Getting Around Cartagena – A Comprehensive Guide

Taxis parked outside of the walled city of Cartagena.

Whether you’re just visiting for a weekend or a resident, the different methods of transportation in Cartagena, Colombia are good to know.  In this guide you’ll find a comprehensive and detailed guide to getting around Cartagena.

A view of Cartagena's skyline.
Getting around Cartagena is easy, follow this guide to transportation in Cartagena to know how.

Taxis

Yellow Taxis

Taxis are probably the easiest way of getting around Cartagena, and they are likely to be your most used form of transportation in Cartagena, especially if you’re just visiting.  While Cartagena’s taxis are the most expensive in the country and prices to go longer distances can be quite expensive, they’re still considerably cheaper than in the United States or other more developed countries.

Therefore, if you’re just in town on vacation and sticking to the areas near the waterfront, taxis are likely to be your best bet for easy and reliable transportation in Cartagena.  In this section we will give you a complete guide to using taxis for getting around Cartagena.

Note that licensed taxis should be yellow and have their license plate number and should have a “servicio publico” label on them.  Taxis can be stopped easily on the street and are for the most part plentiful and easy to flag down except for very late at night or very early in the morning.

Taxis parked outside of the walled city of Cartagena.
Taxis waiting for passengers outside Centro. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, any hotel, restaurant, bar, or club should be willing to call you a taxi if you ask them to do so.  Also you can use the app EasyTaxi to call for a taxi and track it in real time if you know the address you are going to and have a phone and internet service.

The most important thing you should remember when taking taxis in Cartagena is to always ask for the price.  There are no meters in taxis here, and while there are many honest taxi drivers, as a whole the taxis in Cartagena have a reputation for ripping people off, even natives.

When you stop your taxi, state where you area going and ask how much the fare is.  It’s best to always make sure you’ve established an agreed upon price before getting into the taxi and be willing to negotiate or simply shut the door and flag down another.

But just what are the correct prices for taxis in Cartagena?

Well, technically there are set rates that are legally defined each year, but those rates are, shall we say, flexible in practice.  All taxi drivers are legally required to carry with them a copy of the fares and show it to you on demand, however, some don’t.  For 2018, the minimum taxi fare in Cartagena was defined at 6,700 pesos (in practice that means 7,000) with a extra 500 peso fee for service between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.  There are also special rates to go to and from the airport.

For a complete listing of the prices, you can consult the official decree setting the taxi prices in Cartagena for 2018 (I know, it’s not the prettiest scan job in the world).  The prices are set based upon traveling from specific areas to different zones of the city.  Below is a quick summary of what you should expect to pay for the cost of taxis in Cartagena, focused on the most popular tourist areas.

Summary of Cost of a Taxi in Cartagena for 2018
  • Between the Centro or Getsemaní and Bocagrande, Laguito, or Castillogrande expect to pay 7-10,000 pesos.
  • Between the Centro or Getsemaní and El Cabrero, Marbella, Crespo, Manga, or Pie de la Popa expect to pay 7-8,000 pesos.
  • Between Bocagrande, Laguito, or Castillo Grande, and El Cabrero, Marbella, Crespo, Manga, or Pie de la Popa expect to pay 10,000 pesos.
  • Between the Centro or Getsemaní and Hotel Las Americas or Zona Norte expect to pay 15-20,000 pesos.
  • Between the city and Playa Blanca expect to pay 75-100,000 pesos.  Note there are cheaper options for transportation to Playa Blanca and if you choose to do a taxi, you are probably better off negotiating for a price for the day that includes a return trip.
Cost of a Taxi from the Cartagena Airport

Note that there is an electronic kiosk just to the right of where you exit customs in Cartagena’s airport.  If you enter the neighborhood or address where you’re going, it will print you a ticket showing the correct price.  If you’re arriving on a domestic flight, there is a window to the left when you come out from claiming your bag where they give you the ticket.

There are nearly always taxi drivers hustling outside both exits who besides being parked a block away usually will try to overcharge you as well, so it’s best to just get the ticket.  Here’s a summary of the prices for taxis from the airport in Cartagena.  Returning to the airport should cost approximately the same.

  • To Centro, Getsamaní, Marbella, and El Cabrero expect to pay 11,000 pesos.
  • To Bocagrande, Laguito, or Castillogrande expect to pay 19,000 pesos.
  • To Manga or Pie de la Popa expect to pay 16,000 pesos.
Cost of a Taxi From the Cartagena Bus Terminal
  • To Pie de la Popa expect to pay 13,000-15,000 pesos.
  • To Manga, Centro, or Getsemaní expect to pay 15-16,000 pesos.
  • To Bocagrande, El Cabrero, Marbella, Crespo, or the airport expect to pay 25,000 pesos.

