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Cartagena Basics

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Scenes of Cartagena

Fast Facts: Cartagena

Cartagena, or Cartagena de Indias, as it is formally known, is Colombia's largest port on the Caribbean. It's a frenetic, bustling city of the old, the new, and everything in between. With a multiracial population of just over 1 million people, Cartagena--located in Colombia's Bolivar Department--is the fifth largest urban area in Colombia and a center of industry and commerce in the Caribbean basin.

Tourism is the dominant economic activity of Cartagena, along with services, construction and manufacturing activities. In 1984, the fortresses and old walled city of Cartagena were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It's hot and humid year round in tropical Cartagena, with the climate changing little throughout the year. Expect an average high of 88°F (32°C) and an average low of 77°F (25°C), and a relative humidity averaging around 90 percent. The rainy seasons take place in early fall and late spring.


Cartagena map


First Impressions


Street scene

As you approach Cartagena on your cruise ship, the first thing you see are the tall buildings that line the streets of the city's Bocagrande peninsula.

The exclusive Club Naval, along with the Faro, or lighthouse, spills out at the end of the peninsula, and from there you enter the harbor. Here you'll see the Colombian naval ships that protect the coastline, as well as remnants of the stone fortifications built by the Spanish in the 17th century that sit in mute testimony to the treasure that could once be found inside the city's 15-foot thick walls. Today, it's memories of a good time, not gold, that make for a great day in Cartagena.

Your ship will dock at the Cruise Ship Terminal, which is located on Manga Island, adjacent to the industrial dock area. Most people going on shore excursions won't actually step into the Cruise Ship Terminal itself, instead picking up their transportation at the dock. If you're going to the Cruise Ship Terminal, you'll find an ATM, a restaurant, taxis and a marketplace of vendors selling everything from coffee to locally-made textiles and handicrafts. A shuttle will take you from your ship to the Cruise Ship Terminal.

Cartagena is a city of contrasts: between the old and new, between poverty and wealth, between legend and reality. The peninsula that juts out into the bay is chockablock with high-rise hotel and condo projects, making Cartagena a favorite destination of Colombian touristas. But it's the city's 17th century walled Old Town--Centro and San Diego--along with the fortresses built by the Spanish, that were, in 1984, proclaimed UNESCO World Heritage sites. While it's not unlike San Juan's Old Town, Cartagena exudes its own vibe...fun, funky, hot and humid.

Colombia is a poor country, with about half of its citizens living below the poverty line. People from the countryside come to Cartagena in search of improving their lot in life. But when times are tough in the rest of the world, they're a lot tougher in Colombia. So be prepared for the poverty you'll see.

The Old Town--the walled districts of Centro and San Diego--is undeniably the big attraction here. The Old Town brings the 17th century back to life with the colorful restored Spanish colonial buildings. This area saw the slave trade, the Inquisition and brutal battles over control of the city, and legends were born here. Its up to you to discover them. Enjoy your day in Cartagena.

Just so you know, the penultimate scene in the 1984 film Romancing the Stone--featuring Michael Douglas battling it out with Danny DeVito and an alligator--was not filmed in Cartagena; instead, it was filmed in Veracruz, Mexico.


What to Do in Cartagena


Kids in Cartagena

Cartagena On Your Own

If you're looking for what you can do On Your Own in Cartagena--like Food, Shopping, Bars, Activities and Attractions, click here for our Cartagena On Your Own page.

The Top 10 Things to Do in Cartagena

So it's your first time in Cartagena? Or your fifth? Want to make the most of your visit? Well, click here for our list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Cartagena.

Cruise Line Shore Excursions on Cartagena

Most of the cruise ship shore excursions focus on Cartagena's Old Town section, where you'll find a number of interesting 16th and 17th century venues to visit. In addition, excursions take you to La Papa Monastery with its marvelous views of the city, and the city's imposing fort (the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas), the largest and strongest fortress built by the Spanish in all of their colonies.

Click on any of the tiles below to see the Shore Excursions offered by the Big 6 cruise lines.


Beach & Sailing Tours Carriage tours Food tours
Golf tour Harbor tours Jewelry tours
Nature tours Old City tours Party bus tours

Time Zone


Officially, Cartagena is on Colombia Time. Colombia Time is equivalent to Eastern Time, five hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time. Colombia does not recognize Daylight Savings Time.

Colombian flag Cartagena Local Time
 


Language


Spanish is universally spoken in Cartagena. Almost all of the shopkeepers catering to tourists also speak some English, as well as some French, German and Italian.


Dealing with Money in Cartagena


Currency



2,000 pesos bill

The Peso is the currency unit of Colombia; the country uses the "$" sign to denote the Colombian Peso amount. Banknotes come in denominations of $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 and $50,000 pesos. Coins currently come in denominations of $100, $200, $500 and $1,000 pesos.

The current US Dollar/Colombian Peso exchange rate is as follows:


Banks and ATMs:

ATMs can be found throughout Cartagena, and in many machines, the transactions can be made in English. Take precautions when using an ATM machine in Cartagena: only use an ATM during the day, and be comfortable with your surroundings before using an ATM machine.

There's an ATM machine at the Cruise Ship Terminal building, which is convenient if you're planning to do Cartagena on your own. ATM machines can also be found in Centro (the walled Old Town) and in the modern area of the city, including Bocagrande, Castillo Grande and El Laguito. Banks with branches in the Old Town include:

  • Citibank: Has a branch with an ATM machine, located on Avenida Venezuela #53-13 in the Old City (2 blocks north of the Plaza de los Coches) in which you'll find an ATM machine.

  • Banco de Bogota: Has a branch with an ATM machine in the new MallPlaza el Castillo.

  • Banco Union Colombiano: Has a branch with an ATM machine, also located on Avenida Venezuela, close to the Plaza de los Coches.

  • Bancolombia: Has a branch with an ATM machine, also located on Avenida Venezuela, close to the Plaza de los Coches; it also has a branch with an ATM machine in the new MallPlaza el Castillo.

  • Banco Santander: Has a branch with an ATM machine located in the Plaza Aduana.

Cartagena ATM Map


Map icon

To see the locations of Cartagena's ATMs, see our Cartagena ATM map.


Warning on Changing Money on the Street

DO NOT, under any circumstances, exchange your dollars for Colombian pesos with anyone offering to do so on the streets of Cartagena. You will be robbed.

Using US Dollars in Cartagena

While US dollars are accepted in some shops in Cartagena, the rate you'll get is heavily discounted from the market rate. The best bet is to use credit cards, which are accepted in almost all shops, restaurants and other tourist-oriented establishments.


Weather


Vendors
©2008 Luz A. Villa under cc-by-sa 2.0 license

The climate of tropical Cartagena is generally hot and humid, although sea breezes make it more comfortable than many tropical cities. Temperatures range from an average high of 32° C (88° F) from May to July to an average low of 24° C (74° F) in January and February.

The rainy seasons take place in early spring (April and May) as well as in early fall (October and November). Cartagena receives around 40 inches (1000 mm) of rain each year.

When it rains in Cartagena, most likely it's in the form of drizzle or from relatively short-lived thunderstorms.

The windiest months are from November to February, keeping the climate "comfortable."

Average Temperatures

Average Precipitation



Keeping In Touch


Internet Access in Cartagena

The cyber cafes in Cartagena are centered in the Centro (Old Town) district, as well as in the Bocagrande/El Laguito areas. They're generally inexpensive, although the bandwidth is usually slow. Here's a partial listing of internet cafes in Cartagena:

In the El Laguito & Bocagrande areas:

  • Cafe.com, Edificio Belmar, Local 103. Open daily, year round. Phone: +57 5 665-2170.

  • Internet Cafe Colombiano, Avenida San Martin, No. 4-134 Esquina. Phone: +57 5 665-4240.

In the Centro area:

  • MallPlaza el Castillo, located at Carrera 13 and Calle 32, just a stone's throw from the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas--the Fort that overlooks the town--has a free Wi-Fi zone in the facility.

