CARTAGENA COLOMBIA, TIPS BEFORE YOU GO!
Cartagena is a city that is located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, in the northwestern part of the South American continent. If you are wondering where is Cartagena in Colombia, it is located in the north of the country and is the capital of the Bolívar region. The city has several archipelagos and islands around that are paradises for true rest. Among these are Tierra Bomba Island, Múcura Islan, and Barú Island, among others.
Cartagena de Indias is known, brings together the charm of colonial architecture, the excitement of a vivid night life, fascinating cultural festivals, and lush landscapes, to bring you the perfect vacation experience. The city’s beaches beckon, inviting you to unwind and enjoy yourself in the refreshing breeze and warm waters of the sea.
But that’s not all Cartagena has to offer— the city also has excellent cuisine and a thriving hotel and tourist infrastructure.
This fabulous destination holds the secrets of history within its walled city, on its balconies, and in the narrow stone walkways that inspired author Gabriel García Márquez, who was received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982.
Framed by its stunning bay, Cartagena de Indias is one of the most beautiful, well-preserved cities in the Americas; a treasure that is currently one of the most heavily frequented tourist destinations in Colombia.
The legal drinking age in Colombia is 18, though laws are lenient. In urban areas such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, and Cali, you may be asked to show ID to get into upscale bars and clubs. There are no laws against drinking in public, so if you are low on funds, feel free to open up a bottle of aguardiente in the nearby park or plaza.
You’re never far from a cybercafe in Bogotá and other major urban centers. Small towns will also generally have at least one Internet cafe. In rural areas, Internet access is hard to come by. Connections are generally fast and cheap. Expect to pay about COL$1,500 to COL$2,500 per hour.
Where do I fly into?
Rafael Núñez International Airport
Dirección: Crespo Calle 70, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
The Rafael Núñez Cartagena airport is a relatively small airport with some restaurants and cafés. In addition, it has a small shopping area with a number of shops.
Note there aren’t jetways for the flights to Rafael Núñez airport. So, flights park and you have to walk to and from the terminal with some covered walkways. You’ll immediately notice the heat in Cartagena during this walk from the plane.
Covered walkway at the Cartagena airport to/from flights without gates
Inside the airport are two currency exchange places and several ATM machines. Also, there are two car rental companies at the airport: Avis and Budget. In addition, the airport is open 24 hours.
Outside the terminal of Rafael Núñez airport there are parking lots with spaces for over cars and motorcycles. And the terminal parking rate is currently 33,000 pesos per day for cars and 32,500 pesos per day for motorcycles.
4 airport tips for foreigners.
- Plan to arrive early for your departing flight. I like to play it safe, so I always plan to be at the Cartagena airport three hours before international flights and 1.5 hours before domestic flights. Probably you don’t need this much time at the airport to check-in and go through security and immigration for international flights. But you never know when you might have problems getting to the airport.
- There will almost always be taxis at the airport. I have never encountered a problem in finding a taxi at the airport even late at night. And I never have experienced a problem with a taxi.
- Don’t use the money exchanges at the airport. The ATM machines at the airport will offer a better exchange rate. Especially relevant, make sure to inform your bank you will be in Colombia to ensure your ATM card will work.
- Foreign tourists can get a refund of Colombia’s value-added tax (VAT) known as the IVA tax that is 19% at the DIAN office at the airport. In the Cartagena airport, just ask where the DIAN office is. We provide details about how to get the IVA tax refund here.
Average temperatures in Cartagena vary barely at all. Considering humidity, temperatures feel hot all year with a fair chance of precipitation about half of the year. The area is less temperate than some — in the 16th percentile for pleasant weather — compared to tourist destinations worldwide. If you’re looking for the very warmest time to visit Cartagena, the hottest months are June, September, and then July. See average monthly temperatures below. The warmest time of year is generally early June where highs are regularly around 91.4°F (33°C) with temperatures rarely dropping below 79.5°F (26.4°C) at night.
PASSPORT VALIDITY: Must be valid at the time of entry.
One page required for an entry stamp.
Not required for stays 90 days or less.
Yellow fever vaccine, documented on the WHO International Certificate of Vaccination, is required for travelers coming from Brazil, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. The vaccine must have been administered at least 10 days before arrival in Colombia.
10,000 USD maximum.
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:
10,000 USD maximum.
