Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

Arriving In Cartagena Colombia – 7 Things To Know


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Cherise Ippolito


Overview of Cartagena

Located on the northern coast of Colombia, Cartagena is a vibrant and historic city that offers a unique blend of rich culture, stunning architecture, and picturesque landscapes. With its well-preserved colonial buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and beautiful beaches, Cartagena attracts millions of visitors every year.


Known as the “Jewel of the Caribbean,” Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is steeped in history. Founded in 1533, the city served as a major port for Spanish conquistadors and became a key stronghold in defending Spanish interests in the region.


Today, Cartagena is renowned for its charming Old Town, also known as the Walled City (Ciudad Amurallada). This historic center is filled with colorful buildings, elegant churches, and charming plazas, offering a glimpse into the city’s colonial past. A walk along the city walls provides breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and the modern skyline.


Aside from its rich history, Cartagena is also a cultural hub. The city hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, including the Cartagena International Film Festival and the Hay Festival, which attracts world-renowned authors and intellectuals.


Cartagena is also known for its delicious cuisine, influenced by African, indigenous, and Spanish flavors. Traditional dishes like arepas, ceviche, and patacones are a must-try for food enthusiasts.


Furthermore, Cartagena’s vibrant nightlife scene is another highlight of the city. From trendy rooftop bars to lively salsa clubs, there is something for everyone to enjoy after the sun sets.


Whether you’re exploring the historical landmarks, relaxing on the powdery beaches, or immersing yourself in the local culture, Cartagena offers a truly unforgettable experience. With its warm and welcoming atmosphere, it’s no wonder that the city is a favorite destination among travelers.


Climate and Best Time to Visit

Cartagena has a tropical savanna climate, characterized by hot and humid weather throughout the year. The average temperature hovers around 28°C (82°F), making it an ideal destination for those seeking sun and warmth.


The best time to visit Cartagena is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. During this period, the city experiences minimal rainfall and pleasant temperatures, making it perfect for exploring the outdoor attractions and lounging on the beaches.


However, it’s important to note that Cartagena is a popular tourist destination, and during the peak dry season months, the city can get quite crowded. If you prefer a more relaxed and less crowded experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of May to July or November. Although there may be occasional showers, the weather is still generally pleasant, and you’ll have more space to explore the city’s attractions without the crowds.


The rainy season in Cartagena occurs from May to November, with September and October being the wettest months. During this time, the city experiences frequent showers and higher humidity levels. While the rain can be sporadic and usually doesn’t last all day, it’s still recommended to pack an umbrella or rain jacket to stay prepared.


Despite the rain, the wet season can still be a good time to visit Cartagena, as hotel rates tend to be lower, and you’ll have a chance to experience the city in a different light. The lush green landscapes and fewer tourists create a more tranquil atmosphere, perfect for unwinding and exploring the indoor attractions such as museums and historical sites.


Whether you choose to visit during the dry season or the rainy season, Cartagena will captivate you with its vibrant culture, stunning architecture, and warm hospitality. Just be sure to pack appropriate clothing, sunscreen, and stay hydrated to make the most of your time in this beautiful city.


Transportation in Cartagena

Getting around Cartagena is relatively straightforward, with various transportation options available to suit different needs and preferences.


The most popular mode of transportation for tourists in Cartagena is the taxi. Taxis are readily available throughout the city, and you can easily hail one on the street or find them at designated taxi stands. It’s important to note that fares are typically negotiable, so it’s a good idea to agree on a price before starting your journey. Additionally, ensure that the taxi has a working meter or agree on a fixed fare to avoid any confusion or disputes.


An alternative to taxis is the Uber service, which operates in Cartagena. Uber offers a convenient and often cheaper option for transportation, with transparent fares and the ability to pay through the app.


For short distances within the city, you can also opt to use the local transportation system known as Transcaribe. Transcaribe is a bus system that connects various neighborhoods and attractions in Cartagena. The buses are air-conditioned and tickets can be purchased at the stations or on board. While Transcaribe offers a more affordable option, it’s important to note that buses can get crowded during peak hours.


If you prefer a more leisurely mode of transportation, consider exploring the city by foot. Cartagena’s historic center is compact and easily walkable, allowing you to immerse yourself in the charming streets, plazas, and architecture at your own pace.


To reach nearby islands and beaches, you can take a boat or ferry from the port. There are various options available, including day trips to the Rosario Islands or Playa Blanca. These excursions provide an opportunity to experience the crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches that the region is famous for.


Lastly, if you’re looking to venture beyond Cartagena, you can also take domestic flights from Rafael Núñez International Airport to other cities in Colombia. Airlines such as Avianca, LATAM, and Viva Air offer regular flights to destinations such as Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali.


With a range of transportation options available, exploring Cartagena and its surrounding areas is easy and convenient, allowing you to make the most of your time in this beautiful city.


Currency and Exchange Rates

The official currency of Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP). It is recommended to familiarize yourself with the current exchange rates before your trip to get a better understanding of the value of your home currency in relation to the Colombian Peso.


When it comes to exchanging currency, it’s advisable to do so at official exchange offices or banks to ensure you receive a fair rate. These establishments are widely available throughout Cartagena, particularly in tourist areas. Avoid exchanging money on the street or through unauthorized individuals, as the rates may not be favorable and there’s a risk of counterfeit bills.


Major credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and tourist establishments in Cartagena. However, it’s always a good idea to carry some cash for smaller vendors or establishments that may not accept cards.


ATMs are also widely available throughout the city, allowing you to withdraw cash in Colombian Pesos. Keep in mind that some ATMs may charge withdrawal fees, so it’s advisable to check with your bank regarding international transaction fees before your trip.