  • Caribenet, Calle Santo Domingo No. 3-54, located around the corner from Bolivar Square. Price is $6,000 pesos/hour. Open daily from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, year round. Phone: +57 5 664-2326.

  • Cyber-Cafe Olano, located at Calle de las Damas No. 3-102, at the Pasaje de la Candelaria. Offers email service, plus serves food, drinks and coffee. Charges $6,000 pesos/hour. Open daily from 9:00 am to noon, and 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Phone: +57 5 664-5438.

  • Micronet, located at Calle de la Estrella No. 4-47, in the San Diego neighborhood, near the University. They've got 11 fast computers that cost $6,000 pesos/hour. Phone: +57 5 664-0328.

Cartagena Internet Access Map


Map icon

To see the locations of Cartagena's Internet Cafes, see our Cartagena Internet Access Map.


Internet Cafe

Cellular Phone & Data Services

Customers of the four major U.S. wireless carriers can expect the following levels of service in Cartagena:

Verizon

Cell service: Verizon users must use a quad-band GSM phone when calling from Cartagena.
Data services: Through its partners, Verizon offers 3G coverage in Cartagena when using a UMTS-capable device with an active SIM card and global plan.
See details on Verizon's cell and data services pricing and coverage maps.

ATT Wireless

Cell service: AT&T's GSM service in Cartagena is provided by Movistar, Comcel or Colombia Movil's OLA service.
Data services: AT&T offers EDGE service in Cartagena through its partners (see above).
See details on AT&T's cell and data services coverage maps.

Sprint

Cell service: Sprint's users must use a quad-band GSM phone when calling from Cartagena.
Data services: Through its partner Colombia Movil, Sprint offers 2G GPRS coverage in Cartagena when using a UMTS-capable device with an active SIM card and global plan.
See details on Sprint's cell and data services pricing.

T Mobile

Cell service: T-Mobile's GSM service in Cartagena is provided by Movistar or Colombia Movil's OLA service.
Data services: T-Mobile offers 2G service in Cartagena through its partners Movistar and Colombia Movil.
See details on T-Mobile's cell and data services pricing.


Samsung Galaxy S III

Cartagena Telephone Information

Colombia's wireless infrastructure only supports GSM phones, such as those offered by AT&T and T-Mobile. The newest iPhones from Verizon and Sprint will work in the country; if in doubt, and for information on Android devices, contact Verizon or Sprint directly.

Travelers with American and Canadian cell phone plans should be aware that their carriers will add a variety of international roaming charges when their phones or data devices are used in Colombia. Check with your carrier for the precise details. Roaming charges for calls back home and data usage are really expensive in Colombia.

If you plan on using your cell phone a lot while on your cruise, you may want to consider getting a SIM card for your trip from OneSimCard.com. These SIMs work in over 200 countries, and provide very affordable prepaid talk, text and data plans. Not only will you save a lot of money, but you'll also avoid a big cell bill surprise when you get home.

Country Code: 57

Area code for Cartagena: 5

Local landline phone numbers have eight digits, beginning with the area code: (area code) XXX-XXXX

Local cell or mobile phone numbers have ten digits, beginning with a 3: 3XX XXX XXXX

To call a Cartagena landline from the US or Canada: dial 011-57-5-XXX-XXXX

Using your US or Canadian Cell phone when in Cartagena

To make a call from:

Cartagena to the US or Canada: Dial 001-(area code) XXX-XXXX

Cartagena to a US or Canadian cell phone in Cartagena: Dial 0057-(area code) XXX-XXXX

Cartagena to a Cartagena landline: Dial the local number: 5XXX-XXXX

Cell phone user

OneSimCard - prepaid international roaming, works in over 200 countries, free calls in over 150 countries

Local Events, Holidays & Festivals


Look for the following local festivals, holidays and events taking place in Cartagena in 2017:

  • New Year's Day (Ano Nuevo), Monday, January 1.

  • Epiphany, Monday, January 9. A national holiday celebrating the story of the arrival of the three wise men who each brought a gift to the Christ child.

  • Hay Festival, Thursday, January 26 to Sunday, January 29. Features the best of national Colombian and international literature, as well as conversations about culture, geopolitics and the environment.