All U.S. citizens who do not also hold Colombian citizenship must present a valid U.S. passport to enter and leave Colombia. U.S. citizens do not need a Colombian visa for a tourist or business stay of 90 days or less. Before the visa expires, you may request an extension of up to 90 days from the Colombian immigration authority (Migración Colombia). You will face a fine if you remain in Colombia longer than allowed, and you will not be able to leave Colombia until the fine is paid. Any traveler possessing a Colombian visa with more than three months’ validity must register the visa at a Migración Colombia office or online within 15 days of arrival in Colombia or face fines. You may be denied entry to Colombia if you do not have a return ticket. Visit the Embassy of Colombia website for the most current visa information.
U.S. citizens traveling overland must enter Colombia at an official border crossing. If you don’t, you may be fined or receive a jail sentence. We strongly advise you against entering Colombia overland. Colombia’s border areas are off-limits to U.S. government personnel unless specific authorization is granted.
Lost or Stolen Passport: If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen in Colombia, you must obtain a new one before leaving the country. You can report the loss or theft on the Colombian National Police website.
Passport and Visa Information
There are over 90 countries, whose citizens can enter Colombia without a visa and receive a “tourist visa” stamp. The countries include Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States plus over 80 more countries.
If you are a tourist from Canada, you used to have to pay a reciprocity fee of 201,000 pesos – but were exempt from the fee if older than 79 or younger than 14. However this reciprocity fee was eliminated on May 1, 2019.
When you enter Colombia as a tourist, an immigration official will stamp your passport and normally write that it is good for 90 days. However, this is at the discretion of the official and occasionally may be shorter. And this tourist stamp can be extended pretty easily to a total 180 days.
Health and Safety
As a traveler, it’s important to understand the safety risk involved with the destination you are venturing to before making set plans. To do this, I always look at the U.S. Department of State website. When the country reaches a Level 4, the United States highly suggests Americans do not travel there. As of 2018, Colombia ranks at a Level 2 warranting travelers to exercise increased caution. There are some areas in which the government has encouraged American’s do not travel to which is outlined under the ‘Travel Advisory’ by clicking READ MORE.
As a traveler, you should familiarize yourself with what to do in case of an emergency because, while Whitney and I felt completely safe, no one can guarantee your experience will be the same. Please be aware of the following information in case of an emergency:
- Report crimes to the local police at 123 and contact the U.S. Embassy at +57 (1) 275-2000 or +57(1)275-4021 after hours. Remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Call us in Washington at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
- You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
In Colombia, you will be using the Colombian peso. Generally speaking, Colombia is very affordable for most Americans! One thousand [$1,000] Colombian peso equates to $0.323 American dollars – oh heyyyyy 3-to-1 exchange rate! This is just one of many reasons to love your trip to Cartagena. I will say, though, you may feel like you’re spending a lot of money at first because their bills are in the thousands and tens of thousands. And, on some of their bills, you’ll see that it says 10 Mil Pesos or 50 Mil Pesos. It’s important to note that the ‘mil’ does not stand for ‘million’ so don’t let that confuse you. It means 10,000 pesos [$3.20 USD] or 50,000 pesos [$16 USD]. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either but that’s why I felt it necessary to point out! Most restaurants accept credit cards but street vendors and taxi’s are cash only. Only use ATM’s located in bank’s, the airport or your hotel.
Taxes — There is a 10% tax on hotel rooms, and a 16% tax on food.
Safety — Colombia is still far from being among the safest countries in the world. Much of the rural countryside is still tightly controlled by armed groups and is thus inaccessible to tourists. Travelers are advised to stick to well-touristed areas and keep up-to-date with the ever-changing political situation to avoid problems. But if you take adequate precautions, you’re more likely to have a run-in with common street thieves than with guerilla or paramilitary factions.
Doctors & Hospitals — Some of the best hospitals in Bogotá are Clínica Marly, Calle 50, no. 9-67 (tel. 1/570-4424, 1/572-5011, or 1/343-6600); Fundación Santa Fe, Calle 119, no. 9-02 (tel. 1/629-0766 or 629-0477); and Clínica El Bosque, Calle 134, no. 12-55 (tel. 1/274-0577, 1/274-5445, or 1/649-9300).
Embassies & Consulates — In Bogotá: Australia (consulate): Carrera 18 no. 90-38 (tel. 1/636-5247 or 1/530-1047); New Zealand (consulate): Diagonal 109 no. 1-39 Este, Apt. 401 (tel. 1/629-8524; firstname.lastname@example.org); United Kingdom: Carrera 9 no. 76-49, Piso 9 (tel. 1/326-8300 or 1/317-6423 for visa information); United States: Calle 22, Bis. 47-51 (tel. 1/315-0811); Canada: Carrera 7 no. 115-33, Piso 14 (tel. 1/657-9800).
