Cartagena (Colombia)
Cruise Port Guide
(Review 2023)

Street in Cartagena de las Indias by IQCruising

Basic guide for cruise passengers to Cartagena de las Indias: things to do and see, where cruise ships dock, the cruise terminal, shuttle bus, and taxis.

Update: May 28, 2023

Cartagena de las Indias is one of the most stunning Historical Cities in the South Caribbean and Panama Canal Itineraries. It wasn't always been like this.

In the 1990's and during the first years of the millennium the port (and the city) acquired such a bad reputation for its crime rate that most cruise lines canceled calls at the Port of Cartagena. But, in the last decade, the port and its Walled City has been cleaned up (both architecturally and socially) and has become a must-see jewel.

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Street in Cartagena

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Things to do and see and Cartagena cruise port

Photo of Cathedral in Cartagena (Colombia)

Cathedral in Cartagena

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Cartagena's amazing display of impeccably restored buildings of historical significance and beauty are a delight. Cruise travelers shouldn't miss the opportunity to visit and enjoy the walled city of Cartagena de las Indias - a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. Meandering the streets of Cartagena's Old City is a memorable experience. Local people are friendly and hospitable. Cafes and restaurants with shaded outside seating an invitation impossible to decline.

Photo of Plaza de San Diego in Cartagena (Colombia)

Plaza de San Diego in Cartagena

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Cartagena has been since the 16th century one of the most important ports in South America. Founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533, the city was named after the port where the Spanish conquistador was from. To distinguish it from its native city, 'de las Indias' was added to the toponym. The days when the Port was a major Gold and Slave trade center are long gone. However, the riches of the Spanish colonial era can be seen all over town in the colorful exuberance of palaces and churches contrasting with the infamous reverse of glorified history in the austerity of military buildings, ramparts, prisons and ultra-orthodox clerical intolerance.

Photo of Inquisition Palace in Cartagena (Colombia)

Inquisition Palace in Cartagena

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There are many sites and attractions to enjoy on a cruise calling at Cartagena, but a visit to the Walled Old Town is a MUST for those that have never been in this port. The Editor has been in Cartagena repeatedly and never misses the opportunity to explore nooks and crannies, another quaint street, a hidden square, peep inside a courtyard or church, or just enjoy the colorful facades of Cartagena de las Indias.

Where Cruise Ships Dock in Cartagena

The port of Cartagena doesn't have the Geo-strategic importance of the days when Colonial Empires where fighting for the control of the Caribbean but it is still one pf the most important commercial ports in South America and Colombia. Naturally, it is mainly an industrial port with a southern section with two piers for cruise ships and a Terminal close by. Up to 5 cruise ships can dock in Cartagena but only seldom ...

Photo of At The Pier in Cartagena (Colombia)

At The Pier in Cartagena

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Right outside the gangway, the cruise traveler will find a small Tourist Information Kiosk but, be aware, it is only open for the first couple of hours after the ship docks.

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Tourist Information Kiosk in Cartagena Port

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The good news is that at the Terminal you will find another Tourist Information Desk and it is next to impossible to get lost in the port as all is clearly signed.

Photo of Sign At The Pier in Cartagena

Sign At The Pier in Cartagena

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When docked at the northern pier, a shuttle bus provided by the port authority offers convenient transportation for those with difficulty to walk around 500 yards (500 meters) to the Terminal. If docked on the southern pier or mooring by the terminal, walking is the fastest way to exit the port. A pedestrian path is clearly marked on the pavement leading directly to the entrance to the Terminal.

Photo of Walk and Shuttle at the Pier in Cartagena (Colombia)

Walk and Shuttle at the Pier in Cartagena

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The Cruise Terminal in Cartagena

Impossible to miss and just a few minutes walk away, the cruise traveler will find right from the start that the terminal in Cartagena has a unique ambiance and is obviously different from most ports.

Photo of Terminal Entrance in Cartagena (Colombia)

Terminal Entrance in Cartagena

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Before reaching any building, you will walk through paths lined with huge leafy trees, manicured gardens with ponds, waterfalls, and flamingos, small squares with fountains, open seating areas with coffee shops and kiosks.

Photo of Flamingo Garden in Cartagena (Colombia)

Flamingo Garden in Cartagena

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All this area, which is part of the Terminal, has good Wi-Fi connection and, naturally, is a great place to check your emails before or after exploring the main attractions of Cartagena.

