Is Cartagena Safe? 5 Tips for Staying Safe on Your Travels

Many people traveling through Colombia find themselves wondering is Cartagena safe?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. Unfortunately, this charming, colorful colonial city tends to get a bad rap. While there is some crime in Cartagena, Colombia, it is very similar to other major tourist destinations.

How dangerous is Cartagena, really?

Cartagena is one of the safer cities in Colombia. However, like in many major cities, pickpocketing and bag snatching can occur, especially in popular tourist spots.

It is good to note that crime is declining in the city and Colombia as a whole. Of course, you should still be vigilant, but you shouldn’t let this information deter you from traveling. Most people you’ll meet are kind, friendly, and helpful.

Follow these five tips to stay safe in Cartagena (and all over the world), and you’ll have a fantastic time.

Tip #1: Watch your possessions.

Cartagena plaza

This probably sounds obvious, but pickpocketing and bag snatching are the most common crimes to fall victim to, especially in Cartagena.

When walking down the street, ensure your bag is zipped up and don’t carry anything big/bulky in your back pocket. These are the easiest ways for pickpockets to get access to your stuff.

Tourists are typically the target for this, especially in crowded areas. While it is great to stay in tourist areas for other safety reasons (more on that later), it is essential to pay attention to your surroundings.

This goes for your time on the beach as well. Places like Playa Blanca are prime locations for thieves to get to work. Most of the time, they are crimes of convenience. So, if you are alone, don’t leave your belongings on the beach and head in for a swim. Find a secure way to lock up your cell phone, money, and keys while enjoying the ocean.

Muggings also occur from time to time, typically when the sun goes down and on less crowded streets.

The biggest tip is not to resist if you find yourself in a bad situation. Give up your things because no cell phone or wallet is worth your life.

So, for the most part, it is safe in Cartagena now, but it’s still a good idea to be alert and aware of your surroundings.

Tip #2: Stick with a group when you can, especially at night.

Grafitti wall

This is a great tip for all travelers, especially women. Traveling in a group reduces your chance of being in a vulnerable position once the sun goes down.

You should be able to find friends and meet people in Cartagena, especially if you are staying in one of the fantastic hostels. There are also loads of meet-ups you can join or tours and activities to do so you aren’t alone.

Whether in a group or not, it is vital that you avoid walking between neighborhoods at night. If you are staying in the walled city, you should be able to move freely in the evenings.

However, if you happen to be moving across the city, it is best to take a taxi with a trusted friend, just to be safe.

Tip #3: Stay in a safe area of Cartagena.

landscape of Cartagena with mountains and churches

Most of the city is safe, but there is still criminal activity and active gangs in Cartagena. Because of this, you should stick to safer neighborhoods when booking your accommodation.

The safest places are San Diego and Centro (within the walled city) or Getsemani.

Centro is probably the most popular neighborhood. It is the center of tourism, and there is a strong police presence here to deter any crime and help you feel safe in Cartagena. Remember to remain alert, though, as pickpocketing is still common here.

San Diego is just north of Centro. There are fewer tourists here, which means less pickpocketing and petty crime.

Getsemani is just outside the walled city and perfect for young travelers. You can find great accommodation here, allowing you to participate in all of Cartagena’s fabulous nightlife but not pay Centro prices.

Do note the alleys in this neighborhood can be a bit dodgy, especially at night. You can avoid feeling unsafe by sticking to the main, well-lit roads and traveling with a group.

Finally, don’t go to the beach once it gets dark. Even if you are staying in an area like Bocagrande, it is best to avoid the beach at night. You might find people hanging around partying and possibly looking for opportunities to grab a phone or bag. Plus, swimming in the ocean at night is a safety risk all on its own.

Tip #4: Be aware of scams to keep safe in Cartagena.

cityscape of Cartagena

Unfortunately, scams are somewhat common in Cartagena. The most common revolve around taxis and street vendors.

Taxi drivers often do not use meters, and there are no official rates. The most common scam is for a driver to pick up a tourist, drive them to their destination, and then ask for an extortionate amount of money.

The best way to avoid this is to ask for the price BEFORE getting into the cab. You can also ask your hotel or airport staff how much you should pay to get to certain places.

Uber does operate, but it’s technically illegal. There are also limited cars. If you’d feel more comfortable using a ride-hailing app, try Easy Taxi instead.

Street vendors operate similarly. They are relentless and definitely overcharge. Avoid these scams by respectfully but firmly telling them no and continue walking.

Tip #5: Know the local laws to keep safe in Cartagena.

Cartagena street

When traveling to any country, it is imperative to know the local laws. This is especially true when it comes to drug and alcohol consumption. The sheer number of tourists who get caught up in illegal activity because “they didn’t know” is astounding. Prevent this as much as possible to avoid complications, or worse, jail time.

It is illegal to buy and sell marijuana and cocaine in Colombia. While the use of cannabis and cocaine is decriminalized, there are strict parameters on how and when you can buy these drugs.  

As a rule of thumb, you should avoid buying drugs off the street. There are areas of town where this is more common, but to keep safe in Cartagena, it’s best to decline. Police do pick up tourists and ask for bribes after witnessing a purchase, and it isn’t unheard of for a tourist to be mugged while attempting to buy drugs.

Alcohol is legal, but you should always keep an eye on your drinks and avoid taking beverages from a stranger.

If you plan to party, try to go out with a group. There is safety in numbers, especially in Cartagena.

Solo Female Travel in Cartagena

Art in Colombia

If you are wondering, is Cartagena safe for solo female travelers? The answer is yes! These safety tips apply to both men and women.

Women are more likely to experience catcalling, but it is best to simply ignore this. Most of the time, it is harmless, albeit annoying. Additionally, you never want to put yourself in danger by starting an argument.

Just like anywhere else, try to stick with a group when you can and keep your wits about you. This really is no different from other tourist destinations.

Of course, things can happen at any time. However, keeping a vigilant eye and taking precautions while exploring will certainly help. You won’t have to constantly wonder is Cartagena safe if you take general precautions, just as you would traveling to any other major city.

Overall, it is a lovely city and a fantastic place to visit. You will fall in love with the beautiful buildings and the charming streets in no time!

Not sure where to head after Cartagena? Why not try one of The 5 Best Cities to Visit in Colombia? Still unsure? Check out all the places you can travel in Colombia with Bookaway.

FAQ

There is a US Travel Advisory for Cartagena. Should I still plan my trip?

Yes! Often times state departments issue travel warnings and notices out of extreme caution. While paying attention to these statements is always a good idea, they often let travelers know about the possibilities of danger rather than the likelihood.

Can I use Google/Apple Maps in Cartagena?

Yes and no. While these apps do work, they are not always the most up-to-date. This can be especially concerning if you need directions at night. No one wants to turn down a dark alley and realize that a map hasn’t been updated. Also, walking around with an expensive cell phone glued to your hand isn’t a great idea. This makes you stand out as an easy target for theft. Instead, ask a local for directions or check in with hotel/café staff

Do I need a lot of cash?

No. Debit and credit cards are accepted in most shops and nearly all bars and restaurants. It is actually better to carry limited cash so, on the off chance you are mugged or have your wallet stolen, there will be less to lose. Pro Tip—get a credit card or debit card with no transaction fees. This will save you money at the ATM!

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