Post Offices & Mail — The postal system in Colombia is relatively efficient in large cities, though the same can’t be said for rural areas. Servientrega, DHL, FedEx, and DePrisa are available in Colombia for local and international shipping services, as is Avianca Airlines. While mail within Colombia is cheap, sending items abroad is extremely expensive.
Cartagena has a tropical climate with average highs around 90 degrees F (32 C) and lows around 78 F (26 C). It is often humid. So you will want to pack warm weather clothes.
The rainy season runs from October to December. There are also occasional quick, heavy showers in April and May and short thunderstorms are common in June-August.
When it rains it can get cool in the evening if there’s also a strong breeze. A light jacket or fleece therefore might also be a good thing to pack for Cartagena. If you plan to travel elsewhere in Colombia, Bogotá is quite chilly and parts of the interior, especially the coffee region can also get chilly in the evening, so you will definitely want a good jacket.
Women’s Shoes for Cartagena
You will definitely want something you are comfortable walking in, something you can wear to the beach, and something that you can go out dancing in. I’d recommend bringing a good pair of sandals/flip flips, a pair of sneakers or comfortable flats for walking, and a nicer pair of something you can wear out. It’s your call if you want to pack heels or not.
Nudity: It is not allowed.
Electric outlets accept U.S.-type plugs. Electricity in Colombia runs at 110 volts, so transformers are not necessary for tourists from the U.S. If you are planning to use anything with a three-prong plug, bring an adapter, as some establishments only have two-prong outlets.
Every culture is different, so here’s what I learned about tipping in Cartagena – and Colombia, in general. If you are Colombian, and want to weigh in, please do! I’m certainly not an expert but this was what I was told:
- Taxi’s – No tip!
- Restaurant Servers – There will typically be a 10% voluntary tip automatically included on your bill [called the ‘propina voluntaria‘]. You are not required to pay it but everyone does and it goes into a pot to split between the servers at the end of the night. You can, of course, leave a little more if you feel so inclined but it’s not expected.
- Tour Guides – Tipping a guide is customary but the amount is completely up to you!
- Airport Baggage Handlers – Tip, but can be a very small tip around 500 Colombian pesos, which is essentially 17 cents. The trouble is, most people aren’t going to have change readily available. We asked ours to show us where the nearest ATM was so we could get money and tipped him 10,000 Colombian pesos, which is around $3.
- Hotel Porters, Maids & Concierge – Tip anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 Colombian pesos [$0.60 – $1.62 American dollars] and, with porters, you tip per event, not per bag!
City water is usually safe to drink, but in nonurban areas it’s best to stick to bottled water.
Language & Time
People in Cartagena speak Spanish and the city has only just recently seen a strong interest from U.S. travelers, specifically. With that said, there are not a lot of locals who speak English. There are many popular restaurants’ who have adapted their menu’s to be both Spanish and English but, it would be very wise to brush up on key phrases and words while also keeping your Google Translate app handy. One phrase I’d recommend in particular is “Lo siento. No hablo mucho español.” ** If you speak Spanish, please let me know if there is a more appropriate way to say this as I am certainly not the best with foreign languages, but I try my best, which always seems to be appreciated. **
All of Colombia is 5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Colombia does not observe daylight saving time.
If you’re staying in the Old City, which included Getsemani, you will have no problem getting from place to place by foot. It’s very walkable, which I love. However, if you need a ride somewhere, taxi’s are plentiful around the city but I would be careful hopping in one right off the street. Your hotel can call one for you if you know ahead of time you’ll need a taxi. They will know it’s a legit taxi, will be able to communicate where you’re trying to go, etc. We only used taxi’s three times and felt like the prices were very fair [to the airport, we paid $20,000 COP = $6.50 USD] but, make sure you negotiate price ahead of time and bring cash. They are cash only so be sure to get cash out at the airport. Uber is also available, if needed.
What to Pack for Cartagena
- Plug and Power Adapter (if you’re coming from outside the Americas)
- Sunscreen (lots of sunscreens!)
- A Good Pair of Shades
- Bug Spray
- Travel Toilet Tissues
- Traveler’s Stomach Remedy
Things to carry on with you:
- A copy of your passport and driver’s license.
- Money If you are going to make a purchase or go out to dinner, take more and take a credit card as well. Use the card only if you don’t have enough cash.
- Your emergency telephone list of phone numbers from back home.
- A business card showing the phone and address of your hotel.
- Credit cards only if you plan to go to the bank.