Cartagena (Colombia) (Photo:rocharibeiro/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Maria Harding
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Cartagena (Colombia)

You're in for a big treat if you've booked a Caribbean or Panama Canal cruise with Cartagena on the itinerary, as this lovely old town and resort on Colombia's Caribbean coast is quite deservedly the country's most popular tourist destination.

About Cartagena (Colombia)


Pro

This beautiful, colorful old city boasts museums, shaded parks and a welcoming vibe

Con

You likely won't have enough time to explore everything, so choose carefully

Bottom Line

Cartagena stands out from most other Spanish-speaking ports, which are quite commercial


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There, you'll find everything a cruise passenger's heart could desire: a fascinating -- and often dark and bloody -- history embedded in ancient forts, churches and palaces; a walled town filled with exquisite 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial architecture; soft beaches; world-class snorkeling and scuba diving reefs; delightful restaurants; and enough shops to capture your interest without the place feeling like one gigantic mall.

Your only regret, as your cruise ship steams away at the end of the day, will be that you didn't have longer to explore.

Where You're Docked

Your ship will dock in the port of Cartagena, where you can either walk five minutes or (for those with mobility issues) take a free shuttle to the visitors' area.

Good to Know

Cartagena is beautiful and clean, and most locals are friendly, but take usual caution. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry or flashing large amounts of cash. If you have a sensitive stomach, avoid any fruits or vegetables without peels, and stay away from fountain drinks or drinks with ice in them. (Sin hielo, por favor means "no ice, please.")

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The local currency in Cartagena is the peso, but U.S. dollars and credit cards are accepted everywhere. If you run short, an ATM is located at the port. You'll find currency conversion rates at www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.

Language

Spanish is widely spoken in Cartagena, but most vendors, store operators and attraction employees will be able to speak enough English to communicate with you. If you catch a taxi in port, it's likely the driver will know a decent amount of English. That said, it's a good idea to download a translation app to your phone or bring an English-Spanish phrasebook with you.

Shopping

If you're a java-lover, pick up some authentic Colombian coffee. You'll find the best prices at local grocery stores, but you can buy it just about anywhere at kiosks throughout the areas that are geared to tourists. If coffee isn't your beverage of choice, opt for a nice piece of jewelry instead. Emeralds are one of Colombia's claims to fame, and you can snag some great deals. Just be sure you're buying from a reputable establishment.

Best Cocktail

Aguardiente, a type of sugarcane liquor, is Colombia's most well-known drink, and it usually comes in shot form. For a more Caribbean experience, try a drink made with Colombian rum, or -- if it's an unbearably hot day -- go with a bottle of Club Colombia beer. Natural coconut water is also popular for nonalcoholic refreshment. Look for vendors selling whole coconuts, which will be cut open for you with a knife so you can drink from them with straws.