Is Getsemani, Cartagena Safe?

Getsami Cartagena

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Getsemani is one of the most highly visited neighborhoods in Cartagena. It is a must-see stop for foreign tourists, so you cannot help but wonder, is Getsemani safe to visit?

Cartagena has high crime statistics, but because of the large police presence in Centro Getsemani, most tourists don’t have safety issues. Of course, taking precautions, especially at night, is a good idea, which I discuss further below.

The Low-Down on Cartagena

Cartagena is a sought-after destination for local and foreign tourists alike. Some of the things that make this city a great destination are its warm weather and Caribbean coast vibes, but the most special part of Cartagena is its historic center.

Getsemani is part of the greater historic center area.

“Centro,” the colonial city center, is nestled among Miami-style modern high-rises and industrial ports. This part of town is magical; it can transport you back in time to a simpler era.

In Centro, you will see narrow streets, colorful buildings, balconies laden with flowers, and horse-drawn carriages; all of these are encased in a majestic city wall.

Getsemani is cool, but so are Cartgena’s beach clubs…check out our top 4 picks!

What is Getsemani all about?

Getsemani has gained popularity in recent decades, especially with backpackers. The vibe in Getsemani is more laid back than in the rest of Cartagena.

There, you can find countless hostels, rooftop bars, street performers, and street food any time of day.

Where is Getsemani?

Centro is made up of various districts.  

La Matuna is the commercial part of the city center. It is usually busy during the day with affordable commerce for the locals, and it shuts down by 5 pm. 

San Diego is part of Centro, which is closer to the open ocean. It is here where you can find high-end restaurants, 5-star hotels, and classy bars.

Exiting the wall through the Clock Tower, you will find Getsemani. This neighborhood is located between the Heredia Bridge & the Roman Bridge, past the Pegasus dock, but before you enter the island of Manga.

Why is Getsemani so popular?

Getsemani offers affordable tourism, which is often hard to find the other areas of the old city, such as San Diego. Getsemani gives off cool urban vibes with graffiti wall art on every street.

If you look up, you will see streets lined with umbrellas, garlands, or flags end to end.

Old colonial homes seem more approachable in Getsemani as compared to the rest of the city center.

Up until recently, Getsemani was an authentic Cartagenian neighborhood with local families that have lived there for generations.

It used to be an inner-focused neighborhood: if you lived there, you were known, but if you were an outsider, you stood out.

In the last decade, the authentic vibe has been replaced by imitation businesses geared toward tourists. While it has lost some of its authenticity, the good thing is that it has become more open to outsiders.

Getsemani is a hub for local artisans, musicians, dancers, and poets. It is a place to gather in the streets, and there is always something to see or hear. 

Cartagena Tourism Police

Is there crime in Cartagena?

Cartagena has a high crime rate by most world standards, though somewhat lower than in other Colombian cities. 

There were 8 homicides registered in the first 2 days of 2023 alone. Numbers only went up from there. 

Deaths & theft by sicarios (motorcycle drive-by crime) are common in most of the country, and Cartagena is no exception. 

Aside from theft and homicides, trafficking and sex-related crime is on the rise in Cartagena, and it can be witnessed out in the open.

Finally, there is the usual petty crime, such as minor scams and pickpocketing. 

Is this a reason to deter you from traveling to Cartagena? Not at all!

This information is not meant to scare you away, just to let you know that these things happen in Cartagena as much as anywhere else in the world.

If you are going to travel there, you should do your due diligence and know what is going on. 

With a little common sense, you should be able to have a great time during your visit and not have to worry about bad things happening around you.

And speaking of visits, you may want to check out San Andres as your next destination.

Am I in danger in Getsemani?

Tourist areas, like Getsemani, are relatively safe from the most dangerous crimes. In Centro, there is a big police presence, and the sheer number of people around makes it unlikely that you will be in major danger.

The saying there’s safety in numbers is very true in this case. 

The majority of homicides  I mentioned above happened in lower-class neighborhoods, and they were gang-related crimes or collateral damage of these.

They occur away from tourist areas and are not a threat to outsiders. Visitors that are not involved in shady activities are usually safe from violent crimes in the historic center.  

At the same time, since tourists are seen as wealthy by local criminals, they make good targets for minor offenses such as theft and scams.

Petty crimes such as pickpocketing & various types of scams are common in Getsemani. Tourists and foreigners are prime targets of these types of crimes due to their naivete and limitations in communication.

There are things you can do to protect yourself from falling victim to these types of criminal activity. I will outline different commonly known dangers and how to avoid becoming a victim of these.

Cartagena

Common dangers in Getsemani and how to avoid them

1. Dating scams

One of the most popular scams targeting foreign men is Tinder scams. With minor variations in small details, the scam goes something like this: a foreign man looking to have a good time goes on Tinder and meets an amazing local woman.

