Colombia’s best cities of Medellin & Cartagena are full of fascinating contrasts. That’s why when you pitch up in either of these towns, the thought of finding out what the other one offers becomes almost inevitable.
Fittingly nicknamed “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera” (Spanish for the City of Eternal Spring), the reborn city of Medellin is chiseled between two ridges of the Andes mountains. Its “paradisal,” year-round summery weather, the smoke-swathed street stalls serving empanada with chili sauce, and its vibrant nightlife are among other reasons why this city is unmissable.
On the other hand, Cartagena de Indias is a beachside gem nested on Colombia’s Caribbean sea. This is an exceptionally charming colonial city with ice-cream colored ancient buildings and cobblestone streets. This romantic, beachside gem has now become a must-visit destination for most Americans and Canadians due to its rich history and tropical flavors.
Cartagena has a modern tourist part, too. The neighborhood of Bocagrande (15 minutes from the old town) is reminiscent reminds me of Miami with its high-rise buildings and hotel chains.
So, here’s the big question, how do you travel from Medellin to Cartagena? In this post, I’ve detailed three popular options, including from overnight buses and to dirt cheap flights.
How far is Medellin to Cartagena?
The distance from Medellin to Cartagena varies depending on the route that you choose. The shortest distance between the two cities by road is 628.8 kilometers (390.7 miles), assuming that you take Route 25. On a good day, a journey via this highway takes about 12 hours.
You could also travel via Route 45, which is the longest highway in Colombia. Getting from Medellin to Cartagena through this route is a distance of 940.7 kilometers (585 miles), and it takes approximately 16 hours.
How to Travel from Medellin to Cartagena
In most tourist destinations, traveling by bus offers a great deal of cost savings, but that’s not the case in Colombia.
As you’ll soon find out, taking a bus to Cartagena from Medellin isn’t always the most affordable option. However, I can tell you it’s by far the best idea if you want to avoid the hassle of airline security, repacking, and weighing bags. Again, this is the way to go if you don’t feel confident enough to drive yourself to Cartagena.
Which buses go to Cartagena from Medellin?
Espresso Brasilia and Rapido Ochoa are the biggest bus companies servicing this route. These two buses have most of the amenities that one would consider good-to-have for a long road trip. You’ll likely get a bus with reclining seats, air conditioning, toilet, and charger sockets. Some of the coaches will also have Wi-Fi, although I can’t vouch for its reliability.
I’ve used both of these buses on different Caribbean routes. In my experience, Espresso Brasilia is always ahead of Rapido Ochoa Company in terms of services and amenities. However, Rapido Ochoa buses are usually slightly cheaper. So, if you’re looking to save some pesos whenever possible, this bus might interest you.
Where to take the bus to Cartagena from Medellin?
In Medellin city, Cartagena-bound Espresso Brasilia and Rapido Ochoa buses operate from Terminal del Norte (North Terminal). This bus station is located at Carrera 64C # 78-580, Medellin. You can reach it by taking Line A of the metro that goes to the Caribe station. At the Caribe metro station, take any of the bridges from either side of the station and the North Terminal will be right ahead.
Taking a taxi to North Terminal bus station, Medellin
Another alternative is to take a taxi to the station. Yellow cabs are ubiquitous in Medellin, and you can find them almost anywhere in the metro area. They are also relatively cheap compared to taxis in North America and Europe and are safe both day and night.
All the yellow cabs in Medellin are metered, and they charge 100 pesos (~ 0.031 USD) for every 78 meters. The minimum fare is 5600 pesos (~ 1.72 USD).
Once you get in the taxi, ask the driver to turn ON the taximeter (that is, if it’s not ON) by saying “activar el taxímetro.” Most of the drivers that I’ve encountered always put on a smile and willingly do so. If the driver isn’t willing to turn the meter ON, do yourself a favor and get another cab. I found this Taxi Fare Calculator that may help in estimating how much you’ll be charged.