Before traveling to Cartagena, notify your bank or credit card company about your travel plans to avoid any potential issues with accessing your funds while abroad. Also, consider carrying a mix of larger and smaller denomination bills, as some smaller establishments may have limited change.


It’s worth mentioning that tipping in Cartagena is customary. For restaurants, a 10-15% tip is generally appreciated if a service charge is not already included in the bill. Tipping taxi drivers and hotel staff is also common, with a small gratuity being appreciated for their services.


By being prepared with the local currency and understanding the exchange rates, your experience in Cartagena will be smoother and more enjoyable, allowing you to focus on exploring the vibrant city and all it has to offer.


Language and Communication

The official language of Colombia is Spanish, and the majority of the population in Cartagena speaks Spanish. While traveling in Cartagena, having a basic understanding of Spanish can be advantageous, as it will help you navigate the city and communicate with locals more effectively. However, many people in the tourist areas and hotels also speak English, so you should be able to find assistance if needed.


Here are a few useful Spanish phrases to help you during your stay in Cartagena:

  • “Hola” – Hello
  • “Gracias” – Thank you
  • “Por favor” – Please
  • “¿Dónde está…?” – Where is…?
  • “No hablo español” – I do not speak Spanish
  • “¿Cuánto cuesta?” – How much does it cost?
  • “¡Salud!” – Cheers!
  • “Perdón” – Excuse me

Having a translation app or phrasebook can also be helpful for more complex conversations or if you find yourself in a situation where English is not widely spoken.


When it comes to communication, it’s important to note that Colombians are generally warm, friendly, and hospitable. A smile and polite demeanor can go a long way in building connections and receiving assistance.


Additionally, having access to mobile data or Wi-Fi can greatly enhance your ability to stay connected and communicate while in Cartagena. Many hotels, cafes, and restaurants offer free Wi-Fi, and purchasing a local SIM card is also an option for reliable internet access on your mobile device.


By embracing the local language and culture, you’ll have a more immersive and authentic experience in Cartagena, allowing you to connect with the locals and fully appreciate the vibrant atmosphere of this beautiful city.


Safety Tips for Visitors

Like any popular tourist destination, it’s important to be aware of some safety precautions while visiting Cartagena to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.


Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Be cautious of your belongings and valuables. Keep an eye on your bags, wallets, and electronic devices, particularly in crowded areas and tourist hotspots.
  • Avoid displaying expensive jewelry or carrying large amounts of cash. Instead, opt for a money belt or concealed pouch to keep your valuables secure.
  • Use common sense when exploring the city at night. Stick to well-lit and busy areas, and consider taking a taxi instead of walking alone in less populated areas.
  • When using public transportation, be mindful of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings. Avoid taking unofficial taxis or accepting rides from strangers.
  • Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun. Cartagena’s tropical climate can be intense, so make sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and drink plenty of water.
  • Follow any safety guidelines or warnings provided by local authorities, particularly regarding swimming in the ocean or venturing into less touristy areas.
  • It is also recommended to carry a copy of your passport or a form of identification with you at all times, while storing the original document securely.
  • If you have any concerns or need assistance, don’t hesitate to contact the local authorities or your hotel for guidance.

While Cartagena is generally a safe city for visitors, it’s always important to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings. By taking these simple precautions, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience during your stay in Cartagena.


Top Attractions in Cartagena

Cartagena is a city filled with rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. Here are some of the top attractions that you should not miss during your visit:

  1. The Walled City: Explore the historic center of Cartagena, also known as the Walled City. Wander through its narrow streets, admire the colorful colonial buildings, and soak in the enchanting atmosphere of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
  2. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas: Visit this impressive fortress that stands as a symbol of Cartagena’s military past. Take a guided tour to learn about the fort’s strategic location, architectural design, and its role in defending the city against invasions.
  3. Plaza de la Trinidad: Experience the vibrant energy of Cartagena at Plaza de la Trinidad. This lively square is a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. Enjoy street performances, grab a refreshing drink, and immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere.
  4. Las Bóvedas: Explore this former dungeon turned artisan market. Located in the Old Town, Las Bóvedas is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs, handicrafts, and local artwork.
  5. Playa Blanca: Take a boat or ferry to the nearby Playa Blanca, a stunning white-sand beach. Enjoy crystal-clear waters, relax under the sun, and indulge in delicious seafood at the beachside restaurants.
  6. Cartagena Cathedral: Admire the grandeur of Cartagena’s main cathedral, located in the historic center. Marvel at its beautiful architecture and step inside to admire the ornate interior.
  7. Getsemaní Neighborhood: Explore the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemaní, known for its colorful streets, vibrant street art, and lively nightlife. Enjoy the trendy bars, restaurants, and live music venues that make this area a favorite among locals and tourists.
  8. Rosario Islands: Take a day trip to the Rosario Islands, a stunning archipelago off the coast of Cartagena. Enjoy snorkeling, diving, or simply relax on the pristine beaches and soak in the natural beauty of the islands.
  9. Cartagena Museum of Modern Art: For art enthusiasts, a visit to the Cartagena Museum of Modern Art is a must. Explore the exhibits showcasing contemporary Colombian and Latin American art, and get inspired by the creativity and talent of local artists.
  10. Convento de la Popa: Visit this historic convent located atop a hill that offers panoramic views of Cartagena. Explore the beautiful courtyard, chapel, and gardens, and learn about the history and religious significance of this iconic landmark.

These are just a few of the many attractions that Cartagena has to offer. Whether you’re fascinated by history, captivated by culture, or simply looking to relax on beautiful beaches, Cartagena will not disappoint.