Colombian women are known for their natural beauty and emphasis on dressing nice and looking good. Speaking of looking good, check out how Colombians dress in the Ultimate Guide for What to Wear in Cartagena

The couple meets up in a public place, like a bar or restaurant, the night goes great, and they are hitting it off and enjoying their time together.

The woman, however, is a thief and scammer, and the whole thing is one big con.  It may take more than one date, but the pair will eventually end up in the man’s hotel room or rental place, where the woman will spike the victim’s drink, and the rest is history. 

The victim will wake up missing their cash, credit cards, and electronics; sometimes, they go as far as to steal their ids and even clothing items. 

The drugs they use to spike the drinks are often horse tranquilizers, scopolamine (aka Devils Breat), or cheap heavy sedatives, which can cause long-term damage to the victims.

They use these types of substances because the longer the victim is unconscious, the longer they have to disappear or run up their credit cards. 

You can report their profile to the dating app, but they just open up a new one. It’s like playing criminal whack-a-mole.

How to stay safe:

  • Under no circumstance should you bring dates back to your place
  • Avoid going out alone; make it a double date whenever possible
  • Watch your drink at all times, and order closed drinks like canned or bottled drinks. Sometimes the servers are in on the scams, so ask them to open the drinks at the table where you can see it

2. Pickpocketing

Pickpocketing is common in Getsemani. It is a prime location for petty theft due to its large population density, with people walking around in the streets late into the night.

There is so much sensory input in Getsemani, a mix of lights, sounds, smells, and crowds, that it is an easy location for pickpocketing.

How to stay safe:

  • Only carry with you what you need for the night, maybe some cash, one piece of id, and your cellphone. Everything else should remain back at your place
  • Keep your purse or bag in front of you with an arm over it at all times. Avoid hanging it on your back
  • Don’t wear expensive jewelry or watches

3. Sexual Assault

Unlike the Tinder scams, I probably do not need to mention this to any woman out there. Women are taught from an early age how to protect themselves from assault, and it is no different in Getsemani.

Latin men are flirtatious and charming. They know how to get a woman’s attention, and it is not uncommon for someone that seems friendly and harmless to spike your drink. 

How to stay safe:

  • Similar to the advice for the Tinder scams, watch your drink at all times, go out in groups as much as possible, and avoid over-drinking. 

4. Money Scams

There are myriads of scams to fall pray to in Getsemani and the Cartagena region, including the islands. 

  • The “gringo tax”: at its most basic form, it is simply to get charged more just because you are a foreigner.
  • The “double menu”: Some restaurants/bars have two separate menus; one, they show you when you are ordering, and a different one they give you when you get your bill and realize that it is much higher than you expected. 
  • The “you misunderstood me” scam: happens often with taxis.  You agree upon a price, and when it is time to pay, they tell you that it is much more and that you must have misunderstood because “you do not speak Spanish well.” They often use similar numbers to gaslight you into thinking you heard them wrong.  For example, they will charge you $15, and when you go pay, they tell you it was $50 all along, but you misunderstood.
  • The “it’s a gift, just try it”: Street vendors may offer you a sample or gift. Since, in the Western world, it is not uncommon to receive freebies or samples before you purchase a product, you might willingly accept the offer. After consuming the product, you may get harassed for payment because nothing in Cartagena is truly free. It has happened to me with oysters at the beach and chorizo samples in the old city. 

How to stay safe:

  • Check with your hotel or local guide to get a feel for what things should cost. 
  • Be assertive when you think you are getting charged too much. If you stand your ground, they will drop the price immediately. Call their bluff by walking away, and they will quickly chase you down with a lower price. 
  • Take a photo of the menu at the time of ordering and check your bill to ensure that it matches the quoted price.
  • Confirm the price with taxi drivers several times before entering the vehicle or use an app to book your ride; see: Can I use Uber in Cartagena?
  • Do not accept free samples. If you want a product, just buy it outright. If you are not interested, just say “no, gracias” and move on. 
Cartagena

Tourism Police

Cartagena has an entire police force dedicated to tourists. This Tourism Police can be found patrolling Centro and the tourist beaches.

You can identify them by the name on the back of their uniform. If you ever feel unsafe or are unsure as to whether a situation is fair to you, feel free to approach them and ask.

They are aware of all the common tactics to scam tourists, and they are a great resource to have on hand. Wherever you are walking, look around for your nearest Tourism Police officer so that you know where to get help if needed. 

Final Thoughts

Getsemani is a safe destination for you to visit, and so is Cartagena in a larger sense.

As long as you are street-smart and don’t believe everything people tell you, you should be able to have a great time in Getsemani without running into much trouble.

Here are a few other articles to consider before visiting Cartagena:

  1. Can I Drink Tap Water in Cartagena?
  2. Cartagena vs. Medellin: Which is the better travel destination?
  3. Do I Need to Know Spanish in Cartagena?

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