Do I Need a Car in Cartagena?
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Cartagena, Colombia, is a vibrant and bustling city that attracts millions of tourists annually. With its stunning beaches, historic landmarks, and vibrant nightlife, it is no wonder that so many people choose to visit Cartagena.
If you are wondering whether you need a car in Cartagena, the short answer is no, you do not need a car to get around. However, you may WANT a car in Cartagena for a few reasons, even if you don’t NEED one.
Here are the things to consider about having a vehicle, whether you are visiting short term (as a tourist) or settling down for a while (as an expat).
Driving Conditions in Cartagena
Driving in Cartagena is not for the faint of heart. The city is small, and the roads are easy to follow (at least in the tourist areas).
Still, the road conditions are chaotic and unpredictable. Traffic signals and regulations are a mere suggestion, infrastructure is falling apart, causing potholes and flooding, and motorcycles and taxis weave in and out of traffic.
I lived in Cartagena without a vehicle for several years. When I started driving, it took me several weeks of white-knuckling the steering wheel and my heart pounding inside my chest before I adjusted to the extreme driving conditions.
Therefore, would not recommend driving a car as the primary option for foreigners in Cartagena.
For Short Term Tourists
If you are visiting Cartagena as a tourist, there is no need to rent a car during your visit.
The city’s tourist part is relatively small, meaning Cartagena has a high walkability score. For this reason, you can easily use public transportation if you are lodging or exploring areas outside these tourist hubs.
Walking in Cartagena
One of the best ways to explore Cartagena is on foot. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s filled with beautiful colonial architecture, picturesque plazas, and colorful streets.
Walking through the narrow streets and alleyways is a great way to soak up the city’s atmosphere and discover hidden gems you might otherwise miss.
It’s essential to remember that Cartagena can be hot and humid, especially during summer.
So, be sure to wear comfortable shoes, carry plenty of water, and wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Go deeper and read my Ultimate Guide for What to Wear in Cartagena.
If the weather is too hot and sunny to walk around the city, the second best option is to take public transportation.
Public Transportation in Cartagena
Cartagena has good public transportation options, including buses and taxis.
The city bus system is cheap and convenient, costing around $3000COP (about USD 0.70) per ride.
Speaking of money, read this before you head to Cartagena: Can I Pay with US Dollars in Cartagena? Ensure You Check This Info!
It is worth noting that buses can be crowded, especially during peak hours, and the routes can be confusing for visitors.
But suppose you are on a tight budget and are okay with navigating a foreign transport system. In that case, it is a cheap and convenient way to move around the city.
Taxis and ride-sharing apps are widely available throughout the city. They are relatively safe, and fares are reasonable.
Because there are no meters in Cartagena taxis, it can present an excellent opportunity for drivers to overcharge tourists, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. Set a price before entering the vehicle.
For full details on what to expect with taxis and using Uber, check out Can I Use Uber in Cartagena.
Biking in Cartagena
If you’re looking for a more active way to explore Cartagena, biking can be an option.
Several companies rent bicycles in the city, and bike tours take you to some of the city’s most popular attractions.
Biking is an excellent option to ride within your neighborhood, inside the city wall, or around the promenades that surround the bay and beach fronts.
I would not recommend biking on main roads to get around Cartagena. The city does not have a good biking culture, no designated bike lanes on the streets, and biking accidents are common.
Also, if you like biking and islands, you will want to check out San Andres next.
Renting a Car in Cartagena
A few destinations outside city limits are worth visiting in a private vehicle. Examples are visiting the Aviary or Playa Blanca in Baru, relaxing on the Manzanillo beaches, or Mountain Biking in Turbaco.
Because driving in Cartagena can be challenging, I always recommend hiring a private inter-city transport service before renting a car.
If you are still trying to figure out how to drive yourself, a few car rental companies are available.
You can find these at the airport or in Bocagrande. Some have a reputation for scamming visitors by overcharging fees and repair costs on rental vehicles, so always check reviews and read contracts carefully before signing on the dotted line.
For Expats or Long Term Visitors
If you plan on staying in Cartagena for an extended period, you may consider buying or leasing a vehicle. Here are the pros and cons of owning a car in Cartagena
1. Beating the Heat
It is no surprise that Cartagena’s weather is hot and humid (for more weather conditions, see Cartagena vs. Medellin).
Just stepping out of the shower means being instantly covered in sweat. Driving in Cartagena with AC may be the only chance to feel fresh and put together throughout your day.
2. Avoiding the Public
Dealing with public transportation personnel in Cartagena can be a real headache. You can bypass negative interactions with taxi and bus drivers if you have your own vehicle.
3. Find New Places
You can get to more places outside the city limits with a vehicle. That means you can explore new areas and find exciting places to visit that are not tourist traps.
1. Vehicle Maintenance
Maintaining a vehicle in Cartagena conditions is costly. Sea air and salt water will cause your car to rust fast.
The heat and humidity are also very hard on vehicles. You must wash your car at least once a week and paint the bottom of the vehicle with anti-rust paint annually.
It can be hard to find parking in Cartagena. The few formal lots that are available have costly hourly rates.
3. Road Blockades
Roadblocks due to protests or construction are commonplace in Cartagena.
Because the city is surrounded by bodies of water, when one road is blocked, there is often no alternative route to get around.
You may be parked in your vehicle for hours without a way out.
If you are on public transportation, you can always choose to get off the car and walk past the blockade, but in your vehicle, you cannot just walk away.
From my experience, driving a vehicle in Cartagena is not a necessity but rather a luxury. There are many ways to get around the city without your car, and you can save a lot of money by not owning a vehicle.
Depending on your lifestyle, it may make sense to get a vehicle in Cartagena to get around. If this is your case, I also suggest hiring a personal driver.
Having a driver means you do not have to deal with the headache of navigating Cartagena traffic; you can sit and relax in the back seat while they take you to your destination.
You can hire a personal driver for close to the minimum monthly wage; What you will save on vehicle maintenance can offset this added cost.
Taking care of a vehicle in Cartagena is very time-consuming. They can handle that on your behalf to ensure the car is well-maintained and in tip-top shape.
Here are some other things to consider before traveling or moving to Cartegena: