Cartagena is perhaps the most popular tourist destination on the Colombian Caribbean Coast. While many tourists visit the city every day, some of you might wonder if Cartagena is a safe holiday destination for solo female travellers.
Cartagena was one of the first cities I got to know during my 2-month stay in Colombia. I found it more crowded than Santa Marta, but definitely more beautiful than any other coastal destination I visited afterwards in Colombia.
Beyond its beautiful architecture, you might also want to know if Cartagena is safe for solo female travellers. Therefore, I have written this blog post in response to this question.
I’m using my experience of navigating Cartagena by myself to give you the best tips and information about how safe Cartagena is for solo female travellers. If this is something that interests you, then keep reading. I made sure I provided as much information as possible about this topic.
A few historical facts about Cartagena
Beyond its defensive walls, the city boasts splendid colonial architecture, with colourful buildings, cobbled narrow streets and a bustling old town.
Cartagena isn’t famous only for its colonial architecture, but also for its African heritage. Throughout its history, the city played a defensive role against foreign invasion.
The full name of the city is Cartagena de Indias, although many would shorten it to Cartagena (not to be confused with Cartagena in Spain).
With centuries of history behind, an interesting cultural mix, gorgeous beaches and islands, Cartagena de Indias is the perfect holiday destination in Colombia. Nowadays, Cartagena de Indias is also a safe holiday destination for solo female travellers wanting to explore this side of Colombia.
*I learned about Cartagena’s history during the tour of the San Felipe de Barajas Fort. I truly recommend it if you want to learn about the history of Cartagena.
Are the main tourist spots in Cartagena safe for solo female travellers?
Old Town & the Harbour
The old town and the harbour are OK to wander during the day. Having said that, the city centre is packed with tourists which can attract ill-intentioned people, so always keep an eye on your valuables. I did not go out at night in the old town, so I cannot give an opinion on that. But some advice I can give here is to go out with someone/ a group (if you can) that you trust.
You may choose to stay in the old town area if you want to experience the bustling atmosphere of Cartagena de Indias. That whole area, including the harbour which is closely located, will be flooded with tourists pretty much all year round. It was pretty packed in September when I visited Cartagena.
The nicest beaches are located away from the old town, in what I would call the skyscrapers area ( more commonly known as the Bocagrande area). That part of Cartagena made me think of Miami because here you will find mostly tall glass buildings, most of them being expensive hotels and shopping centres.
A quieter beach area (as safe as the one in Bocagrande) is located in Marbella. Here, you can enjoy the water and the sun without too many people around. The only inconvenience is that the beaches in Marbella are quite close to the road, that’s why some travellers aren’t particularly fond of them.
In conclusion, I found the beach in Cartagena to be safe for solo female travellers. Yet, with so many people around, it can become the perfect environment for ill-intentioned people. You can easily become a victim of petty crime in this part of the city. so it is important to stay vigilant.
If you go to the beach my advice is to not bring anything valuable with you (if you can). Or bring some company so that someone always keeps an eye on your stuff. But walking on the beach and enjoying the view felt safe for me.
I wrote more about the top tourist attractions in Cartagena in this blog post:
Where is it safe to stay in Cartagena as a solo female traveller?
Overall, I found Cartagena to be pretty safe. It is much safer than other big cities in Colombia. I particularly liked the area where my hostel was located because it felt quiet, yet it was pretty close to the old town.
I stayed in the San Jacinto Hostel. The hostel is located in the Manga de Cartagena neighbourhood. The old town seemed a bit too busy and loud to me, so I was happy to stay further away from the touristy spots in Cartagena.
If you are looking for somewhere quieter, yet not far away from the old town I recommend staying in this area as it feels safe and quiet and you have all amenities nearby.
Taking an Uber in Cartagena, a safe way to return home
Taking an Uber in Cartagena is one of the safest ways to travel in the city. Especially at night when it is not advisable to walk around by yourself pretty much nowhere in Colombia.
I used Uber everywhere in Colombia, including Cartagena and found it the best way to stay safe at night in the country. However, I would make sure I never returned too late. Yet, I used Uber a few times to return home after dark (while staying in Cartagena) and all of my journeys were problem-free.
Eating in restaurants by yourself is safe
If you fear eating in restaurants by yourself, fear not. Many people, including locals, eat by themselves in Cartagena. I felt safe eating in restaurants in Cartagena by myself. Whether you choose to eat in local restaurants or some touristy places, you will always see people eating by themselves (including women).
While eating in restaurants as a solo female traveller felt safe for me, I always made sure I had my bag within reach. This is something I advise you to do too. Make sure you are more cautious especially if the place is crowded which always happens around meal times.
