EVERYTHING THE TRAVELER NEEDS TO KNOW TO GET AROUND THE COLORFUL CARIBBEAN
CITY OF CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA.
So you are thinking of spending some time in Cartagena (or Cartagena de Indias if we are being specific)? Great! This Caribbean coastal city is an awesome place to base yourself if you are looking to combine both work and adventure - especially of the water variety.
But you might be wondering how to actually get around the colorful city. Well, luckily because of how close knit the city is, you can usually get around and see a lot of the top sites easily by using either the public bus, renting a motorcycle, or (more often than not) simply by using your own two feet.
THE TOP WAYS TO GET AROUND CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
This is by far the easiest way to get around the city, especially if you are planning to only stay in the areas near the Old City (Getsemani, Manga, Boca Grande). Plus, the city feels very safe (even as a solo female - I walked around in the early morning alone numerous times and never felt nervous or in danger).
If you want to explore the city and be able to do it at your own pace definitely plan on walking. Plus, then you also get some exercise - which is great after eating all of the fried street food (got to love those arepas).
Some of the best places to walk to and around are: the Old City (Walled City), the Getsemani neighborhood (great cafes and restaurants, plus awesome street art), the beaches in Boca Grande, the quiet El Cabrero area and Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the giant fort just outside of the Old City.
The only place we would maybe suggest not walking to, so either taking the bus (see below) or a taxi, is to the Bazurto Market (it is kind of far away), and La Popa, mainly because the last two kilometers are dangerous (or so we were told).
Cartagena is one of the first South American cities we have been to that really has a strong road biking culture. From our apartment along the beach, we saw dozens of bicyclists every morning, usually in a team/pack with cars following them on the busier roads.
But even if you are not a major road cyclist, renting a bicycle for your time in the city is still not a bad idea. Because of the strong bike culture, most cars definitely give bicyclists the right of way - even on the major highways. And because the main points of the city are so close together it is easy to bike between them.
If you are looking to rent a bicycle, either for a day or for the whole time you are in Cartagena, we suggest first checking out the Old City (where there are numerous bike rental shops) or asking around at hostels and hotels. Check out this article for some specific rental shops.
Most bicycles cost between 5000 and 20000 COP per hour ($1.50 to $7.00 USD // €1.33 to 6.20 Euros) to rent. Though we would guess that if you are looking to rent longer than one day, you can likely find a more discounted rate.
If we had it our way we would probably have a motorcycle or moped with us every place we went. The freedom that comes with having your own set of wheels is pretty unbeatable and unquantifiable. And a motorcycle just increases that freedom tenfold, for there is nothing as liberating as riding a motorcycle in nature as the fresh air blows in your face.
In Cartagena, one of the most common ways locals get around is by motorbike, either on their own personal moto, or on a mototaxi (see below). Because of this, it is way less scary riding a motorcycle around the city since most people are doing it and cars, buses and big trucks know to look out for you.
If you are planning to spend a decent amount of time in Cartagena, we definitely recommend looking into renting a motorcycle - especially if you are hoping to explore the beaches around the city (Baru most notably).
The only challenge is finding a place to actually rent a motorcycle (we found this to be much harder than we would have thought). One good spot is Adrenaline Addicts, which rents motorcycles of all types, especially more adventure-focused models (they also offer discounts for longer rental periods). The only problem? They are located in Santa Marta, which sits ~4 hours away (but there are buses…).
Inside Cartagena, a great spot to check out is Bike and Dive Hostel, where they rent motorcycles for 24 hours (or more) as well as do scuba diving trips and tours to nearby spots like Baru and the Rosario Islands. Learn more about renting a motorcycle in Cartagena here.
Renting a motorcycle from Bike and Dive Hostel will cost between $30 - $50 USD (€26.50 - €44.30 Euros) for 24 hours.
They also offer to have a tour guide accompany you - in case you don't really know where to go - for $26 USD (€23 Euros) a day.
If you are looking to head to destinations farther away from the Old City then we recommend looking into using the local bus system. Now there are a couple of things to know about taking the bus. For instance, the easiest buses to take are the big orange and white ones that say TransCaribe on the side. These are part of the new bus fleet that the city has slowly been trying to implement.
