Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular cities for tourists. It is historic, yet very modern, and because it’s located directly on the Caribbean Sea, it has beaches too! We just returned from spending an entire month in this vibrant city. During that time, I became somewhat of an expert on getting around Cartagena Colombia. Because I am The Thorough Tripper, I tried to gather as much information about my transportation options prior to our arrival. But I found that information to be somewhat lacking – and sometimes inconsistent. So I gathered most of my Cartagena transportation knowledge on the fly.
With that said, I’d be failing as a travel blogger if I didn’t immediately write a blog post (on the plane home in fact) and share with you everything I learned about getting around Cartagena Colombia.
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Your Transportation Needs Will Depend on Where You Stay
Most touristic sites in Cartagena are located in its central Old Town and the adjoining Getsemani neighborhood. This area is fairly compact and easily walkable. If you are staying in either of these two areas, you probably won’t need any daily transportation other than your own two feet.
However, if you are staying in the popular and more modern Bocagrande neighborhood, your own two feet probably won’t be enough. Bocagrande is referred to by locals as Little Miami. It’s a dense concentration of tall buildings squeezed together on narrow barrier peninsula, surrounded by water on both sides. It’s the most affluent part of Cartagena, and features lots of big hotels and Airbnb apartments.
We stayed in a great Airbnb in Bocagrande. This was our view. Old Town and Getsemani are in the distance, straight ahead in the center top of the photo.
You could walk to Old Town from the middle of Bocagrande in about 30 minutes, but do you really want to walk that far in the heat of Cartagena?
Manga and Marbella are two other neighborhoods located just outside Old Town. These are also popular neighborhoods for Airbnb-type rentals. And like Bocagrande may be just a bit too far for walking into Old Town.
But First….Airport Transportation
However, regardless of where you stay, every visitor flying into Cartagena will need airport transportation. So let’s start with that.
I personally concluded that the best way to get from the airport into town is via regular taxi. It’s easy and cheap.
While you certainly could arrange for a private airport pickup ahead of your arrival, you can save a lot of money by simply grabbing a cab.
And while this post is mostly about using Ride Share Apps in Cartagena, I didn’t use any of those at the airport. Taxi transportation is encouraged by the airport, so I never saw an obviously-marked Ride Share pickup zone on any airport signage. And there is nothing worse than tiredly arriving in a foreign country or city, experiencing immediate disorientation on an Uber map.
So Here’s How You Grab a Cab At The Airport
The Cartagena airport makes grabbing a cab into the city very easy. As soon as you exit the baggage claim area, you’ll see a bright yellow machine and some attendants dressed in yellow nearby to help you use it.
The machine generates a type of taxi ticket. You simply put in your destination and it spits out a ticket for you to give the taxi driver. It includes the price for both you and the driver to see. This prevents price gauging of unsuspecting tourists.
Taxis in Cartagena do not use meters. Instead prices to various parts of town from the airport are pre-set. The ticket ensures that the driver gives you correct price, and that you don’t have to struggle communicating your destination (it’s not likely your driver will speak anything other than Spanish).
The official Cartagena taxis are then lined up right outside the door. Get in line, hand your ticket to the driver, and off you go.
But What If the Machine Isn’t Working?
Unfortunately, it didn’t go that smoothly for me. All my research prepared me to come out of baggage claim, punch in our address, and get our ticket.
But alas, the machine wasn’t working and the yellow-vested workers were nowhere in sight (the picture I took above was on our departure day). Instead, while I was struggling with the machine, some random guy come out of nowhere, and offered to take us wherever it was we needed to go. Not the ideal arrive-in-Colombia scenario!
So I instead, I had to go out to the taxi stand and figure it out myself.
I did know to check with the driver about the price before accepting the ride. This is true of any taxi ride anywhere in Cartagena. I also had a rough idea of how much it was supposed to cost from my pre-trip research. And so when he told me the price, it seemed about right.
I then showed him our Airbnb address which he didn’t recognize, other than it was somewhere in Bocagrande. What he wanted was the name of our hotel. After some scrambling through my phone, I was able to find the exact name of our building – and that he did recognize. He was very friendly and took us there without incident.
You Do Need Cash Though
But, here’s an important consideration if you choose to take an airport taxi. You will need to pay in cash.
And so I’m going to tell you where the ATMs at the airport are, so you can get your first Colombian Pesos.
You won’t find one in the arrival terminal. Instead, go outside and walk a few steps to the left into the departure terminal (it’s a small airport). At the far end, near the security gates for domestic flights, you’ll find a room filled with ATMs.
