Advice on Cartagena, Columbia
January 1, 2009 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone visited this Cartagena, Columbia, and can you offer any up-to-date advice regarding safety and the best places to visit on a one day cruise stop?

My wife, daugter and I have been invited to join our family on a cruise that stops in Cartagena, Columbia for a day. (Cruises are not my normal mode of travel)

We're very excited about seeing the city, but keep hearing security concerns about Columbia. Has anyone visited this Cartagena, Columbia, and can you offer any advice regarding safety and the best places to visit on a one day cruise stop?
posted by pianoboy to Travel & Transportation around Cartagena, Colombia (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not really any first hand advice, but I did see an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show when he went down there. He said it's safe, all the bad stuff is gone now, as did everyone on the show. Take it with a grain of salt though, and definitely listen to whatever your travel director says.
posted by sanka at 8:10 PM on January 1, 2009

Best answer: Well, Cartagena is a world cultural heritage site. It is pretty but IMHO kind of highly overrated. Can also be pricy in the touristic areas for Colombia. The city IS worth a day visit. If you stay longer: They have excellent and cheap scuba diving.

Safety? I have traveled in Colombia and felt saver most of the time than in Rio de Janeiro. This advice holds true for every city:

* Keep common sense
* don't carry expensive equipment with you (ipod, cellular, camera etc.)
* if possible try not to get spotted as a foreigner or a tourist. Special advice for Americans: don't be loud!
* don't wear a watch, a necklace or earings.
* if you ever get robbed, don't show fear but also handle the things over that are requested. Don't fight back! You may loose you live instead of your money. Forget martial arts or any other shit. Just handle over your money!
* If you engage in activities involving politics, prostitution or drugs you tremendously will increase your risk

The biggest risk in Colombia is actually to get kidnapped. In Cartagena this risk should be very low.

I traveled all over the world. Asia, South America, North Africa. The only place were I got robbed with a knife was when I was drunk and not careful. It was in New York City.

PS: Don't tell anyone what an incredible place Colombia is.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:27 PM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was in Cartagena back in 2005 for a family wedding. I'll echo the previous comments about safety. I never once felt uncomfortable out walking alone. Honestly, I was less worried about becoming a crime victim than I was annoyed about the constant pestering by street vendors and beggars. One trailed behind me for at least half an hour before I finally relented and purchased a guayabera from him.

- Castillo de San Felipe
- Convento de la Popa

We took a half-day trip to Isla Paraiso Secreto.

Places to eat that I loved:
La Vitrola
Crêpes & Waffles - Your daughter might especially enjoy this place. Great ice cream.

Pro Tip:
Aguardiente Cristal is for sipping over ice, not for knocking back in shot glasses. I learned that the hard way.

Have fun!
posted by emelenjr at 6:13 AM on January 2, 2009

Here is a relatively recent travel piece about Cartagena that got me thinking about it--check out the sidebar Guide to Cartagena, too, for food and to-do ideas.
posted by eve harrington at 8:58 AM on January 2, 2009

I'm not sure of your travel schedule, but I'll add something about the climate there. It's hotter than you might be prepared for. I was there in July, and the temperature generally stayed in the high 80s to low 90s during the day, not a cloud in the sky the whole time. It took a day or two to get accustomed to sweating constantly. Nights were milder, but by no means chilly.

Make sure any taxis you take are official taxis and not merely "taxis".

Many of the Colombians I met were eager to try their English skills. As with any foreign country, the locals will appreciate your efforts to converse in their language (if you can) but you will likely find many Colombians who speak English.

Say hello to Gabriel Garcia Marquez while you're there!
posted by emelenjr at 9:19 AM on January 2, 2009

I was there last January and felt safe, especially within the old city. As mentioned above, the most annoying aspect of the trip will be hawkers trying to sell things to you. Watching a tour group straight off the boat be hassled by throngs of street vendors was reminiscent of watching sharks in a feeding frenzy.

I second Crepes and Waffles and recommend a simple, leisurely stroll through the old city.

Also, from last May in the NY Times, 36 Hours in Cartagena.
posted by Dalton at 5:18 PM on January 3, 2009

I was in Cartagena, Cololmbia in late 2007 for a few days, and I agree that it is overrated, especially by the locals in the other cities. Its very hot, very humid which I found quite draining, and also I was accosted there by locals looking to sell things more than Bogota or Manizales (my other two stops in Colombia).

The old town in Cartagena is very pretty, and worth checking out. Its a pity you don't have more time in the rest of Colombia as its an amazing place.

I felt very safe in all the places I visited in Colombia, from what I heard its fine except for the jungles where the rebels are. The locals can be a little sensitive to the fact the rest of the world thinks Colombia is a dangerous place to visit, and that everyone associates them with kidnapping and drugs.

I found the Colombians to be very patriotic and proud of their country - in Parque Nacional del Café there is a performance of how the coffee bean has affected the country, prior to that there was some music played, and every person in the audience sang along to
Que bonita es esta Vida - a song basically about how beautiful life is in Colombia. I found everyone very happy to see tourists from other countries, though this might not be so evident in Cartagena where they see many.
posted by Admira at 2:18 PM on January 4, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. We had a beautiful day in Cartagena. If you end up visiting as we did, just as a port stop, hire one of the licensed taxi drivers in the blue 'taxi' shirts (NOT the tour operators trying to cram you into a minibus). We hired a fellow for $80 for the day, and he was kind, friendly and charming with our daughter.

The city is as safe as any other tourist destination you would visit in Central/South America, to my thinking. The old city is truly incredible, an amazing relic of the Spanish colonial empire. We had a beautiful, elegant lunch at the Sofitel Hotel in the Old City. Yes, there are a lot of hawkers, but I can't blame a person for trying to make a living. We bought a couple of sodas and some sunglasses from them.

I was mostly impressed with how kind and welcoming Columbians are. We hung out for a little while with our driver in the Plaza Bolivar where he introduced us to some of his friends. As Admira posted above, these are people that are very proud of their country and want to share it with others.
posted by pianoboy at 11:58 AM on February 24, 2009

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