Cartagena vs Medellin: Best Reasons to Visit Each City
Comparison Cartagena vs Medellin – two of Colombia’s touristic cities, Medellin and Cartagena, are both deemed as 2 of the best cities in the world for digital nomads. Let’s look at Cartagena vs Medellin in terms of things to do, cultural experiences, food, expenses, and other elements that can help you choose which city to stay in for your next visit to Colombia.
City Highlights – Cartagena vs Medellin
Medellin has the cable cars, the digital nomad bustling communities, considered as having eternal spring weather, and has so many hip and modern areas to visit.
Cartagena, on the other hand, has the cultural and arts scene, with the port and colonial houses and of course the Cartagena Bay itself.
The choice between the two can easily come down to the type of experiences you want to have on a particular trip, the things to do, how long you’ll be staying, and maybe what other areas of Colombia you’re planning to visit to see how close or far you’ll be to these places.
SIM CARD AT CARTAGENA OR MEDELLIN AIRPORTS
I wouldn’t recommend you buy a sim card at the Cartagena airport or Medellin Airport sim card. If you wish for something really comfortable, you can buy eSim online and if you aren’t in a hurry just go around phone shops in the city and compare prices to buy the cheapest sim card in Cartagena. Read here Colombia sim card for tourist
Let’s look at some of the elements of Medellin vs Cartagena below.
Language in Colombia – English, and Spanish in Cartagena vs Medellin
If you’re looking at spending a lot of time walking around and getting in the thick of it when it comes to conversing and saying hellos to locals, you might see yourself needing some Spanish vocabulary. Apps can easily help with this. If you’ll be spending time with friends and in tourist and digital nomad areas, you’ll see Medellin and Cartagena both good areas for you to connect to travelers and foreigners in the city so you can connect and meet English speakers.
BOOK YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
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WHERE TO STAY IN CARTAGENA – Cartagena vs Medellin
There are numerous hotels and B&B that you can choose from especially in Getsemani area. Accommodation price can take you around $10-12 USD if you sleep in a dorm. For mid budget accommodation starts at $40-60 USD and more than $100 USD you will find luxury accommodation in Cartagena.
Things to Do in Cartagena – Cartagena vs Medellin
Cartagena is a port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. By the sea is the walled Old Town, founded in the 16th century, with squares, cobblestone streets, and colorful colonial buildings. With a tropical climate, the city is also a popular beach destination. Reachable by boat are Isla de Barú, with white-sand beaches and palm trees, and the Islas del Rosario, known for its coral reefs.
Things to do in Cartagena – Cartagena vs Medellin
1. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress in the city of Cartagena, Colombia. The castle was built in 1536 and is located on the Hill of San Lázaro in a strategic location, dominating approaches to the city by land or sea. It was originally known as the Castillo de San Lázaro. It was built by African slave labor under Spanish supervision during the colonial era. The fortress was involved in several battles between the late 17th to early 19th centuries between European powers.
2. Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandria
The Cathedral of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, officially the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, is located in the historic center of Cartagena. It is the episcopal see of the Archbishop of Cartagena de Indias, one of the oldest episcopal sees in the Americas.
3. Plaza de la Aduana
This is the largest and oldest square in the Old Town and was used as a parade ground. In colonial times all the important governmental and administrative buildings were here. The old Royal Customs House has been restored and is now the City Hall. A statue of Christopher Columbus stands in the center of the square.
4. Las Bovedas (The Vaults) in Cartagena
Souvenir shops are set up within each of the old jail cells and offer a wide variety of “classic” Colombian souvenirs.
Las Bovedas (ie The Vaults) may seem like an odd place for souvenir shops. There is a strong history behind these vaults, as they. have been used as prison cells during the colonial times. And now they are places people can buy souevenirs for shopping.
Deemed as Cartagena’s hip area, it’s full of colorful street art, and hotels that cheaper and mid budget. There are so many small streets here that are full of designs like colorful umbrellas and flaglets and you’ll easily get lost in a sea of Instagrammable areas!
6. Walls of Cartagena – Cartagena vs Medellin
Cartagena is of course most popular for its location as it is one of the most important ports when it comes to trading to the Americas in the colonial times. It is also walled due to the wars happenign at those times, and the relics are now a big part of what gives this old town its allure and personality.
7. Portal de los Dulces
So much colorful shops around!
8. Plaza de Santa Teresa – Cartagena vs Medellin
With the Cathedral de San Pedro Claver in the background, this plaza is easily one of favorites. Full of restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, this place has an old town with a lot of modern amenities. It transports you to another place in time, and its just lovely to be out here, even with all the Cartagena sun!
9. Plaza de los Coches
It’s honestly hard to differentiate all the plazas around Cartagena. However, if you love walking, you’ll surely see all these places so make sure to not miss them!
10. Casa De Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the most famous novelists in the world, Gabriel Carcia Marquez died in his home in Colombia. His house is a private property, but you can see it from outside, and it’s something you can cross off your list if it’s one of the things you always wanted to experience once in your life!
11. Bahia de Cartagena – Cartagena vs Medellin
A lot of water is surrounding Cartagena, and it just adds to the city’s beauty.
