Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular tourist destinations thanks to its interesting history, excellent cuisine, and amazing shopping. Located on the Caribbean coast only 256 miles from the Panama Canal, Cartagena is a major seaport for both commercial shipping and vacationers on cruise ships. More than 3,000 ships pass through this port each year, and Cartagena sees nearly 112,000 tourists a year from cruise ships alone.
The residential population of about 1 million people, Cartagena is the fifth largest city in Colombia, and the second largest in the coastal region. At 221 square miles, it is just slightly smaller than Chicago.
The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While it gained its independence from Spain on November 11, 1811, Cartagena still retains much of the original, colonial architecture. As you walk through the old city you’ll find narrow, cobble-stoned streets, old churches, museums, and restaurants and shops housed in colonial buildings, making you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
Oozing history and romance, Cartagena’s center is surrounded by the historic city wall, with the Clock Tower (Torre del Reloj) overlooking the main entrance. Sections of the wall have steps that let you walk along the top. Many residents like to stroll along the wall, warmed by ocean breezes, to take in the breath-taking views and listen to the waves crashing close by.
Shopping is exceptional in Cartagena. Upscale boutiques, local artisanal shops, and sidewalk vendors provide a variety of options for every budget. Emeralds are an especially popular item.
Hotels, condos, apartments, and AirBnB and Flipkey rentals are available year-round but fill up quickly during Christmas, the New Year, and Easter holidays.
Retire in Cartagena
Many retirees want to continue to lead an active, vital life. This is easy to do in Cartagena. Due to the influence of the tourism industry there are lots of recreational activities, including boating, swimming, bicycle riding around the city, and playing golf. The area is home to TPC at Karibana, a Jack Nicklaus designed 18-hole golf course, that is perfectly situated next to the ocean.
Culturally Cartagena is known for its International Music Festival held in January, the International Film Festival held in March and the Jazz Festival in December. The various museums and art galleries regularly offer film screenings, rotating art exhibits, and permanent collections by local artists.
Besides all the tourist attractions, Cartagena has all the comforts for daily life. Grocery store chains, pharmacies, banks, real estate offices, shopping malls, and medical care are easily accessible.
Most expats will choose to live in either the high-rise apartments that face Cartagena Bay in the neighborhood of Bocagrande (big mouth) or the slightly more laidback and residential neighborhood of Manga. Both areas have great views, are pedestrian friendly, and are secure.
Lifestyle in Cartagena
Cartagena has a warm, tropical climate. Daytime temperatures average in the upper 80s F with 90% humidity. This means that shorts, sandals, sundresses, and wide-brimmed hats are the usual uniform. The region has only two seasons, rainy and dry. Rainy season usually lasts from May through November, while December through April is dry season with intense sun, so sunscreen is a must in this city. Fortunately, due to the proximity to the equator, Cartagena is not effected by hurricanes.
In terms of accessibility, the Rafael Nuñez International airport is only 15 minutes outside of the center of the city. It is the fourth busiest airport in Colombia and has direct flights to and from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and New York, making for easy travel back and forth to the U.S.
Getting around the city is easy too, thanks to the various options for public transportation. Buses, taxis, and even horse drawn carriages will get you anywhere you need to go in the city, so owning a car is not necessary. The vast majority of the city is flat and at sea level, so walking is a viable and healthy option of transportation as well.
Cost of Living in Cartagena
Like most areas of the world, the cost of living in Cartagena depends on the type of lifestyle you want. Whether you prefer to cook your own meals with food bought at the local markets, or dine out several times a week; live on the beach in a penthouse apartment, or a small garden-style inland home, you can tailor your lifestyle to your budget.
Cartagena is less expensive than comparable U.S. oceanfront cities. On average, living expenses are 60% lower than in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or San Diego. For those wanting to get away from the cold of the Northeast or Midwest, Cartagena’s average cost of living is 65% lower than Chicago and 75% lower than Boston.
Below is an example of a monthly budget for a couple living in Cartagena:
|Rent (three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment)||$600 – $1,000|
|Electricity (depends on use of air conditioning)||$60|
|Water & sewer||$25|
|Telephone (land and cell)||$30|
|Transportation (buses & taxis)||$45|
|Entertainment (evenings out, etc.)||$200|
|Healthcare (public basic)||$80|
|Maid service (once per week)||$50|
|Clothing & personal care||$200|
|Monthly total||$1,615 – $2,015|
Living Like Royalty in Cartagena, Colombia
by Marcela De Vivo
First thing this morning, I stepped out of my apartment building and crossed the street to meet my personal trainer at the beach. After I finished my 20-minute routine, I rounded out my workout with a refreshing swim in the ocean. By the time I got back to the apartment, our live-in cook had prepared a delicious, healthy breakfast of patacon con queso (fried plantain and cheese).
This is the start of a typical day for me, and all possible because I live in the beautiful city of Cartagena, Colombia. Here, an average person can live like a king, enjoying privileges reserved for the rich and famous in the U.S.
I can’t begin to describe how helpful it has been for me to go from juggling a job, three kids, and a house, to having a couple of maids helping me with healthy meals, laundry, and more. The average cost of a live-in maid is just $250/month.
In my own time I booted up the computer in my home office, to begin the work of the day (but I wasn’t too busy to take a break when the manicurist arrived for my weekly mani-pedi).
Thanks to the internet, I was able to structure my business to work remotely. Some days I’ll grab my laptop and take a short trip to the historic Old Town. Sitting at La Brioche in the plaza, sipping coffee while I work, is an enjoyable change of pace. I love people-watching and taking in the antics of the happy, merry-go-lucky Colombian people as they go about their day.
One of the major benefits of an online business is that all of my clients are based in the U.S. and pay me in U.S dollars. In the last 12 months, the strength of the dollar has doubled, meaning, if you earn in dollars, the cost of living is about 50% what it used to be in Colombia.
Inexpensive labor, beautiful scenery, and low cost of living are just some of the reasons why I’m enamored with the Cartagena lifestyle. One of my favorite hobbies is scuba diving. Here, you can jump on a high-speed boat for under $30 and within 30 minutes, arrive at one of the most beautiful beaches on earth. The reefs are stunning, and wonderful for both snorkeling and scuba diving. It’s one of my favorite weekend plans, hitting the islands with a group of friends.
In just one year, I’ve had a complete physical and emotional makeover as a result of my lifestyle in Cartagena. Not only do I look great, I feel amazing and have more energy than I’ve had in a decade. It’s an incredible, magical city which I highly recommend to anyone.