My taxi ride cost 20,000 pesos . Fortunately, the ATM I chose gave me both smaller and larger bills (yes, 20,000 peso is a small bill). If you ended up getting stuck with larger bills, you’ll find several small stores in the terminal where you can buy a drink and get change. You’ll probably be thirsty anyway (especially if like us, you find yourself stuck in a 1.5 hour long line to get through passport control).
Would a Private Pickup Be Easier?
Definitely. And if you want to go that route, then I have always found the best price (and excellent service) on Booking.com’s airport taxi service. But the quote I received this time was $35 – significantly higher than a regular tax fare (in other cities it has been fairly comparable and sometimes even less). My taxi ride of 20,000 pesos equaled $5. For me, that amount of savings was worth it – and even more so had everything had been running more smoothly that day.
The Ride Share App Advantage
Once you arrive at your lodging, you could certainly choose to continue hailing taxis for getting around Cartagena Colombia. Taxis are everywhere. In fact, anytime you stop at the side of the road, even just to try and cross the street, a passing cab will give you a brief honk – basically asking if you need a ride. Or drivers will role down their windows and shout….Taxi?
However, when hailing a cab in Cartagena, you do have to agree on a price with the driver ahead of your actual ride. And I didn’t like this, especially given that my Spanish isn’t all that great. Same with trying to give a drop-off location. And Cartagena taxi drivers do have a reputation for taking advantage of tourists.
Ride Share Apps remove all the communication and price negotiations issues from the process.
Plus, while regular taxis are generally considered safe in Cartagena, there is always peace of mind that comes with registering your ride within an App.
And so for the rest of our trip, I used my phone for getting around Cartagena Colombia – including our ride back to the airport.
You will find several Ride Share App options in Cartagena. The three most popular are Uber, Cabify, and InDrive.
Is Uber Actually Legal in Cartagena?
I’ve always been a big fan of Uber. It is available in Cartagena, and we used it frequently.
But as is common in several countries, Uber operates in Colombia within a legal gray zone. It was banned altogether for a period of time a few years back in an effort to protect the taxi industry. But it has returned via a legal loophole that classifies Uber as a “temporary car rental with driver” rather than a taxi type service.
This “arrangement” is explained to you each time you order a ride on Uber – as you can see in the screenshot below.
Using Uber For Getting Around Cartagena Colombia
We never had any issues whatsoever using Uber in Cartagena. You should be aware that Uber drivers are sometimes harrassed by taxi drivers and even occasionally the police – so you may be asked to ride up front to help mask the arrangement (I was only asked once). And I read that Uber drivers don’t love going to the airport for the same reason. I suspect this is why airport rides were the most expensive with Uber.
When ordering a ride on Uber in Cartagena, this is what your choice screen looks like…
You’ll see an Economy, Comfort, and Moto option. And an exact price. I never figured out what the “sug.” before the price meant. I thought it might mean “suggested” – indicating the price could change. But I was always charged the price initially given.
And if you do the math, with an exchange rate of approximately 4000 Colombian peso to 1 USD (during our stay), getting around Cartagena Colombia using Uber is very inexpensive. The rides from our apartment in Bocagrande to the center of town were just a few dollars.
After ordering a ride on Uber, I was generally assigned a driver within just a few minutes, though as with anywhere, sometimes it would take longer. If the App was having a hard time finding a driver at my usual Economy rate, a Priority Offer option would pop up on my screen. For typically about 5000 pesos more, I was essentially given the chance to try and motivate any nearby drivers to accept my ride. And it aways worked! Whenever I approved the upgrade to Priority, a driver would usually accept within about 30 seconds.
I presume that because of the legal grey area, Uber cars in Cartagena are not marked with any kind of special ID. But just like anywhere, you are given the license plate number, car type, and driver name. I never had any problem identifying our Uber.
And always felt safe. In fact, if we were stopped for a prolonged time in traffic, Uber would send me a notification, asking if we were OK.
The Moto Option
I never used the Moto option – though I was tempted just for the experience. It’s a scooter or motorcycle service where you ride behind the driver. As you can see in the Uber screenshot above, it’s the least expensive option.
I later learned, Moto Ride Share is one of the most popular methods locals use for getting around Cartagena Colombia. When I toured the city’s main public market, Moto drivers were lined up all around its perimeter, waiting to take shoppers home with their purchases – definitely a balancing act for the rider carrying bags of food.