Getting from Selina to Terminal del Norte
Selina is among the best places to be when soaking up the attractions, idyllic climate, and local flavors of Medellin. When you are not roaming the city and its neighborhoods, your stay in this hostel will be jam-packed with everything from practicing yoga on the balcony to photography workshops, guided meditation, and other locally-inspired wellness activities.
For digital nomads who want to stay at the top of their projects on the road, Selina also offers co-working spaces with free Wi-Fi, a particularly good find especially in South America where the internet isn’t always secure.
Selina is not your typical hostel when it comes to accommodation, either. Here, you’ll have all options from a one-bedroom apartment for two to community rooms where you can bunk up in groups of up to 20 friends.
Selina is located at Provenza Poblado. A taxi ride from the hostel to Terminal del Norte takes around 25 minutes. Explore their availability and current rates here.
Booking your Bus Ticket at North Terminal Bus Station
Inside the North Terminal bus station, you’ll find lots of ticket windows belonging to different bus companies. Ask anyone from security to direct you to the ticketing window of the bus that you wish to travel with; Espresso Brasilia or Rapido Ochoa.
Tip: early booking allows you to choose a seat, especially far from the toilets.
Both of these have a couple of direct buses that go to Cartagena from Medellin daily. At the time of writing this guide, Espresso Brasilia’s timetable is as follows;
• 6:30 AM
• 8:30 AM
• 11:00 AM
• 4:30 PM
• 6:30 PM
• 6:32 PM
• 9:30 PM
• 9:35 PM
• 10:30 PM
This departure schedule changes with the season and depending on demand. That’s why I highly recommend double-checking with espressobrasilia.com or Red Bus to see whether they have a bus that matches your travel plans.
The Medellin to Cartagena bus takes at least 14 hours, 5 minutes to reach its final destination on a good day. However, I’ve been stuck in these buses for up to 16 hours on several occasions when there was traffic on this mountainous route. That’s why I’d advise working with a flexible timeline to cater for any eventualities.
Whether you choose the daytime bus or night bus is more of a personal preference. I prefer traveling at night as there’s less traffic. Sleeping on the bus also saves you the money you’d have spent on a hotel room.
Traveling to Cartagena from Medellin by bus in the daydaytime bus also has its positive side, though. If you’re lucky to get a seat by the window, you’ll be able to take in all the beautiful sceneryies and connect to the environment throughout your day-long road trip.
How much is a bus to Cartagena from Medellin?
The bus fare from Medellin to Cartagena varies slightly depending on the bus company and the type of bus. When writing this, Espresso Brasilia charges 155,000 pesos (~ 47.49 USD) for their premium bus.
Tips when traveling to Cartagena from Medellin by bus at night
• Wear pants and a sweater as it gets frigid. A blanket might come in handy too.
• Grab a neck pillow to add some comfort.
• Carry earplugs if loud music disturbs your sleep.
• The toilets on the bus don’t have toilet paper. Be sure to carry your own.
Where will the bus drop you at Cartagena?
At Cartagena, you’ll be dropped off at Terminal del Transporte. From the bus station, just flag down a yellow taxi for a ride to anywhere around the city.
I should mention, however, that unlike the cabs in Medellin, the city taxis in Cartagena are not metered. Therefore, although there are legally set taxi fares, some drivers don’t follow them and will want to overcharge you whether you are a tourist or native.
To be on the safe side, agree on the cost of the ride before hopping into the taxi. As of 2019, the minimum taxi fare in Cartagena was 7000 pesos (~ 2.13 USD).
Getting from Medellin to Cartagena by plane is more often than not the best option, not only in terms of speed but in cost too. This is because domestic flights in Colombia tend to compete favorably with long-haul buses.
Usually, a one-way air ticket starts at around 214,503 pesos (~ 65 USD). However, don’t be surprised if you find a direct flight from Medellin to Cartagena at 66,000 pesos (~ 20 USD) when there’s a sale.
A direct flight from Medellin to Cartagena takes approximately 1 hour 5 minutes.