Photo of Terminal Cafe in Cartagena (Colombia)

Terminal Cafe in Cartagena

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The open area of the Terminal is quite large, but if you want to be secluded there are a few hidden corners to look for - the large deck by the flamingo garden is the Editor's favorite.

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Terminal Terrace in Cartagena

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But you may prefer a more central place with a snack bar, a fountain and a porch.

Photo of Terminal Cafe in Cartagena (Colombia)

Terminal Cafe in Cartagena

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Photo of Terminal Building in Cartagena (Colombia)

Terminal Building in Cartagena

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The main terminal building is a large air-conditioned space. It is placed so that all passengers will have to go through the Terminal to exit the port. Besides local crafts and souvenirs, there is a large number of displays with Emeralds for sale - as you would expect in Colombia - and, also Coffee. On this main building, the cruise traveler will also find a post-office and restrooms.

Outside the Terminal, on your way out, a replica of an Emerald mine is a nice, short tour for those interested in learning more about this gem and its world-famous mines in Colombia.

Photo of Emerald Mine at Terminal in Cartagena (Colombia)

Emerald Mine at Terminal in Cartagena

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Just before exiting the manicured open area of the Terminal, an aviary with Macaws demands a stop to enjoy a close look at this colorful - and sometimes - noisy birds.

Photo of Macaw Aviary in Cartagena (Colombia)

Macaw Aviary in Cartagena Terminal

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Taxis to Cartagena Old Town

Once outside, on a large parking lot, the cruise traveler will find officially licensed Taxi drivers and some independent tour operator offering their services. Taxi fares are displayed in small blue signs (US$20 for a single ride to the Old Town; $25 for a 1-hour tour; et cetera). It is good to know that haggling will not take you far. However, be aware that pricing is per car and, therefore, works out cheaper to share a van (up to 8 passengers) than a taxi for 4. Regardless of the official taxi rates, do make sure before entering the taxi that the price is absolutely clear.

The Port is around 4km (2,5 miles) from the entrance of the Old Walled Town and the taxi ride shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. Although some crew members choose to walk, it is not advisable to cross the neighborhood of the port on foot. There isn't really much to see as this is a residential area of working people. On a taxi ride, you will see a couple of interesting landmarks.

Photo of Bocagrande Skyline in Cartagena (Colombia)

Bocagrande Skyline in Cartagena

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Most probably, the cruise traveler would have already seen a modern skyline that can be seen from the ship before walking down the gangway or at the pier. Many visitors cruising to Cartagena for the first time tend to believe that those modern high-rises are 'the' place to visit. But, in reality, Bocagrande, as the area is known, is the place to be or go if on vacation. As nice as it may look from a distance, Bocagrande is a peninsula with beaches, hotels and residential condominiums but without any particular attraction.

Photo of Castillo de San Felipe in Cartagena (Colombia)

Castillo de San Felipe in Cartagena

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On the way to the Old Town, the cruise visitor will also see - at a closer distance - the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (the Castle of Saint Philip. Taxis and tour buses pass relatively close by when crossing the bridge connecting Manga Island (where the port is located) and Walled Town. The castle is not far from the Old Town but the walk between the two is too long to visit both in one day. Unless you are booked on an excursion visiting this imposing military structure will take precious time from an exploration of the walled city.

Photo of Teatro Colon in Cartagena (Colombia)

Teatro Colon in Cartagena

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The Taxis traveling from the port will pass by a modern Convention Center before stopping right in front of the Teatro Colon although some may take you a bit farther. Regardless of the exact place where taxis stop, it will be one of side of a large square with one side opening into a bay. On the right side you will see a gated garden - the Parque del Centenario. On the northern side of the square, a fortified wall with a clock tower marks the entrance to Old City. The large square in between these landmarks is known as Paseo Camellon de los Martires and pays homage to those that died for the Independence of Cartagena.

Photo of Clock Tower in Cartagena (Colombia)

Clock Tower in Cartagena

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Insider's Tips: Before entering any of the three arched gates under the Clock Tower, take a look to your right to check if a Tourist Kiosk is open: this would be the best place to get any additional information or if you need a map. Next, to it, a taxi stand is a good place to meet other cruise travelers looking forward to sharing the taxi fare back to the port.

Photo of Plaza de los Coches in Cartagena (Colombia)

Plaza de los Coches in Cartagena

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Once inside the Walled Town, the triangular Plaza de Los Coches (Coaches Square), with the statue of Founder Pedro de Heredia, welcomes visitors to explore at leisure the mainly pedestrian streets of this quaint jewel of the Caribbean.

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