Using Cabify for Getting Around Cartagena Colombia
Cabify is a Ride Share App popular in Spanish-speaking countries. I’ve previously used Cabify in Buenos Aires and plan on trying it for our upcoming trip to Spain. But despite my familiarity with it, I didn’t use it initially in Cartagena. I was a little confused by the interface when I first opened the app. So for the first week, I stuck with Uber – simply due to familiarity.
You can see that it’s a bit different than Uber’s interface It’s also different than the Cabify interface I saw in Argentina. Instead of single fixed price, you are instead shown a price range. And your choices are different than Uber’s too.
Once I decided to give Colombia Cabify a try though, I did like it. And I chose Cabify for getting to the airport on departure day.
When you order a ride via Cabify in Cartagena, a regular taxi is always sent (this was not the case in Argentina where private cars are used). Consequently, it has less of a subversive feel to it than Uber.
I would always choose the Taxi Tip option. I figured this gave me the greatest chance of quickly finding a driver. And at 2500 pesos for the typical ride, the tip is only about 60 cents.
I never did quite figure out how the price range worked. Sometimes my final charge was smack dab in middle of the quoted range. Sometimes I was charged the upper number. Never the lower. But the range was generally never more than 4000 pesos (1 USD), so I never really obsessed about it much.
And when you use Cabify in Cartagena, be sure to check the license plate carefully, as several other taxis will likely pass by and even approach you while you’re waiting. Given that the plate number is marked in bold letters on the side of the car, you shouldn’t have any problem identifying the correct taxi. Plus, our taxi drivers generally would also confirm my name as given to them in the app.
Uber vs Cabify
So is one of these two Ride Share companies better for getting around Cartagena Colombia?
After a month of switching back and forth between the two, I would give the slight edge to Cabify.
With Cabify, the cars were a little nicer (though not always), the waiting time a little shorter (though not always), and the drivers better at dodging traffic issues (always).
Uber was a little less expensive on average but not by much – especially after I added a tip after our Uber ride.
I felt equally safe riding with both companies, and the drivers were always pleasant no matter which App we used. We found Colombians to be very friendly in general. And you don’t have to speak much Spanish to successfully exchange pleasantries. Buenas when you get in the vehicle. Muchas Gracias when you get out.
What About InDrive?
InDrive is an other popular Ride Share App for getting around Cartagena Columbia – especially with locals. With the InDrive app, you name your price for the ride, and a driver determines whether or not to accept it. It’s the Priceline of Ride Share Apps.
I did download InDrive onto my phone at the suggestion of a couple different Cartagena-based bloggers, but my research ultimately swayed me from using it. It sounds like the driver-side app pales in comparison to Uber and Cabify’s. I read that the drivers frequently call the rider immediately after accepting the drive to confirm the pickup spot. And that they often ask for help with directions while you are in the car.
While I’m sure this is fine for locals, it’s not great for non-Spanish speaking tourists.
Plus, unlike Uber and Cabify, you do need to pay the driver in cash. This is far less convenient than the automatic credit card charges provided by the other two.
I did open InDrive a couple of times just to see what it’s like. As you can see, you are first given a recommended fare to consider. I found that this fare recommendation tended to be about the same as Uber’s economy fare for the same destination.
You’ll also notice that you are also given a slightly more expensive “fast pickup” fare suggestion.
Of course you can always offer lower than recommended and see what happens, but that’s a time drain.
So given that there is no pricing advantage over Uber, I can’t really recommend that tourists use InDrive.
What About Getting Around Cartagena Colombia by Bus?
It’s possible, but like InDrive, I don’t see any great advantage for tourists.
Cartagena’s bus system seems well-organized and the buses are really quite nice. I rode one back and forth to Cartagena’s huge Bazurto public market as part of an organized market tour. In fact, the purpose of the tour was to give tourists a more complete picture of everyday life outside the tourist zone in Cartagena, and riding the bus was part of that.
The bus is cheap. Only 3000 pesos (75 cents) per ride.
But riding the bus really can’t match the door to door convenience and comfort of either Uber or Cabify for only a few dollars more.
I can definitely recommend using either Uber and Cabify for getting around Cartagena Colombia. Both are inexpensive and easy to use.
And I think you can feel confident simply grabbing a regular taxi from the Cartagena airport. Unlike many other places around the world, it’s a very inexpensive way to get to the city center. Plus, measures are set in place to ensure you get correct pricing.
But no matter how you choose to get around Cartagena, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the city as much as we did. I have plenty of more Cartagena content on its way including this post on our fantastic Palenque Tour.
And, if you like reading about public transportation around the world (who doesn’t!), then check out these blog posts: