Around Cartagena

Cartagena is an extremely walkable city! Almost every single attraction is within walking distance and the old town is set up for pedestrians – we really liked this about Cartagena.

The only places not in easy walking distance are the Convent, the airport, and the beaches. Here, you’ll need to take a taxi or arrange other transport.

18. Consider a Photoshoot

A man in a blue plaid shirt dips a woman in a pink and white dress in the street with a white steeple in the background.

Have you ever considered doing a vacation photoshoot? This is one of our favorite things to do when Matthew and I travel together, and we’ve now done 6 photoshoots on 4 different continents. Cartagena not only has Instagrammable places but it is also an incredible location for a romantic photo session.

We did a shoot with July and Gilbert and they were the nicest, sweetest, photographer couple. We found them on Instagram, but you can also easily search for photographers on websites like Flytographer.

19. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Securing some travel insurance is an important part of prepping for any international trip – you never know when something might happen, and your regular insurance generally won’t cover you overseas. Costs for a medical emergency on vacation can add up extremely fast, so it’s just better to be safe than sorry. 

I like booking insurance at Insure My Trip, as they offer a variety of plans with different coverages to choose from, so you can find the right option for you. Plus, they have great customer support if you need help before, during, or after your trip.

👉Check rates at Insure My Trip here!👈

20. E-Sim for Data

I always get an e-sim card when I visit a new country. This gives me fast data while I’m there, which is important to me. I love e-sim cards because they are super easy to use and install (you literally just scan a QR code when you land, follow a few prompts, and away you go), and they are very inexpensive.

I’ve used several e-sim companies, but my favorite is SimOptions.com – Check prices here!

21. Eating in Cartagena

A dinner with apple cider in a mason jar with peppers,chicken,rice, and pastries.

While you can find a lot of traditional Colombian food in Cartagena, you will also see a heavy emphasis on dishes like coconut rice, fresh fish, and ceviche.

There are also plenty of restaurants that have a more international flavor. This variety creates a really delicious culinary scene in the city. Check out my guide to where to eat in Cartagena for more information.

22. Tipping

A 10% gratuity is often automatically added to your bill at restaurants. If it’s not, leaving an approximate 10% tip on your own is considered polite.

23. Weather in Cartagena

The weather in Cartagena is HOT, EXTREMELY HOT. It’s actually the most uncomfortable place I’ve visited, weather-wise. This is because while on paper the temperatures in Cartagena don’t seem that bad (average highs year-round are approximately 87 F/30 C), the relative humidity stays right around 80%. The air is practically dripping.

December to April is the dry season, and you can expect sunny days and low rain. Fall is the rainy season, so if you travel then, expect more precipitation, although usually not all-day downpours.

We visited in July, and had rain several of the days we were there, but it only rained for about an hour each day.

If you travel during the rainy season in the fall, you’ll see lower prices and fewer tourists.

24. What to Wear in Cartagena

Because of the heat and humidity in Cartagena, you’ll want to wear light, loose, breathable outfits with fabrics like linen or cotton. I’d recommend planning to wear your hair up and/or bringing a hat.

25. Is Cartagena Safe to Travel?

While you may encounter petty theft in Cartagena, the tourist areas of Cartena (The Walled City, Getsmani, Playa Blanca, etc) are generally very safe. The city is alive day and night, often late into the night, with people out and about on the streets.

Of course, I still would exercise walking alone late at night, and keep a close eye on your belongings to prevent pickpocketing, but in general, Cartagena is a very safe place to visit.

You can check any current travel advisories for Colombia here (though it is currently considered a safe place to visit!

Tips for Traveling to Cartagena – The Wrap Up

Cartagena is an absolutely delightful city to visit, and knowing some of these tips before you take off will help your trip immensely.

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