The other buses you see (all differently colored and differently named) are the local buses, also known as minibuses. These fleets often don’t actually have a set route, instead, they head through specific neighborhoods and areas - often notated by the name on the bus or by the yelling sparrer (person at the door) and passengers must then request a stop along the way.
Because as a traveler it might be harder to figure out what neighborhood is which, it becomes much harder to use the minibuses compared to the TransCaribe line.
The TransCaribe Buses
COST: 2600 COP ($0.70 USD // €0.62 Euros) per person/per way. So if two people head to the main bus terminal from the Old City and then back to the Old City it will be ~ 10400 COP ($2.70 USD // €2.40 Euros) total for the round-trip.
💬 INSIDER TIP: you also will likely need to purchase a little plastic card to use to enter the actual bus stations. It costs 4000 COP ($1.20 // €1 Euro) for one card, but it is good for the whole time (you re-up it) and can be used for multiple people.
📌MAIN DESTINATIONS: the Cartagena bus terminal (where you get all the buses heading out of the city), La Popa, Bazurto Market, and Bocagrande. The best station to get on the bus from the Old City is the Centro Station, which is located close to the Exito Manuno and the Centro Comercial Mall. Find the exact location here.
While the buses are quite popular with the locals, another common way to get around Cartagena is by either taxi (the yellow cars) or mototaxis.
A couple of things to know about taxis in Cartagena are that when you are looking to hail a taxi only go for the yellow ones with the license plate number on the front, back, and sides for these are actually licensed or authorized taxis. They will also have a tag that says "public service." A second thing to know is that you should always agree on a price before getting in, for the taxis do not have meters and it is much easier to be scammed or ripped off if you don’t agree on a fair price beforehand.
Besides the yellow taxi cars, there is also the option to take a mototaxi. Now, this is definitely not for everyone. The idea of getting on the back of a random person’s motorcycle and riding through the busy city can be a bit off-putting. I know that when we took it from La Popa we were both a bit nervous (I know I was especially nervous as a female).
But if you are up for the adventure and have no problems riding a motorcycle, then this could be a great option to get around the city quickly. Again just make sure to agree on a price beforehand as it can get awkward once you arrive at your destination and they are charging you waaay too much.
JUST TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA ON WHAT WE PAID
For a ride up to the top of La Popa, back down and then over to the El Cabrero area (just outside of the Old City) we paid 50000 COP (~$13 USD // €11.50 Euros) total. We aren’t sure if that is a totally fair price or if we got ripped off, but after doing a bit of research it looked like a ride up to the top of La Popa and then back down does usually cost between 30000 and 50000 COP.
Below is a rough estimate on what you should pay to take a taxi (car) around Cartagena.
Old City/Getsemani → Bocagrande, Laguito, Castillo Grande (7000-10000 COP // ~ $2.13 USD // €1.90 Euros)
Old City/Getsemani → El Cabrero, Marbella, Crespo, Manga, La Popa (7000-8000 COP // $1.88 USD // €1.65 Euros)
Bocagrande, El Laguito, Castillo Grande → El Cabrero, Marbella, Crespo, Manga, La Popa (10000-12000 COP // $2.76 USD // €2.44 Euros)
Old City/Getsemani → North Zone (Boquillas area) (15000-25000 COP // $5 USD // €4.43 Euros)
Cartagena → Playa Banca and the Baru area (75000-100000 COP // $21.34 USD // €18.90 Euros); but you should negotiate the price to have the driver/taxi stay for the day as it can be tough to find one to get back to Cartagena out there.
Taxi To & From the Cartagena Airport
One of the easiest ways to get to and from the airport in Cartagena is to take a taxi. Luckily, they have made it really easy to know what to pay depending on where you are heading by installing a kiosk machine that prints out a receipt and set price depending on your final destination.
INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC ARRIVALS
The ticket kiosk is located right as you leave the baggage claim area in the airport (once past the money exchange booths). The kiosk is brightly colored and super easy to use. Really you just need to know the general area of your hotel, hostel or Airbnb. Once you fill out all of the information you get a printed receipt, which you then show to one of the (many) waiting taxi drivers.
