Where are the Safe Neighborhoods in Cartagena?
Date posted: Jul, 15, 2023
Along the oceanfront, in the northwest of the city is where the safe neighborhoods are (see map below).
Many Airbnbs are in the area called "Centro", but it is not truly safe at all in my opinion.
Your easiest and best bet is to live in Bocagrande, El Laguito, or Castillo Grande. These neighborhoods are the safest, but a tidge pricey.
This Article Considers What is Safe for Long-term Living, and/or Renting (I'm not talking about just visiting)
You can visit most parts of Cartagena during the day as a tourist without too much problem. That's not the subject of this post: I'm thinking about what is safe for an expat who intends to live in Cartagena for a good bit (let's say at least six months or so), and who will be either renting an apartment or Airbnb for a decent stretch of time. This invovles a different set of considerations.
The old "Historic Centro" Area that is Often-touted in Videos and Marketing Materials is NOT Truly Safe
The tourist industry of Cartagena NEEDS you to believe that old historical area of Cartagena is safe, however I don't see how being acosted by panhandlers every five minutes is safe. Further, there are quite a number of very poverty-stricken people who come to the area to try to eke out some kind of living selling junk to tourists. I mean selling any kind of thing whatsoever. And they don't just take one "No, thank you" from you as being the end of it: they push and push and push. There are also quite a few homeless people in the downtown area. The architecture is beautiful, and there are indeed some quaint apartments on offer here for rent, and many hotels as well. The problem is that there is no way you can spend an hour or so in the area and believe that it is truly safe to live there long-term. Here is "Centro":
Boca Grande and Laguito is Probably Your Best Bet for Renting Long-term In Cartagena
Although I rented an apartment for three months in the neighborhood Cielo Mar (more on this area below), I also stayed at a number of Airbnbs and small hotels in the Boca Grande neighborhood. It is the largest part in green on the map above, it is like a peninsula that sort of juts out into the ocean. There is very little chance that you will not come to know this area well if you live long-term in Cartagena. There are a number of prominent shopping malls and restaurants and other services that are higher caliber here.
The Local Cartagena Government Has Created Special Rules for Bocagrande, Laguito and Castillo Grande to Combat Crime
It is illegal in Bocagrande for two men to ride on the same motorcycle together. Yes, you heard that right: two men are not allowed to ride on a motorcyle together a pair. The authorities realized that the vast majority of robberies in Colombia involve two men pulling up on a motorcyle, one jumps off with a gun and demands peoples' valuables, then jumps back on to the motorcyle and they speed off. It is a sort of recipe that works for criminals. So, now it is illegal in these neighborhoods, but not in other parts of Cartagena. A man or woman can ride a motorcyle with a member of the opposite sex on the back, or two women, but not to hombres.
The Bocagrande area is physically cut off from the rest of Cartagena except by one limited route: thus it is easier to shut it down when a robbery occurs. Just a cursory glance at its geography will relay this fact. It is much more difficult for criminals to get away after a heist. I have often seen small groups of police vehicles at the slim choke point where Bocagrande merges with the greater part of Cartagena: they have stopped traffic and are checking cars leaving the area. It is easier to enforce criminal laws in this area. Further, the area is not that large: there are no large ghetto areas into which criminals can run into to hide and abscond after they've committed a crime. Are they going to jump in a speed boat and cross the bay onto the mainland? I don't think so.
Cielo Mar: My Home for 3 Months
I rented an Airbnb in the Cielo Mar neighbood, and it was very safe. Further, there were no panhandlers whatsoever. There are some panhandlers in Bocagrande (though not like in "Centro"). Not once did I have anyone approach me and try to sell me something while living in Cielo Mar. Cielo Mar is a very small area, no more than about one square mile in total. However, it is quite nice and you're close to the beach. The area is very quiet.
If you are considering living in Brazil as an expat, see my blog post Safe Neighborhoods for Expats and digital nomads in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.