Skip to Content

Is Cartagena Safe to Visit in 2024? | Safety Concerns

Is Cartagena Safe to Visit in 2024? | Safety Concerns

Is Cartagena safe to visit?

Cartagena is generally safe for tourists, especially in popular areas, but visitors should exercise caution due to risks of petty theft and armed robbery. The city’s safety largely depends on staying vigilant and avoiding less secure neighborhoods.

Cartagena, Colombia’s port city on the Caribbean Sea coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire country of Colombia. In 2018, 3.1 million people came to check out the picturesque city.

The main attractions in Cartagena are the remnants of Spanish colonial architecture. Visitors love wandering the picturesque Old Town or climbing to the top of the imposing ruins of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.

The city is also a great base for exploring Colombia’s picturesque Caribbean coast, including Isla de la Tierra Bomba. But while it’s rich in culture, history, and unique things to see and do, is Cartagena safe to visit? Here’s our expert take.

Is Cartagena Safe to Visit in 2024?

Image for a guide titled Is Colombia Safe to Visit featuring the Cartagena de Indias the walled city

Monica Hernandez Ahman/Shutterstock

Yes and no. While Cartagena is one of the safest cities in Colombia, you will still need to exercise a lot of precautions if you visit. Whether or not Cartagena is safe for you depends on your tolerance for risk.

Colombia overall has high levels of violent crime, including assault and kidnapping directed at tourists. Many of the problems that Colombia experiences are obviously present in Cartagena as well, as this is one of the country’s biggest cities.

The United States government has Colombia under a Level 3: Reconsider Travel advisory due to violent crime, including kidnapping. While crime levels are lower in Cartagena than in some other places, such as the department of Arauca, crime is still present.

To understand why traveling to Cartagena and the rest of Colombia is an elevated risk, it helps to understand at least a little bit about the history of Colombia.

For decades, Colombia was home to the world’s longest-running civil war, which started in the 1960s after peasant communities and students formed guerrilla groups against the conservative, elite government.

Although talks have been going on for the past decade, some members of the guerrilla groups FARC and ELN are still mobilized.

They control certain parts of the country, but luckily, Cartagena is pretty far from the civil unrest. It still pays to be aware of this context when you are in town and avoid political demonstrations or discussions.

In terms of crime, Cartagena has a crime level on par with most major cities. It is higher than you might experience at home but on the lower end for Colombian cities.

Common crimes in Cartagena include:

  • Pickpocketing
  • Bag snatching
  • Scams, including online scams
  • Armed robbery
  • Express kidnapping
  • Assault
  • Sexual assault

While it is important to be aware of these crimes so you don’t become the victim of a bad situation, you don’t want to let awareness stop you from having a good time.

Most crime in Cartagena is concentrated in impoverished neighborhoods far away from the UNESCO-protected city center, in neighborhoods where tourists are unlikely to go.

Tourists mostly experience minor crimes such as pickpocketing, which is prevalent in most tourist destinations worldwide.

If you’re visiting Cartagena during hurricane season, keep an eye out for weather alerts. Hurricanes rarely hit this far south, but tropical storms sometimes batter Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Ready to Book?

Unlock Exclusive Discounts on!

Got Travel Insurance?

Protect yourself for unexpected interruptions.

Compare Plans We may be compensated when you book after clicking on one of our links.

Crime in Cartagena

Clock tower over a monument with a taxi in Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia – August 2019: Clock tower monument with taxi in front on sunny day in Cartagena/Eva de Reus/Shutterstock

The primary concern for most visitors planning a trip to Cartagena is the elevated crime rate. The United States Embassy in Colombia even issued an alert in November 2021 advising citizens to be careful traveling to Cartagena due to high levels of crime.

Although some people (including Cartagena’s own mayor) claim that the danger alert for Cartagena is overstated, it is true that this city has a higher crime rate than most global destinations.

For example, in 2017, there were 276 homicides in Cartagena. Many criminals in Cartagena are armed, making it easy for something like a robbery to escalate into assault or homicide.

Tourists are not the only ones worried about crime in this beautiful city.

Many Cartagena locals and ex-pats are concerned about being victims of crime. According to a Cost of Living survey, the level of crime in Cartagena is at 68.75 out of 100, which is high on their crime index.

