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:

ExpenseU.S. $
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