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Cartagena Colombia Cruise Travel Tips

Cartagena town center
Cartagena's town center is known for historic buildings.
Cartagena in Colombia on the South American coast is not a common Caribbean cruise destination, but it is moving in that direction.

This United Nations World Heritage site was founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533. It is known for colonial architecture, 400-year-old houses and the most complete set of fortifications in South America, according to the Colombia tourism ministry.

Cartagena is growing as a Caribbean cruise destination, especially from lines such as Holland America. They combine combine it with visits to southern and western Caribbean ports such as Aruba, Panama and Costa Rica.

One common Cartagena travel tip relates to the safety and security of people visiting there. Colombia developed a reputation for violence linked to drug trafficking, but as the U.S. State Department notes in a travel warning about the country:

“Security in Colombia has improved significantly in recent years, including in tourist and business travel destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Barranquilla, Medellín, and Cali. However, violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural and urban areas.”


Cartagena, also called “The Walled City”, is known for having nearly seven miles of walls built by the Spanish around the historic center to protect it from pirates and other attackers.

The center is filled with cobblestone streets, historic churches and other buildings, and especially Fort San Felipe built by the Spanish in 1533. It dominates the town and approaches to it from water and land in its strategic location on the Hill of San Lázaro. Visitors can explore the battlements and underground passages.

But La Papa is actually Cartagena’s highest point. Visitors can explore the colonial convent of Nuestra Señora de La Candelaria and experience views of the Caribbean, the island of Tierra Bomba, the city walls and the fishing village at La Boquilla.

The historic center of Cartagena is small enough for visitors to walk through it. Anyone who wants to go to La Papa or elsewhere needs to use an organized tour.


Visitors will find numerous beaches outside of the city. They include Bocagrande, El Laguito, Marbella, Crespo, La Boquilla, and Manzanillo del Mar, along with Tierrabomba, Bocachica, Barú, and the Rosario Islands. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent.


Cartagena has a dry season with little to no rain. The dry season runs from December through April. Average high temperatures range from the mid to upper 80s Fahrenheit or about 30 degrees Celsius.

Average rainfall jumps to about five inches in May near the beginning of the Caribbean hurricane season and hits a high point of nine inches in October, according to historical data from the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environment Studies.

Temperatures remain in the upper 80s Fahrenheit or 30 Celsius during the rainy season. Nighttime lows remain nearly constant as well at about 77 Fahrenheit or 25 Celsius.

Tips / Currency

Tipping is usually not expected in Cartagena. Restaurants may automatically add 10 percent to bills or ask permission to do so.

The peso is the Colombian currency. It is available in bills of $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 and $50,000 and coins of $50 $100, $200, $500 and $1,000.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Cruise Tips   Travel Tips   Columbia   

March 23, 2016

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