Respondents mostly worried about being victims of muggings, armed robbery, and corruption (sometimes, the biggest danger comes from twisted authority figures, not street criminals). The reasons why Cartagena struggles with crime is the same as for any major city in Colombia.

The drug trade is very prevalent in the country, including in Cartagena. Organized crime groups or guerrillas (and Cartagena has nearly 40 of them) are behind many of the most violent incidents.

Another driving force behind crime in Cartagena is the rampant income inequality in the city, which is so bad that the pope chose the city to visit to highlight the problem of income inequality in Latin America as a whole.

Wealthy neighborhoods tower right next to the city’s slums, often featuring people who fled from conflict in Colombia’s interiors. Cartagena’s many poor residents struggle to survive or find steady work.

It’s no wonder that theft is common when foreign tourists come to visit bearing cameras that cost as much as a poor family’s income for several months. The crime statistics in Cartagena are not all bad. A lot of the fear around visiting the city is outdated.

Although the city had many violent incidents during the 1990s, the heyday of Pablo Escobar, things have calmed down a lot after the drug lord’s fall from power and after the guerrilla groups began talks with the government.

The crime rate and quality of life is steadily improving, although COVID-19 hampered progress somewhat.

Plus, most violent incidents are concentrated in slums and sketchy neighborhoods where most tourists don’t go. Most victims of crime in Cartagena are locals, not foreigners.

Petty Theft

Cartagena street with homes on either side of the road


The biggest problem for people visiting Cartagena is petty theft, such as pickpocketing and bag snatching. This is common throughout the world at major tourist destinations but is especially pronounced in places such as Cartagena, where there is such an income gap between most visitors and residents.

One of the most common crimes is bag snatching. Thieves take advantage of a moment’s inattention to grab a purse or bag off of someone’s shoulder, driving away in the Cartagena traffic before anyone can take off in pursuit.

Motorcycle robberies, where a passenger on the back of a motorcycle snatches valuables from pedestrians or through open car windows while the driver pilots them away, are very common.

In fact, these types of robberies are so common throughout Colombia that some cities, including some neighborhoods of Cartagena, even banned male motorcycle passengers. Pickpockets are also common in Cartagena.

They take advantage of people’s distractions to reach into pockets and bags and take away valuables. Phone theft is one of the most common forms of theft, according to an OSAC report.

You can reduce your risk of pickpocketing in Cartagena by keeping your valuables out of sight. Keep in mind that your phone or camera might be worth half a year’s salary to someone, so the temptation is too great.

Take out your phone to snap photos and quickly check for directions, but don’t hold on to it in your hand as you are walking around.

Scams are another form of petty theft that frequently target foreigners. You have the most common scams that you see in other tourist destinations, such as ATM skimming, credit card fraud, and overcharging taxi drivers.

In Cartagena, there are also many fraudsters who pose as police officers and try to get scared tourists to part with their money. Always ask for ID if an officer stops you.

Other common scams are street gambling games, which are illegal and almost always a scam, and online dating profiles. Always be careful when meeting up with someone you first connected with online, and never share personal information or too much money.

Armed Robbery

If pickpockets were all that you had to worry about in Cartagena, that would be fine, but the city also has high rates of violent crime. The violent crime that tourists are most likely to encounter is armed robbery.

Muggers and robbers on the streets of Cartagena are frequently armed, as weapons from knives to guns are common in Colombian cities due to the presence of organized crime syndicates and armed militias.

Some robbers even use drugs, including the infamous scopolamine, to render their victims incapacitated. Scopolamine has the power to render victims completely pliable and has been used against high-profile targets in the past.

However, it is more common in other Colombian cities and relatively rare in Cartagena. Even so, it’s still a good idea to keep a close eye on your drinks when going out. Some of the most common perpetrators of armed robberies in Cartagena are unauthorized taxi drivers.

Criminals will pose as taxi drivers on the street, then rob people at gunpoint or conduct an express kidnapping, where they force victims to empty their bank accounts at an ATM.

Never hail a taxi on the street in Cartagena. Always call the phone number of a reputable taxi company or use a ride-hailing app such as Cabify.