While legally speaking a taxi driver has to give you the correct price and is not supposed to refuse you service, many may not want to take you for less than what they want or very far if they think traffic will be bad.  Again, stick to your guns and be willing to flag down another.  That being said, if its 3 a.m., you’re in a hurry, or you just don’t feel like arguing, it’s your decision if saving a few extra thousand pesos is really worth the hassle or if they’re worth simply charging to the game.

You can also look to hire a taxi for several hours or the entire day, and some taxi drivers may even offer to give you a city tour.  Again be sure to be clear on the price and be willing to negotiate.

Collective Taxis

Collective taxis are basically shared taxis that charge a fixed fee per person and follow a set route.  Depending on where you are getting them, they wait until they are full (4 people per taxi) to leave or pick up people along the way.

Collective taxis are easily identified on the road by their quick beeps of the horn and the driver holding up their pointer finger or by the line of stopped taxis, usually with someone shouting their route.  If you are along a route and want to hail a collective taxi, hold up the same pointer finger and wiggle/bend it towards your palm (I’m not really sure what the appropriate description of that action is) as a taxi approaches.  If it’s empty, it’s probably a good idea to verify they are a collective taxi.

If you are going somewhere along the route and are alone or with just one other person and not carrying much, they can be a great option to save a few thousand pesos.  Note that proper etiquette is to ask where other passengers will exit so the first to exit will sit to the right (unless of course you are first and get to claim the front seat).  Below is a quick summary of some of the collective taxis’ prices and routes.

  • Collective taxis run from Crespo to Centro along Avenida Santander through Marbella and El Cabrero.  They enter Centro by the entrance near San Diego and then some loop around to the front of Exito in San Diego and some go to the corner in front of Exito San Diego.  They can be hailed from the main avenue in Crespo (if you don’t have much baggage and are willing to walk a block, they are an option for transportation from the airport).  The can also be hailed along Avenida Santander in Marbella and El Cabrero if they have space (usually they do).  They have a cost of 2,000 pesos per person.
  • Collective taxis from Centro to Crespo line up in front of Exito San Diego (to the far right) and follow a similar route to Crespo (note if you are stopping along the waterfront in El Cabrero or Marbella, tell them where as they often follow the back route to avoid the traffic on Avenida Santander).  The cost again is 2,000 pesos per person.
  • Collective taxis run from Bocagrande to Centro.  They can be hailed along Carrera 3a and arrive in front of the Exito San Diego and have a cost of 2,000 pesos per person.
  • Collective taxis can be taken from Centro to Bocagrande.  The trip follows the same route and they wait to fill up in front of Exito San Diego (the closer line) and have a cost of 2,000 pesos per person.
Uber

Uber does exist in Colombia.  Uber has been controversial in Colombia as its presence has led to protests from taxi drivers and there have been some attacks on Uber drivers in Bogotá (none of these attacks have happened in Cartagena).  Uber is still only starting to catch on and you should expect to have to pay in cash, even if you use your credit or debit card in your home country, but it is a growing option for getting around Cartagena.

Private Cars

There are other private forms of transportation in Cartagena.  There is a fleet of white SUVs that usually work directly with hotels, although they sometimes are willing to pick you up on the street.  If you happen to hail one, expect to pay about the same price as a normal taxi.

You also may occasionally see people in private cars offer to take you somewhere.  Unless you have strong Spanish skills and know the city or at least the route you should take to where you are going, I’d advise against taking them up on their offer.  If you do take one, expect to pay about the same price as a taxi.

Mototaxis

There are also motorcycle taxis in Cartagena, although they’ve been restricted in some neighborhoods.  They can be handy if you are looking for a cheap form of transportation and going somewhere buses do not stop or if you are in a hurray.  The reason they are quicker is because they can weave through traffic, so you have to decide if you are comfortable with that or not.  I used to take mototaxis all the time but generally avoid them now.  Like with regular taxis, be sure to negotiate the price before you hop on.

Buses

Transcaribe

Transcaribe is a system of public transportation in Cartagena that was opened in 2016.  It is meant to function in the vein of a subway with lanes and stations especially for it through Centro and down the main thoroughfares of the city.

It is still working on expanding to serve the entire city, but it is an option for cheap transportation in Cartagena.  The buses and stations can get quite full (and you get to see people basically act like cattle getting on and off) at rush hour, but if you aren’t crunched in or can get a seat, the buses are quite comfortable and even have air conditioning.

A Transcaribe bus in Cartagena.
A Transcaribe bus in Cartagena. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

To access Transcaribe, you must have a card with money loaded on it (like a metrocard).  The cards can be bought at the windows at stations and have a cost of 4,000 pesos.  A ride costs 2,300 pesos.  If you already have a card, you can add money to it at stations or at places such as Giros Colombia.

Transcaribe has some smaller buses called alimentadores (feeders/connectors) that run off the main thoroughfares and are designed to pick up passengers and connect them to the main line, although they also run though the main line but stop at fewer stations.