12. Parque Simon Bolivar de Cartagena
This park is created to celebrate the hero, Simon Bolivar, who fought against Spain and is the key to South America’s liberation. He is a prominent name in Latin America’s history, and all the historic area is named under the town, Bolivar, Cartagena.
13. Cartagena Streets and Walls – Cartagena de Indias Colors 444
Frankly, it’s easy to go around Cartagena town and just walk around and enjoy the old town’s historic buildings. They are all colorful, with flowers, and just gives you a feeling of beauty and being transported to another time (I know we’re repeating ourselves, but it’s part of Cartagena’s real beauty)
14. Palenquera in Cartagena
One of the more touristy things to do is take photos with the women in Cartagena, dressed in costumes. Now, this activity gets really touristy, and expect them to charge you some money for taking photos with them.
15. Street Art in Cartagena
All of South America is covered with beautiful graffiti and street art. It’s one of the ways locals have expressed their life experiences and history, and it’s visible in all of South America – like in Colombia and Brazil.
Cartagena is full of beautiful hand painted walls with graffiti drawn by locals. You can see them around Gethsemani, the backpacker area, but in a lot more places, and a lot of these graffiti have historical significance.
If you love art, you can easily go around Cartagena to see them, or book a walking tour to have a better understanding of what all these art represents.
16. La Boca del Puente and Clock Tower Monument / Munumento Torre del Reloj- Cartagena vs Medellin
One of our most favorite areas in Cartagena, and we loved walking here every day! These are housed in Cartagena’s Plaza de Paz.
South of Cartagena’s walled city is Bocagrande, filled with hotels and shops for that busy buzz you may be looking for when visiting this city.
Popular Day Trips from Cartagena
Rosario Islands / Islas del Rosario
Islas del Rosario or Rosario islands is a 45 minutes ferry ride from the La Bodeguita dock in Cartagena de Indias. Each ticket costs about 30,000 COP and you buy the ticket directly at the pier.
From here, you can get access to other various islands and a fun way to experience another side of Cartagena away from the old walled city (which is a gem by itself).
Isla Baru, Cartagena – Cartagena vs Medellin
The access to Isla Baru can be done by water, crossing the Bay of Cartagena. You can go on the daily boat and yacht tours that leave from Islas del Rosario. If you want to do this another way, you can do so by crossing the Canal del Dique in a planchón or ferry.
Isla Baru is not only popular for its blue waters and white sand beaches, there are also water activities like snorkelling available.
Read here Best Island Hopping Tours In Cartagena
Playa Blanca is one of popular beaches part of Isla Baru.
Things to do in Medellin – Cartagena vs Medellin
Medellin is seen as Colombia’s top digital nomad stop and is the top choice for a lot of digital nomads heading to Colombia – expats, bloggers, content creators, foreigners taking their gap years, and even travelers who just need a few days or weeks of traveling to a new place.
WHERE TO STAY IN MEDELLIN – Cartagena vs Medellin
There are numerous hotels and B&B that you can choose from in Medellin. Accommodation prices can take you around $10-12 USD if you sleep in a dorm. For mid-budget accommodation starts at $40-60 USD and for more than $100 USD you will find luxury accommodation in Medellin. The most popular areas are El Poblado and city center.
Why People Visit Medellin – Cartagena vs Medellin
Medellin, although still a big city in Colombia, and deemed not the safest city to travel to in the world, is still popular among foreigners. If this is the reputation of a city, there’s always a good reason for that. Albeit, precautions are needed when traveling in Medellin, this is easily what you need to do in general in South America.
There are certain areas that are popular for tourists and are really safe in Medellin so a trip and even longer stay here is very doable.
Medellin has a good transport system. You can easily go to different parts of the city, despite its size because of the metro, and the weather is highly favorable. Medellin is known amongst travelers as the city with eternal spring. The weather is never too hot, and never too cold.
You’ll see a lot of local architecture and old relics that make Medellin unique and beautiful which adds a lot of spice to your travel experience here. And of course, prices, compared to a lot of digital nomad cities around the world, and prices in Western Countries are cheaper.
With the exception of a few neighborhoods like El Poblado, Medellin is still one of the top choices for travelers looking at comfort and trying their foot at the digital nomad scene, while discovering a new and exotic country, like Colombia.
Let’s look at the things to do in Cartagena vs Medellin.
1. Plaza Botero – Cartagena vs Medellin
Hometown of the celebrated figurative artist, Fernando Botero, you’ll see a lot of his art in Plaza Botero (named after him). This is one of the main places to see in Medellin, especially if you love art, or you just want to get the first feel of the city, or familiar with Botero’s work and style.
Apart from Botero’s work, which is spread in the plaza, you’ll also see the Museum of Antioquia and the Palace of Culture Rafael Uribe.
2. Experiencing Medellin’s Metro Cable System
Medellin has one of the largest Metrocable systems in Latin America used as a transport system, second only to La Paz, Bolivia. This is a very interesting move in Latin America which helps people have access to a lot of communities in mountainous areas.
As a tourist, it’s a crazy beautiful experience and one you’d surely love to try!