  • Carnaval, Wednesday, February 22 to Tuesday, February 28. Expect street theater, carnival pageants, parades of masks and concerts in different parts of the city.

  • Film Festival
    ©2014 Jhon jairo1398, under cc-by-sa 3.0 license
  • International Film Festival, Wednesday, March 1 to Monday, March 6. Screenings of features, shorts and documentary projects. Competition for films produced in Latin America, Spain and Portugal only.

  • San Jose (St. Joseph's Day), Monday, March 20. Colombia's version of Father's Day.

  • Semana Santa, Monday, April 10 to Sunday, April 16. Holy week celebrations that end on Easter Sunday, the 16th. During Semana Santa, banks are closed on Maundy Thursday, April 13 and Good Friday, April 14.

  • Dia de los Trabajadores (Labor Day), Sunday, May 1. Honors those who labor and their struggles.

  • Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Ascension of Christ), Monday, May 29. A Christian national holiday, held 39 days after Easter, commemorating Christ's ascension into heaven.

  • Corpus Cristi, Monday, June 19. A feast that honors the Eucharist, which believers consider to be the actual body and blood of Christ.

  • Fiesta de San Pedro y San Pablo, (Saint Peter and Saint Paul Day), Monday, July 3. A feast day commemorating the martyrdom of the two great Apostles, Peter and Paul.

  • Dia de la Independencia (Independence Day), Thursday, July 20. Celebrates Colombia's declaration of independence from Spain.

  • Simon Bolivar's victory at the Batalla de Boyaca, Monday, August 7. The Battle of Boyaca triggered the revolution that led to Colombia's independence from Spain.

  • La Asuncion de Nuestra Senora (Ascension of the Virgin Mary), Monday, August 21. A public holiday that celebrates the Virgin Mary's ascent to heaven.

  • Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day), Monday, October 16. Celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas.

  • Dia de Todos Santos (All Saints Day), Monday, November 6. Celebrates and honors all of the saints in Christianity.

  • Miss Colombia
  • Concurso Nacional de Belleza de Colombia (National Beauty Pageant), November 4 to 10. The Miss Colombia pageant elects representatives to the Miss Universe competition (who is Miss Colombia) and Miss International competition (who is Miss Colombia International). A big, big deal in Colombia.

  • Independencia de Cartagena (Cartagena's Independence Day), Monday, November 13. Commemorates the city of Cartagena's declaration of independence from Spain in 1811.

  • Immaculada Concepcion (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), Friday, December 8. A public holiday timed exactly nine months before celebrating the birth of Mary.

  • Navidad (Christmas Day), Monday, December 25.

Cruise Port Schedules


Cruise ship
©2014 Roel van Deursen, under cc-by-sa 2.0 license

Cartagena has become an increasingly popular cruise destination for ships on Panama Canal and Southern Caribbean cruises. The cruise ship season lasts from late September to mid-May.

In 2017, cruise ship passengers can expect to spend around 7¼ hours in port.

In 2017, Cartagena is slated to host 372,800 passengers sailing on 197 ships. See our Cartagena Cruise Ship Schedule - 2017 for further information.

In 2018, Cartagena is slated to host 432,300 passengers sailing on 193 ships. See our Cartagena Cruise Ship Schedule - 2018 for further information.


Cruise Lines Making Port


The following cruise lines will make port in Cartagena in 2017:

Celebrity icon Celebrity Cruises Princess Cruises  icon Princess Cruises
HAL icon Holland America NCL Icon Norwegian
Silversea icon Silversea Cruises Regent icon Regent Cruises
Oceania icon Oceania Cruises Crystal icon Crystal Cruises
Cunard icon Cunard Disney icon Disney Cruises
Azamara icon Azamara F. Olsen
Carnival Pullmantur Pullmantur
AIDA Cruises MSC Cruises
Hapag-Lloyd P & O Cruises
Thomson Seabourn
Phoenix Reisen Windstar
Cruise & Maritime TUI Cruises
Saga
Cruise Ship


       
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