Can I Drink Tap Water in Cartagena?

Cartagena Water

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Since water is such a vital part of life, one of the first things to look for when traveling is where to find safe drinking water. If you are planning a trip to Cartagena, you may be wondering, can you drink tap water in Cartagena?

The answer is usually yes, as most of the water in Cartagena is treated and safe for drinking; however, there are a few things to consider and cautions to take before you guzzle down tap water.

Before we move on, I need to disclose that I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. If you need medical advice, contact a trained professional. The following is anecdotal and my own personal observations.

Where does the local water come from?

Tap water in Cartagena comes from Canal del Dique, a 118km artificial canal stemming from the Magdalena river.

This river is one of Colombia’s most important bodies of fresh water. It springs high in the Andes mountains and flows out on the northern Caribbean coast. 

For many regions in Colombia, the Magdalena river acts as an essential source of electricity, freshwater, and even a transportation network to ship cargo between regions. 

Is the water clean?

Aguas de Cartagena is the company in charge of providing water throughout the region. They rate the condition of drinking water within the city limits as “excellent.”

After leaving the Dique canal, the local water enters a treatment plant undergoing a 6-step filtration, disinfection, and purification process.

The water meets the standards for safe drinking water by the time it reaches residential taps.

Speaking of water and plumbing. Can you flush toilet paper in Cartagena? Here is what I have to say about that!

What to watch for?

The water may come out in excellent condition from the plant, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be clean in your glass.

Water storage tanks and pipeline systems within individual buildings or homes may not be up to standards to keep that water in drinking condition. 

In Cartagena, it is common for water to be safe to drink in one building and not in the one next door. Ask for information and prepare accordingly.

Water Pipe

Why is the water different from place to place?

Cartagena’s weather is hot and humid, and its proximity to the Caribbean Sea makes the air salty.

The impact of the harsh elements on infrastructure is quite evident; everything gets rusty and worn out very quickly. 

I will refrain from mentioning the poor condition of cars, roads, parks, and buildings, as that is a topic for another day.

When it comes to the water infrastructure, pipes get rusted out, silicone sealants melt or seep, and critters crawl all over water storage tanks.

Infrastructure maintenance is costly, and many choose to cut corners. All these factors mean that the water delivery systems are inconsistent, and it is not always clear whether you should drink it.

Oh yeah, before you book a flight to Cartagena, you may also want to consider Medellinhere’s why.

Do I drink it or not?

It may seem simplistic, but the best thing to do is to ask your host or neighbor if the water is safe to drink. (This is one of the reasons you may want to learn some basic Spanish before you arrive in Cartagena.)

If they say yes, you can probably drink from the tap based on what you’ve learned.

Often staff at restaurants and hotels will tell you that the water is not suitable for drinking. They have a stake in the game; they want you to buy their overpriced bottled water. 

You know your body, so you’ll have to decide what is best for you in that situation.

I’ve seen travelers, backpackers, and some locals use portable water purifiers like a Grayl Ultra Press or tablets to ensure their water isn’t contaminated with parasites or toxins.

I live in an old, small building. When I moved in, I needed clarification on whether the water was safe for daily consumption, so I had to ask the neighbors. 

They assured me it was fine, so I now drink the tap water without hesitation.

My brother recently visited and stayed in an Airbnb a few blocks away. The host told him that the water at the house was not suitable for drinking, but he did not want to buy bottled water every time.

He opted to bring empty water jugs and fill them in the outdoor tap of my building. Even the outside pipes, used to wash your feet after going to the beach, were safe for him to drink. He trusted the building’s water systems.

Now, I know this article is all about the water situation, but what’s up with your Cartagena travel attire? Are you packing correctly? Here is my Ultimate Guide for What To Wear In Cartagena.

So why aren’t natives affected in the same way?

Per The Mayo Clinic, “often their bodies have become accustomed to the bacteria and have developed immunity to them.”

Cartagena

Ease into it?

This is a recipe or process that has been advised by local people. Is it scientific or medical advice? No, absolutely not!

If your body is not used to drinking different kinds of water, you can try a water filtration system, to begin with.  A higher-end water filtration system can help with the removal of toxins, parasites, and bacteria…but you really need to buy from high-quality and trusted brands.

Basically, If you are ready to take the leap into drinking Cartagena water, they say, “ease into it.”

Mix mostly bottled water with some tap water to give your body time to adjust. 

Gradually increment the amount of tap water you are consuming over time. Be observant of any effects it may have on your body. 

You can continue to use filtered or bottled water with tap water if that puts your mind at ease, or go all-in and drink water straight from the tap. 

BONUS: If you are unsure of the water in, say, your AIRBNB, you can kill potential pathogens by boiling the water. Per WikiHow, “Bring the water to a boil and let it sit at a rolling boil for about 10 minutes. Let the water cool before drinking.”

What if I get parasites?

If you have a sensitive gut, you might be worried that the local water will not sit well with you. 

The truth is, even if the water is clean, it is absolutely possible to get parasites, whether from the water you drink or a myriad of other things you consume in Cartagena. 

Most locals I know take anti-parasite pills every 6-12 months as a preventative measure. 

These pills can be bought at any pharmacy, over the counter, for a few dollars. 

This treatment is used to mitigate any potential parasitic exposure. Please note that this is not medical advice, simply anecdotal evidence.

Obviously, if you get sick, go see a doctor and actually get tested for parasites and other bugs. This way, they can put you on a protocol that will hopefully get you back up and running!

Conclusion

While the treatment plant does a great job treating the water in Cartagena, local delivery infrastructure sometimes falls short. 

Tap water is only sometimes potable. Ask questions and learn for yourself if your water is safe for drinking.

Check out free Colombian: Travel and Life Content:

  1. Is It Safe To Drive In Colombia?
  2. 11 Pros & Cons for Expats Living in Colombia
  3. Can I Use Uber in Cartagena?

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