Rafael Núñez airport is 1.5 km from the city in the Crespo district and it can be reached by local buses from Blas de Lezo, in the southwest corner of the inner wall. There is a casa de cambio, T656 4943, open Monday to Friday 0830-2030, Saturday 0830-1700 and Sunday 0830-2100. It cashes Amex TCs but not Bank of America and better rates are available in town. For tourist information, ask at the travel agent’s offices on the upper level. There is also a good self-service restaurant. A bus from the airport to Plaza San Francisco costs between US$0.60 and US$0.80, depending on whether the bus is air conditioned. A taxi to the centre is US$4 (official price). Buses and taxis for the return trip can be found on Avenida Blas de Lezo close to Puerta del Reloj. Buses can be very crowded and if you have a lot of luggage, a taxi is recommended.
The bus terminal is 30 minutes from town on the road to Barranquilla, a taxi costs US$5, or you can take the city buses to the ‘Terminal de Transportes’, from between US$0.60 and $0.80. Agree your taxi fare before you get in.
Undoubtedly, the best way to arrive is by sea and a description of the approach is given below under Background. Regular lines are at present non-existent, but what is possible is detailed on page . Cartagena is, however, popular for cruise ships and those who have their own sea transport: around 200,000 passengers pass through the docks each year. Equally, many tourists take trips to the offshore islands.
Direct flights daily to major Colombian cities and to smaller places in the north of the country. International flights direct daily to Miami and Panama. From Dec to Mar flights can be overbooked and even reconfirming and turning up 2 hrs early doesn’t guarantee a seat; best not to book a seat on the last plane of the day if you can avoid it. Daily flights to all main cities and international destinations.
AeroRepública, Cra 6, No 8-116 (Bocagrade), T6650428; Avianca, C del Arzobispado, No 34-52, T6641729, also in Bocagrande, C 7, No 7-17, L 7, T6655727 and at the airport; CC Invercredito, Local 18, T664 9077, Mon-Fri 0800-1800, Sat 0900-1300; Copa, C Gastelbondo, No 2-95, T0180 00112672.
Colectivos for Barranquilla leave from C 70, Barrio Crespo every 2 hrs and cost US$14 and are a good option as they do a centre-to- centre service. There is a regular bus to Barranquilla, every 15 mins, 2-3 hrs, US$8, Berlina; Brasilia; Concorde; La Costeña.To Medellín, 665 km, approximately 1 every hr starting from 0530, 13-16 hrs, US$60, Brasilia; Copetran; Rápido Ochoa (slightly cheaper, recommended), book early (2 days in advance at holiday times). The road is now paved throughout, but in poor condition. To Santa Marta, 1 every hr,4 hrs, US$13.50, Berlina; Brasilia; La Costeña.
To Bogotá via Barranquilla and Bucaramanga, 16 a day, 21-28 hrs (depending on number of check-points), US$75, with Berlina; Brasilia; Concorde; Copetran; Rápido Ochoa. To Magangué on the Magdalena, US$12, 4 hrs with Brasilia. To Mompós, 0700, 12 hrs including ferry crossing from Magangué, US$17, Unitransco. To Riohacha, US$22. Bus to Maicao on Venezuelan frontier, every hour 0500-1200, 2 in the evening, 12 hrs, US$27, with Brasilia.
Several of the bigger hotels have car rental company offices in their foyers, such as Hotel Bahía, Bocagrande, C 14, No 3-59, local 1. There are several car rental companies in Edif Torremolinos, Av San Martín: International Car Rentals, T6655399; National, T6653336; Rentacars, T6652852. At the airport, try Platinum on 2nd floor, T666 4112.
Intermittent boats go from Cartagena to Porvenir in the San Blas Islands (Panama); the journey takes about 2 days and the 1-way fare is US$350 per person, including food and 3 nights touring the San Blas archipelago. The sailboats will normally end in San Blas from which you can continue your journey by air or overland to Panama City. The skippers will help with immigration paperwork.
There are 3 boats that provide a regular service between Cartagena and San Blas. Highly recommended is Stella Luna, T312 6817833 (Colombia) or T507 67686121 (Panama), captained by Hernando Higuera, a key figure in establishing Cartagena’s sailing club, who has strong friendships with many of the indigenous Cuna of San Blas. Also try: Tango, run by French skipper David T314 558 8945 (mob) or German captain Guido T316 2436324 (mob), who also owns a backpackers’ hostel in Panama. Take your time before choosing a boat. Some captains are irresponsible and unreliable. The journey is cramped and you do not want to make it with a captain you do not get on with.
Aventure Colombia, T314 5882378 (mob), http://www.aventurecolombia.com, can provide reliable information on trustworthy boats and skippers. Also organize 8-day tours to San Blas via the Islas del Rosario, Islas de San Bernardo, Isla Fuerte and Sapzurro in the Darién, costing US$500 per person, including food.
Also try noticeboards at backpacker hotels such as Hotel Casa Viena or ask around at the Yacht Club (Club Nautico). In Panama, the only reliable information is in Porvenir.
Taking a vehicle
It is possible to ship a car from Cartagena to Panama. 3 companies that can arrange shipment of vehicles to Panama are: Agencia Internacional Ltda, Cra 2, No 9-145, Edif Nautilus, Bocagrande, T6647539, agents for King Ocean Services, 11000 NW 29 St, Suite 201, Doral, FL, T305- 591 7595, serving Cartagena, Panama and Miami; Hermann Schwyn, Edif Chambacu Business Center, Piso 6, PO Box 1626, T6503610, http://www.schwyn.com; Mundinaves, Edif City Bank, oficinas 13F y 13G, T6644188, http://www.mundinaves.com.
On the street, do not be tempted by offers of jobs or passages aboard ship. Jobs should have full documentation from the Seamen’s Union office and passages should only be bought at a recognized shipping agency.