3. Comuna 13 – Cartagena vs Medellin
Just reopening a few years ago, Communa13 is a once deemed dangerous neighborhood in Medellin because of all the drug cartels and violence is now a viable city for locals to live in. The neighborhood, only accessible by cable car, is one of the main spots to visit in Medellin, and you can easily visit it with a guided tour.
A guided tour will let you experience going around the neighborhood with a knowledgeable local who can explain to you the history of the neighborhood, the relevance of all the street art around the area, and a lot of cool facts. You’ll get to experience conversing with a lot of locals as well there.
4. El Poblado – Cartagena vs Medellin
El Poblado is the most popular neighborhood for digital nomads to stay in. Full of restaurants and good hotels, bordering from hip hotels to luxury stays, you can easily stay here and mingle with a lot of foreigners who come to Medellin to party, meet new people, and explore the city. Since it’s a foreign area, expect prices to be a little bit higher than when you’re going around the local area.
5. Parque Explora
Parque Explora is a Science Museum in Medellin Colombia that you will love to visit if it’s transformations in Medellin that you wanna see and learn about.
6. Catedral Metropolitana de Medellin
Catedral Metropolitana de Medellin is a Catholic Church in the city of Medellin that you may wanna visit if churches and these architectures are something you love to see.
7. Palace of Culture Rafael Uribe Uribe – Cartagena vs Medellin
The Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture is a public building in Medellín, that houses cultural programs related to the Department of Antioquia, such as concerts, conferences, and art exhibitions. Belgian architect Agustín Goovaerts designed the building in a Gothic Revival style
8. Museum of Antioquia
Also seen in Plaza Botero is the Museum of Antioquia, so if you want to see more of Botoro’s art (like the one above) and Pedro Nel Gómez, another prominent Colombian artist, you should visit this museum.
Things to do Outside Medellin
Visiting Guatape – Cartagena vs Medellin
Guatape is one of Colombia’s most beautiful towns, and is easily accessible from Medellin. You can visit from Medellin to Guatape for a day trip or as your next visit from Medellin.
Guatape is known as one of Colombia’s most beautiful towns with colorful umbrellas and prehistoric architectural designs of the houses and hostels and it’s an out-of-town visit you shouldn’t miss.
In this photo above, you can see the El Peñol Rock, one of the main hikes to do while in Guatape.
ATMs and Cash in Colombia – Cartagena vs Medellin
The official currency of Colombia is called Colombian Peso (COP). And $1 USD=4000 COP. ATM’s are available and it is also advisable to withdraw as much as you can because of fees for foreign cars. The maximum amount that you can withdraw will be around 600K-1200K COP depending on the bank. Click here to check the exact change rate.
Bank Fees for Foreigner Cards in Colombia – Cartagena vs Medellin
Most of the banks in Colombia will charge fees for foreign cards in Colombia. Check the list below with the exact fees for foreign cards in Colombia and how much money are you allowed to withdraw in Colombia with every bank.
|Amount Allowed And Fees
|900K COP Withdraw And No Fees
|800K COP Withdraw And No Fees
|Banco Caja Social
|700K COP Withdraw And No Fees
|300K COP Withdraw And No Fees
|400K COP Withdraw And No Fees
|400K COP Withdraw And No Fees
|1200K COP Withdraw And 15k COP Fees
|900K COP Withdraw And 15k COP Fees
|400K COP Withdraw And 10k COP Fees
|750K COP Withdraw And 15k COP Fees
Final Thoughts on Cartagena vs Medellin – Which City Should You Visit
We have to say that the choice is your personal preference. We know, this might be the answer you don’t want to hear.
For us, we loved our stay in Cartagena – it’s our winner in our Cartagena vs Medellin post. Why? This is only because we prefer the hot weather, and Cartagena’s weather was reaching around 33 degrees Celcius on a hot day, and it’s just the most fun way we can enjoy a vacation.
We also love colonial town vibes and beaches!
Medellin is best for days you wanna party (although there are lots of party in Cartagena too), meet a lot of young people, city vibes, do the cable car rides, or if you want a short trip in much colder weather (Medellin is considered as having Colombia’s eternal spring weather).
BEST TIME TO VISIT COLOMBIA – Cartagena vs Medellin
You can go to Colombia any time of the year. The months of December to February are the best time to visit Colombia because is the sunniest also the peak season. October to November are the months ideal for those working with a budget because its is considered the low season in the country.
It’s best to visit Cartagena between December to April, while Medellin is around January and February.
We visited South America from December to July and we honestly didn’t experience bad weather around these months. Just make sure you know what to expect in the areas you’ll be visiting.
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Hope you loved our comparison of Cartagena vs Medellin and til out next travel guide! Let us know which one you picked and happy travels!
About the Author: Ruben, co-founder of Gamintraveler.com since 2014, is a seasoned traveler from Spain who has explored over 100 countries since 2009. Known for his extensive travel adventures across South America, Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Africa, Ruben combines his passion for adventurous yet sustainable living with his love for cycling, highlighted by his remarkable 5-month bicycle journey from Spain to Norway. He currently resides in Spain, where he continues to share his travel experiences alongside his partner, Rachel, and their son, Han.