If you consider this tip you will have the best time eating by yourself in Cartagena.
How do you deal with stares? Should you feel unsafe?
Being stared at is pretty common in Latin America. Sometimes there isn’t anything flirtatious about a stare. People are simply curious about where you might be from, but not brave enough to ask the question. It happened to me various times during my travels through Latin America.
Yet, please do not always assume this is the case and take the necessary measures to stay safe. Although being stared at is more common in Central America than in Colombia, you must always remain vigilant and act accordingly if you feel someone is inappropriately staring at you in Cartagena.
My experience with staring in Cartagena has not been too bad. I did not experience many stares at all compared to Costa Rica and Panama. Most of the stares I got were from street vendors trying to guess whether I was their next customer or not.
To wrap things up, you should not experience that many stares in Cartagena. If you do come across people staring make sure there isn’t anything malicious behind it. Always make sure you stay safe before doing anything to deal with unwanted stares.
Speaking Spanish increases your chances of staying safe in Cartagena
Most Colombians are chatty people. They like sharing tips and insights with the tourists (if tourists speak Spanish). I got so many safety tips from locals while travelling in Colombia that I lost count of it.
Most people will let you know if you are about to turn into a dodgy street or worse if someone follows you. But you need to speak Spanish because most people in Colombia do not speak English at all.
Speaking Spanish will help you stay safe in Cartagena, and also increase your chances of communicating better with the locals.
Is it safe to go to the beach by yourself in Cartagena?
As I said previously, the beach in Cartagena can be crowded. Depending on the time of the year, there can be fewer people or it will be packed.
It is completely safe to go to the beach in Cartagena. I walked along the beach by myself and felt safe. However, I would not go to the beach by myself, leave my stuff on the beach and go into the water. It is not safe to do so. There are way too many people and you risk having your things stolen.
If you can bring nothing but yourself to the beach, then that’s fine. Or perhaps make friends and go together. Otherwise, I would not take the risk.
Keep an eye on the government website for news regarding safety in Colombia
It is always advisable to keep an eye on the government website for any news regarding a country you intend to travel to. The UK government does a pretty good job of keeping their website updated.
Nevertheless, always take everything the UK government publishes online with a pinch of salt. I feel that these websites exaggerate sometimes and things aren’t actually as bad as they are being presented online.
More tips on how to stay safe in Cartagena as a solo female traveller:
I have more extra tips on what I always do to stay safe when travelling to what’s being considered unsafe countries for solo female travellers. These tips can be applied to Cartagena too.
Some of them might sound extreme for some of you out there. You don’t have to follow all of it. Yet, what I know is that they kept me safe and sound in the past years travelling as a solo female traveller. And they worked perfectly well for me while I was in Cartagena.
There you have them:
- Do not wear expensive jewellery on the street, or in crowded places.
- Do not show off your phone too much: if you want to check the map, you should usually go into a store or restaurant. Don’t worry, people won’t say anything to you. I did it all the time in Cartagena and pretty much all over Colombia.
- Make sure you always walk with the day bag in front (especially if locals do it). That’s when you know a place is not that safe. Having said this, you won’t see many people doing this in Cartagena.
- Double-check if you’ve zipped your bag.
- Don’t wear revealing clothes to stop unwanted attention (especially if you are by yourself). I noticed that people tend to look less if you are with someone else.
- This might read extreme, but if you can, bring a regular watch to check the time. Sometimes, smartwatches can be way too tempting.
- Never go out by yourself at night in a foreign country unless you know the place well or you go with someone you trust.
- Always listen to your gut feeling. If it tells you to leave, do so.
I’ve travelled mostly by myself for the past 10y+ and have never been assaulted, robbed or harassed. I won’t say it never happened simply because I followed the advice above, but I think most of the rules I listed above contributed to staying safe all these years.
Is it safe to travel from/to the Cartagena bus terminal?
I had a positive experience using two of Cartagena’s bus terminals. My experience was problem-free even when I travelled to one of the terminals at night while preparing for an overnight bus journey to Medellin.
Usually, bus companies have designated waiting areas where you have access to plugs and toilets. You will share the space with the bus company’s staff and the rest of the passengers. The terminals I used in Cartagena to arrive and depart were decent, clean and safe to be around even if it was late at night on one of the occasions.
In conclusion, is Cartagena safe for solo female travellers?
Cartagena can be a safe destination for solo female travellers if you take basic safety measures as I suggested above. First-time female travellers might find it a bit too much, but seasoned female travellers will be able to navigate it without major issues.
I felt safe in Cartagena, more than I felt in other places I travelled to in Colombia. I would not say Cartagena is danger-free, but it is definitely easier to navigate for solo female travellers than other places in Colombia.