No doubt that Cartagena is the top-notch destination in Colombia (and one of the responsible for making the country one of the top destinations for travelers to visit). However, despite its beauty that speaks for itself, it is still common to see people wondering about how safe the city really is.
And we are aware that the country has had a bad reputation in the past, due to the complex background marked by armed conflict, drug cartels and violence. But good news! Colombia has made a huge effort to transform this sad chapter of its history into an opportunity to show the real treasure that has been hidden away. Of course, as in any other place around the globe, there are things you’d like keeping in mind when visiting Cartagena but that should never be a stopper for you to come.
Here, we’ll explain why you can feel safe and what recommendations to follow to tour it around with no worries.
Cut to the chase! Is Cartagena safe?
The answer is, frankly yes (and we are not telling this just to convince you to come. It actually is.).
Due to the increase in tourism in the city, security has been taken more seriously and measures have been put in place so that all visitors can do so with peace of mind. That is why it is common to find a strong police presence mainly in tourist areas. This is not to say that crime does not exist in Cartagena. Let’s remember that, despite its historical and cultural richness, the city (as well as many others in developing countries) faces a complex reality of inequality, which generates security problems, especially in local areas that tourists do not visit.
On contrast, the areas most sought after by travelers, fortunately, are protected or guarded not only by the authorities but also by the community, which works together to offer visitors a pleasant experience. Around these places you have endless activities to do and things to try and explore on your own or with hired tours.
Now, what to keep in mind and how to travel safely in Cartagena?
General recommendations for your safety
It sounds obvious, but try to visit only the touristy areas
We know that sometimes you may prefer to venture out to have more “authentic” experiences and get to know the underground, alternative or local places where tourists do not usually show up and see the “real” corners of the city. And although risk is part of the adventure, in this case we advise you not to go to non-touristy areas.
Tourist places are touristy for a reason and they are worth knowing. Cartagena has managed to become the tourist capital of the country with the effort of its entire community, which means that, even in the most touristy areas, you will find real people, friendly Colombians who are willing to tell you all about their city.
And regarding the beaches, always beware of them. It is true that these are safer places, but thieves seek to take advantage of distracted people who neglect their belongings to rest a little at the beach or the sea. So always take care of your personal belongings.
These are some touristy neighborhoods (and therefore, safe)
- The Walled City and the old town: as it is the historical place par excellence, it is constantly crowded with visitors. Thus, in order to provide a safe environment, police presence is common in here. It is in this area where you can take city tours to visit the wall and important historical buildings.
- Getsemani: a bohemian vibes neighborhood, because of the music and art that abound in its streets. It is also a place that is alive all day and an attractive spot for nightlife. However, at night, it is better to be more cautious. One of its best plans to do during the day is the graffiti tour.
- San Diego: it is a neighborhood with a more youthful and student vibe that is nice. However, it is not so touristy, so it is recommended to visit it during the day.
- Bocagrande: This is a little more residential and for national tourism area. You will find fine stores and restaurants. As these neighborhoods are closer to the beach, they tend to be safer.
Likewise, keep in mind which areas not to visit
As we have told you, Cartagena is a tourist-friendly city and has many things for you to enjoy. However, as in any place, there are areas and neighborhoods that we recommend you not to visit, as they are not safe for outsiders and those who are not locals or neighbors of the area. Therefore, avoid going to:
- La Magdalena Sector
- La Maria
- El Paraiso
- Olaya and El Pozon
Finally, some tips for your trip to Cartagena (and for your travels, in general)
It never hurts being extra safe. Try to follow these advice wherever you go in Cartagena, Colombia or any other place.
- Always be aware of your belongings but also your surroundings.
- Don’t make yourself an easy target. Although it is mostly easy to identify a foreigner, try not to brag about material things you own in crowded places.
- Your valuables are better at home. Or in safe box or place where you are staying. There is no need for you to carry with all your stuff, go outside light. But if you can’t leave you valuables where you’re staying, try to carry them somewhere away from the sight of others (and that works for money and cash too).
- Ask locals you trust about where to and not to go and extra tips. Ask to the hotel’s/hostel’s clerk, the tour guide, the manager at the restaurant you liked about the areas you will visit. Firsthand local advice is always better. And you practice your Spanish at the same time, a win-win!