Is Cartagena Safe For Tourists?

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Is Cartagena safe? While all major cities in Colombia don’t have the best reputations, Cartagena has also earned a very negative reputation for having high-crime rates, aggressive vendors, and abundant cartel activities.

The negative reputation isn’t all dumb-founded; there is undoubtedly some truth to it. But Cartagena isn’t all bad. In fact, Cartagena is a charming, culturally-rich city that offers so much fun and excitement to the average traveler.

That being said, there are still many travel advisories in place for Colombia. And recent years have also shown a slight influx in cartel activity in the city of Cartagena. An article from Colombia Reports talks in detail about the 36 gangs located in Cartagena and what this means for the coastal city.

Unfortunately, gang and cartel activity can be hard to avoid in Central and South America. In addition, millions of tourists flock to Cartagena each year, and most leave with very few (if any) problems.

So, is Cartagena safe for tourists? Well, all things considered, the dangers of Cartagena aren’t all what they used to be. Things have certainly gotten safer over the years, and Cartagena is a gem of a city with so much to offer. So, you should try to look past the raw reputation that has followed Cartagena and other Colombian cities since the Pablo Escobar days. This way, you can enjoy the wonders of this colorful coastal city truly.

I will talk more about Cartagena safety tips and offer detailed advice on how to fully enjoy this coastal city’s beauty.

You should also read my post Is Colombia Safe?

Plaza de la Trinidad Cartagena is cartagena safe
Photo by Jess Craft @shutterstock

Is Cartagena Safe?

Cartagena is located on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, about 1,061 km (659 miles) from Bogota. Cartagena is one of the most visited cities in Colombia for several reasons.

First, it is well known for having long stretches of pristine sandy beaches. Second, it is home to some of Colombia’s most unique and tasty food. Third, it has a lively and vibrant nightlife for party-goers. Lastly, the distinctive European colonial architecture adds so much color and life, giving Cartagena a unique vibe compared to other international cities.

If you find that you are concerned about Cartagena and the overall safety, and wondering “is Cartagena safe?” just take a look at some statistics. Macro Trends has monitored Colombia’s intentional homicide rates over the past 20+ years. You’ll see that Colombia has experienced a decline in crime rates almost every year since 1990.

While things have certainly started improving in Colombia and Cartagena, there are still some well-known scams and dangers to watch for during your trip to Cartagena. If you take the proper precautions and stay aware of your surroundings, you should be able to genuinely enjoy your trip.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

Is Cartagena safe

Is Cartagena Safe For Tourists? Actual Dangers And Annoyances In Cartagena

Overall, Cartagena is very safe for travelers. While there is significant crime connected to various gangs and small drug cartels, this often doesn’t affect tourists. However, travelers should be aware of the common scams and minor dangers associated with Cartagena. I will review some things to watch for in preparation for your trip to Cartagena, Colombia.

Watch for crimes of opportunity

Crimes of opportunity are the most common threat for travelers, backpackers, and tourists. A crime of opportunity is a crime committed without planning. It only happens when the perpetrator sees an excellent opportunity to receive a high reward for little risk.

These crimes most often occur in tourist hotspots, crowded places, and bustling streets with little police presence. The best way to avoid these crimes is to stay aware of your surroundings, not wear flashy jewelry or clothes, and fly under the radar.

Often these crimes aren’t violent, but occasionally you’ll hear stories of an armed robbery in Cartagena. You should try not to make yourself a target, keep your phone and wallet tucked away safely, and avoid any threatening characters you see walking the streets.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

traveling to Cartagena

Avoid aggressive street vendors

One of the largest annoyances of Cartagena is the aggressive street vendors. The main tourist hot spots are often lined with dozens of street vendors selling knick-knacks, souvenirs, beach accessories, and other little items.

Sometimes, these street vendors can get very pushy and aggressive, trying to get you to buy something.

You shouldn’t talk to a street vendor or ask for a price unless you are fully committed to buying the item. Otherwise, they might start following you until you agree upon a price. Sometimes, just stopping to look at the products will catch their attention, and they’ll begin mildly harassing you to make a purchase.