Some common destinations and prices from the airport:
| Historic center (and outskirts), Getsemani, Marbella and El Cabrero area → 11,500 COP // $2.90 USD // €2.60 Euros
| Inside the historic center (Walled City) → 13,900 COP // $3.50 USD // €3.10 Euros
| Bocagrande, El Laguito, Castillo Grande → 19,700 COP // $5 USD // €4.45 Euros
| Manga, La Popa → 16,300 COP // $4 USD // €3.55 Euros
The ride-hailing giant has caused quite a bit of controversy in the city of Cartagena (and Colombia in general), mainly because it is heavily opposed by taxi drivers and taxi driver unions. For a while, the country actually banned Uber and only recently (early 2020) there was a change in legislation that allowed the use of ride-hailing apps to continue in the country. You can read more on the issue here.
While Uber does have its perks (you know the price upfront, you can see the driver’s information before getting in the car) there is something to be said about a major American company coming in effecting the local transportation sector. We don’t want to get into any political or economical beliefs and views on this. We just thought it would be useful to know that while Uber does now exist in Cartagena it does come with some baggage.
\\ Type of Transportation to Not Use? Horse-drawn Carriages
If there is one thing that gets us riled up, it is the bad treatment of animals, especially if it comes at the expense of human enjoyment.
Upon arriving in Cartagena’s Old City, you will quickly hear the sound of horses hooves clomping away on the stone pavement. For some reason, the idea of riding a horse-drawn carriage through the busy streets is seen as a fun, nostalgic past time for travelers and tourists. But while it may look fun, in truth, horse-drawn carriages are incredibly tough for the animals actually doing it.
Not only do the horses have to carry extremely heavy loads day in and day out, but they also have to deal with noise pollution, city pollution (would you want to breathe in car exhaust all day?), aggressive vehicles, and of course, pounding that unforgiving pavement.
While horse-drawn carriages might seem like a good idea, we beg you to reconsider for your half-hour of enjoyment is just another torture session for the horse. Instead, walk around the Old City or rent bicycles.
Learn more about the damage to horses from horse-drawn carriages here.
How to Get Around Colombia
If you are looking to head away from Cartagena, either to other Colombian cities (like these ones) or to other countries, then you will either need to head to the main bus terminal - Terminal de Transportes de Cartagena - or to the airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Rafael Nunez).
\\ Cartagena's Main Bus Terminal (Terminal de Transportes)
To reach the main bus station you can either grab a taxi or take the TransCaribe bus (route X104). To pick up the bus, head to the Centro Station and then ride it all the way until the end, this should take around 35 minutes. Riding the public bus is super easy and very straightforward.
COST: 2600 COP ($0.65 USD // 0.57 Euros) per person, per way on the bus OR 26000 COP ($6.53 USD // 5.70 Euros) if you choose to take a taxi instead
Bus travel is super popular in Colombia so it is pretty easy to get a bus from Cartagena and go practically anywhere within Colombia and even outside of the country (especially to places like Ecuador and Peru). Just know that the country is very large (almost deceivingly so), so expect long 15+ hour bus rides to most places within the country.
To get a better idea on what a bus ticket from Cartagena to other places with Colombia will cost check out Busbud.
\\ The Cartagena Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Rafael Nunez)
The Cartagena Airport is luckily located quite close to the Old City. It should take about 20 minutes (depending on traffic of course) to go between the airport and the Old City, and maybe another 10 minutes to reach places like Bocagrande and Getsemani.
To reach the airport we suggest hiring a taxi, which should be easy enough (unless it is late at night or really early in the morning).
See the above information for an idea on the average cost of a taxi to and from the Cartagena Airport.
When planning a trip to Cartagena, Colombia - either for a week or for a month (or more) - it is important to know the best way to get around. Luckily, Cartagena is relatively tight-knit, which makes it really easy for you to walk to almost all of the major sites and spots. And if you really don't feel like walking (we get it, it's hot) you also can simply grab the public bus.
If you have any questions about exploring Cartagena - and Colombia as a whole - then make sure to leave a comment below or reach out to us here. And if you don't want to miss any in-depth Colombia travel guides (and more off the beaten path travel inspiration) then consider subscribing to Backroad Packers!