If you are the victim of an armed robbery, never fight back. Your life is never more important than your valuables, and criminals in Cartagena usually don’t hesitate to follow through on their threats.

Avoiding Bad Areas

Piece on Is Cartagena Safe to Visit featuring a slum on the island

BOCACHICA, COLOMBIA – AUGUST 29, 2015: Bocachica village on Tierrabomba island near Cartagena, Colombia/Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

The key to staying safe in Cartagena is avoiding sketchy areas. Although crimes do happen in the touristy parts, they are much rarer than in some of the other areas of the city. Cartagena is deeply stratified by income.

Most of the crime occurs in the poorer neighborhoods where the infrastructure and social support network is much lower. A good rule is to trust your gut.

Not all sketchy-looking areas are dangerous, some are merely impoverished, but as a visitor, it is hard for you to tell the difference.

Generally, the more dangerous parts of the city are concentrated in the south, with the fortress of San Felipe de Barajas acting as a bit of a dividing line.

In its 2021 travel advisory, the US government particularly warned people about South Cartagena, Chambacu, and east of Centro Commercial Caribe Plaza. Other neighborhoods that have elevated crime rates are El Paraiso, La Maria, and Sector La Magdalena.

Touristy areas such as the walled city of La Candelaria and the beaches are mostly free from violent crime but are the most dangerous in terms of pickpocketing.

Things to Consider

Here are some other safety tips to ensure that you have a good time while in Cartagena:

  • Street vendors, from souvenir sellers to beach masseuses, can be very aggressive. Be firm when you say no and ignore them.
  • Cartagena’s street rappers are notorious. Young men will approach you and offer a freestyle rap, then demand payment. Ignore them and walk around them, or firmly say no.
  • Earthquakes are common in Colombia, sometimes affecting Cartagena. Read up on earthquake protocol before you go.
  • Make sure that you book accommodations with good security to deter break-ins.
  • Never, ever buy drugs in Cartagena. That gets you on the radar of criminals, and although Colombia’s cartels are not as powerful as they were in the days of Pablo Escobar, you shouldn’t get on their bad side.

Frequently Asked Questions

View of a pool over Cartagena de Indias ocean


Still have questions about Cartagena? These might cover your concerns:

Is Cartagena, Colombia safe to travel to right now?

In 2023, Cartagena, Colombia, might be the safest it’s been in a while. The danger of guerrillas and cartels that was present in the 1990s is nonexistent, and the post-COVID crime wave has also petered out.

Is Cartagena safe for tourism?

Yes, Cartagena is safe for tourism. Millions of visitors come each year to check out the beautiful walled city.

What are areas to avoid in Cartagena?

Avoid the city’s slums and neighborhoods with higher crime rates such as Chambacu. Before traveling to another city, such as Cali, overland, double-check as sometimes intercity roads are not safe.

Is Cartagena worth visiting?

Cartagena is absolutely worth visiting. It has beautiful beaches, historic architecture, and the best street food and nightlife in Colombia. It might be the best place to visit in Colombia actually.

Is Cartagena safe for female travelers?

The levels of street harassment are fairly high in Cartagena, although better than in many other Colombian cities. Sexual assaults do sometimes happen against female travelers, but not very often.

You will have to take some precautions, such as not taking taxis alone at night without sharing your location, but many female travelers visit Cartagena and have a good time.

Find the Best Deal
The Best Hotels in Cartagena

Don't waste your hard-earned money. Get the best deal on your trip by comparing deals on and Expedia!

  • Options for all travel styles & budgets
  • Price match guarantees
  • Exclusive last-minute deals
See Deals See Deals
We may earn a commission when you click this link, at no extra cost to you.

So Is Cartagena Safe to Visit in 2024?

📈 Homicide rate22 per 100k (very high)
👮‍♂️ Most common crimePetty theft
🏠 Worst neighborhoodSouth town, Chambacu, El Paraiso
❓ Safety tipUse extreme caution, avoid barrios

Many travelers are scared away from visiting Cartagena by reports of the crime rate and civil unrest. As a result, we don’t think it’s wise for just any traveler to book a trip to this historic city.

However, for experienced travelers equipped with common sense measures such as hiding valuables and researching safe neighborhoods, Cartagena promises a good time. Happy travels!