Fake police officer scams

Cartagena was once known for repeated fake police officer scams. This type of scam usually occurs with a guy dressed up as a police officer. He asks to check your money to see if it is counterfeit, and he’ll either tell you that it is counterfeit and keep it or simply walk away with it.

While reports of fake police officers have drastically declined in recent years, it is still worth watching for when exploring the beautiful city of Cartagena.

Be wary of anyone, police or not, who wants to see your money, phone, or anything else in your wallet.

Is Cartagena safe

Very high income inequality

You’ll notice in Cartagena extremely high income inequality. Cartagena has some extraordinarily luxurious homes and buildings lining the coast and stretching to the sky. Only a few blocks away, you’ll see run-down, ancient family homes with no electricity and little security.

The income inequality in Cartagena is pretty extreme, showcasing why the crime of opportunity is so prevalent in the city.

You should pick a hostel, hotel, or apartment with high security, as crime is often intertwined even in high-end neighborhoods due to the drastic income inequality. And finally, you should be respectful and aware of the income inequality and the conditions that many locals are forced to live in Colombia.

Rigged taxi meters

Some street taxis do have rigged taxi meters. Generally, these meters are set to charge you a much higher amount than the typical going rate. The cost of a short 15-minute ride could jump from 10,000 COP (2 USD) to 100,000 COP (20 USD) very easily with these rigged meters.

Fortunately, Cartagena does have Uber and other ride-share applications. You should always try to take Uber in Cartagena, as the price is set, and there will be no surprises. If you have to take a street taxi, talk with the taxi driver and establish a price quote before taking a seat.

Is Cartagena safe

Safety Tips For Visiting Cartagena

If you want to truly enjoy your trip to Cartagena, you should follow a few safety tips. These safety tips will help you feel more relaxed and comfortable and help you avoid any possibly unwarranted events.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that your trip will go as planned. But with a little bit of planning and self-awareness, things should be fine!

Make sure to also read my post 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena.

visit Cartagena

Choose the right neighborhood

The area you call “home” in Cartagena will make a big difference to your overall enjoyment and level of fun. You want to stay in the more touristy locations, so you can be close to the action and reduce your risk of violent crimes or armed robbery.

Here are some of the most popular neighborhoods in Cartagena:

  • Centro, or The Old City, inside The Walled City (the central hub for all travelers and close to everything)
  • Getsemani (only a five-minute walk from Centro, full of trendy bars and cafes)
  • San Diego, also inside The Walled City (close to the action, known as a haven for young artists)
  • Bocagrande (the high-end, expensive part of Cartagena)
  • Zona Norte (a newer, less crowded beach-front option in Cartagena)

There are several other options for neighborhoods to stay. In general, you want to avoid the southern zones of Cartagena. The fortress of San Felipe de Barajas can serve as a marker between the more impoverished neighborhoods (with higher crime rates) and the more popular hotspots.

You should also read my posts Where To Stay In Cartagena and The Best Airbnb In Cartagena.

Photo by Matyas Rehak @shutterstock

Don’t walk around after dark, especially alone

Unfortunately, walking alone at night can be dangerous in any part of Colombia. Most bad things happen in the middle of the night. You’re much more likely to become a target for petty theft or armed robbery. And being alone may make you more vulnerable in these situations.

Fortunately, Cartagena has many lively and bright areas, even at night. If you go around at night, stick to brightly lit streets and popular spots, and stay away from dark alleyways or quiet neighborhoods.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

Don’t hang out on the beach at night

Similarly, you shouldn’t walk or hang out on the beach at night. Most parts of the beach aren’t patrolled in the evenings, so you might be less protected if something happens. And if you are thinking of going on a midnight dip, think twice. The water can be rough or more unpredictable in the evening. And again, nobody may be around to help if things to go south in the water.

Best Airbnb in Cartagena

Hold tight to your drink when out at bars

The use of scopolamine (or “Devil’s Breath”) in Colombia for large-scale robberies or extortion isn’t entirely uncommon. Scopolamine is the “date-rape” drug of choice in Medellin; it isn’t as much of a problem in Cartagena.

That said, scopolamine is from Colombia and other South American countries, so it is not entirely irrelevant. You should always watch your drinks closely, don’t let anyone you don’t trust buy you a drink, and be careful who you meet in person.

Keep all your belongings safe and secure

Any time you travel anywhere, you should always keep a tight grip on your belongings, which is no different in Cartagena. Avoid pickpockets but have your belongings in a safe place (such as a body purse, money belt, or backpack). You should never put your phone or wallet in your back pocket.

Furthermore, if you plan to spend some time at the beach, never leave your belongings unattended. This is just asking for someone to walk by and grab it. When I go to the beach, I either bring absolutely nothing of value, go with some friends, or try to meet other reliable tourists on the beach to watch my stuff while I go for a dip.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.


Don’t wear valuables

You should not wear valuables of any kind, from nice Rolex watches to high-end diamond earrings to designer clothes. This point can’t be stressed enough. Unless you go out to a fancy celebration dinner or event, there’s no need to flaunt any wealth. Wearing valuables might make you a target for unwanted theft or robbery.

Keep a copy of your passport on you

When you go out for the day or night, you should never bring your passport around in case something happens. Instead, carry a color photocopy of your passport and any other important information you want.

Cartagena is Colombia safe

Is Cartagena Safe For Solo (Female) Travelers?

Cartagena is surprisingly comfortable for solo female travelers. This city has so many backpackers, tourists, and other visitors that it is very easy to meet and connect with other people. In addition, because it is known as a party hotspot in Colombia, meeting other visitors is easier than ever.

However, solo female travelers in Cartagena should still take proper precautions throughout their travels. We will review some of the most important suggestions here.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

Try to meet other travelers

If you are worried about going out alone, then you can try to meet other travelers or solo female travelers. You can meet people in your hostel/hotel, at popular touristy bars, or maybe even on the beach if you are friendly enough!

Having a small and reliable support network in Cartagena might make you feel more comfortable going out in the city.

visiting Cartagena

Join guided tours

Guided tours are a really easy way to meet other travelers and provide some security throughout your adventures. With guided tours, you can explore different areas of Cartagena that you may not have been 100% comfortable going to by yourself. And you can connect with people who have the same interests as you.

You should also read my posts The Best Day Trips From Cartagena and 22 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena.

Be careful who you meet up with

Tinder and other dating apps are incredibly popular in Cartagena. They are fun to use if you’re a solo female traveler and open to meeting locals or other single men. However, you should always be careful of who you meet up with. Cartagena is home to a lot of sketchy characters, as well. Make sure you have a great vibe, a solid line of communication, and follow your instincts when talking about meeting up with someone you’ve met online.

Share your location and plans with family members

When I travel alone, I always try to share all my trip details and locations with one of my family members. This helps me feel more at ease, as someone knows where I am almost always. And if, on the slight chance, something does happen; there’s someone from back home that knows what to do. Of course, they can’t do anything instantly as they are away, but it does provide some security.

cartagena de indias

Conclusion: Is Cartagena Safe For Tourists?

Statistically, Cartagena is not the safest city in the world, but nor is it the most dangerous place in the world. It has seen a rise in crime and robberies over the last few years, mainly due to the economic problems brought forth by the pandemic restrictions. And there is a slight rise in crime in more tourist areas, which was never a major concern.

But most people who visit Cartagena have no problems regarding crime, violence, or robberies. As long as you follow these simple travel precautions, you should be fine.

In some sense, Cartagena is really just like any other touristic beach destination. You should always be aware of your surroundings, don’t leave your belongings on the beach, and be careful where you go alone. But you can still have the time of your life in Cartagena if you just give it a chance.

I recommend getting a good travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Check out my recommended travel insurance here.

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Is Cartagena safe? Read this post for safety tips when visiting Cartagena - via @clautavani

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