The feeder buses stop at the large rectangles marked SITM in the street.  If you’re on board be sure to press the little red button located near the doors as you approach your stop so the driver knows to stop and open the doors for you to get off.

There is a feeder bus (The T103 Portal-Bocagrande) that runs through Bocagrande and stops at Bodeguita station in front of the docks in Centro and at Chambacú station in front of Mall Plaza.

There is also a feeder bus (the T102 Portal-Crespo) that runs from Crespo along Avenida Santander through Marbella and El Cabrero and goes by the entrance to Centro near the Statue of India Catalina before stopping at the station in front of Mall Plaza.  On the return trip it runs through Centro stopping at the Centro station in front of Centro Uno before following the wall along Avenida Santander back through El Cabrero and Marbella to Crespo.

The main buses are made up of a series of express buses that stop at only some stations, the feeders that run through different areas and also only stop at some stations, and the 101 that stops at every station.  Unfortunately, for some reason Transcaribe does not appear to just have a simple map of its system easy to find on its website.  However, this article from El Universal shows the routes and stops of the main feeders and this table shows the stations where the different routes stop.

Other Buses

Transcaribe was meant to replace Cartagena’s less well organized system of buses, and as it has started to come online, some of the old buses have been phased out, but many are still running, particularly those that serve areas where Transcaribe’s buses do not go.

These buses (often referred to as busetas) can be identified by their bright colors and the guys called sparrings that hang out the door shouting out the route trying to get passengers.  There are no designated stops and they can be hailed down or passengers can call for stops anywhere along their routes.

A bus in Cartagena picking up passengers.
A bus in Cartagena. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Each bus has the name of the neighborhood where the route begins and a list of some of the neighborhoods it passes through on the windshield (pay attention to this list because there are some buses that have the same name at the top but follow different routes).  If you’re not entirely sure if a bus goes past your destination or when you should get off, ask the sparring and/or the bus driver.  Usually they are happy to help you.

The fare for buses in Cartagena is equal to that of Transcaribe (2,300 pesos for 2018).  The sparring will collect the money from you.  If he doesn’t give you change immediately it’s likely because he needs to make it, he should return and give it to you.  It amazes me how they can remember who they owe change to on a crowded bus.

The thing about the busetas is that they make a lot of sense if you know the routes but to the uninitiated, figuring out the routes is a bit difficult, especially since there are a handful of buses that have the name main name but follow different routes (pay attention not just to the name at the top of the windshield but the neighborhoods it goes through listed below).  Below is a short summary of some of the main buses that serve the area in and around Centro and the waterfront.

Here’s a quick guide to 3 of the main bus routes in Cartagena:
  • Ternera-San Jose:  These buses are identified by the name Ternera written at the top of the windshield and San Jose to the lower left.  They run from the end of the city in Ternera to Centro along Avenida Pedro Heredia, then run along Avenida Santander though El Cabrero and most of Marbella before turning right at the building Marbella Real and looping through the neighborhood of Torices back to Avenida Pedro Heredia and back out to Ternera.
  • Ternera-Villagrande:  These buses also say Ternera at the top but say either Bocagrande or B/Grande to the left below it.  They follow a very similar route from Ternera to Centro, then do a loop through Bocagrande down Avenida San Martin (inbound) and Avenida 3ra (outbound), then also run along Avenida Santander along the wall and through El Cabrero and Marbella before looping through Torices back to the Avenida.
  • Campestre-Castillo:  This bus runs from the neighborhood of Campestre and enters the Avenida Heredia where the church of Maria Auxiliadora is located before doing the loop around Centro and into Bocagrande, then enters Castillogrande before following the same route from Bocagrande along the wall and through El Cabrero and Marbella and completing the loop through Torices.  Note that these buses usually do not have a sparring and you pay the driver when you board.

There are other routes as well, including buses that go though Manga to Avenida Luque in El Bosque neighborhood.  Look for Manga listed on the windshield to identify those buses.

Rental Cars

There are car rental companies by the airport.  Unless you are planning to travel outside of Cartagena and prefer driving yourself, I would say it is not worth renting a car.  Taxis and plentiful and parking in Cartagena can be difficult, especially in Centro.  Also, people drive very aggressively here you should be sure you are comfortable with that.  However, if you feel you need your own car, then a rental could be an option for transportation in Cartagena.

One thing to keep an eye out for if you do rent a car is what’s called pico y placa.  There is a rotational prohibition of cars with license plates ending in certain numbers as a method to reduce traffic.  These restrictions apply Monday to Friday during rush hour times from 7-9 a.m., 12-2 p.m., and 5-7:30 p.m.  The numbers rotate through the week and are changed every few months.  Consult the numbers and dates on the transportation authority’s site here.

And there you have it, a comprehensive guide on all the ways to get around Cartagena.


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