Major Operating Airlines
Three major airlines offer direct Medellin to Cartagena flights; Viva Air, Avianca, and LATAM. I’ve not experienced or heard about any bad experiences with any of these airlines. So, I think you are free to go with any flight company that fits your travel time and budget.
Word of caution if you’re eyeing Viva Air: this airline is super strict when it comes to printing out boarding passes in time. Again, they only allow a maximum of 5 kilograms for hand luggage. If you are taking more than that, ensure that you have a flexible budget as you may be charged for the extra kilograms.
How to get to the airport
Medellin has two major airports. The first is Jose Maria Cordova Airport (MDE), located in the municipality of Rionegro, around 35 minutes from Medellin city center (by car). This is where most planes flying to Cartagena take off. The second one is the Enrique Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH).
The easiest way to get to MDE airport from Medellin is to take a taxi or a colectivo. Yellow cabs are slightly pricier than colectivos, but they’re super easy to catch as they are scattered everywhere around the city. They’ll also be your only option when rushing to catch an early morning flight or when arriving late. As of 2019, these taxis charge a fixed rate of 65,000 pesos (~ 20 USD) for airport trips.
If you have some time to spare and would like to save some pesos, your best bet is the colectivos. This is a shared white taxi that most locals and experienced travelers use to get to and from the airport.
To take a colectivo to Jose Maria Cordovo Airport from Medellin, you’ll first need to get to the San Diego shopping mall, located in La Candelaria along Avenida El Poblado. Here, you’ll see the colectivos in Texaco parking lot outside the San Diego mall. If you’re unsure of where the shopping mall is, get a taxi at El Poblado for around 7000 pesos (~ 2.13 US).
The colectivos require four people, but they generally leave every 30 minutes. The cost from Texaco to MDE airport is 15,000 pesos (~ 4.5 USD).
In total, you’ll spend around 22000 pesos (~ 6.6 USD) and at least 1 hour using a colectivo from Medellin city center to MDE airport. To be on the safe side, you should factor in at least 2 hours for transportation to the airport.
Arriving at Cartagena
At Cartagena, you’ll arrive at Rafael Nunez International Airport (CTG), which is located around 4.75 kilometers (2.95 miles) from Cartagena city center. Once you exit the airport, you’ll find lots of taxis waiting. They are your best option here and often have a fixed rate to your destination.
Of course, if buses can get to Cartagena from Medellin, a rental car can too. Actually, renting a car makes it super easy to move from one Caribbean beach town to the other. There are a few caveats, though.
First, the roads between these two cities are insanely curvy and full of slow-moving trucks. Secondly, people there, especially motorcyclists, drive like maniacs!.
Again, if you are not used to driving in foreign countries, you are very likely to get lost a couple of times between these two cities. There are also a lot of police stops along the way, which is both a curse and a blessing. Police are particularly ‘attracted’ to foreigners. In most cases, all they’ll want to see is what’s in your bags.
If you are still interested in driving a rental car from Medellin to Cartagena, you’ll find lots of car rental options around the city.
Most people tend to go with Hertz as it’s the leading internationally recognized car rental agency in Medellin. It’s located at Cra 43A #Sur 69.
There a few other local car rental agencies that offer even better services, including Global Car Rent (located at Cl.10 #43e36) and Six Rent a Car that has its offices at Cra 43A #43-38.
The cost of renting a car in Medellin often varies depending on how far out you intend to book it, the popularity of your target vehicle, and demand. Overall, the average price of renting a car in Medellin is 112,067 pesos (~ 33 USD).
What you’ll need to rent a car in Medellin
• Driving license
• International Driving Permit
• Credit card
• Deposit (varies with car model)
• Insurance (American Express, Discover, Mastercard, and VISA work there)
Tips when renting a car in Medellin?
• Check the condition of the tires and whether there is a spare tire (roads in Columbia aren’t the best).
• Check the vehicle for any dents and take photos. Let the agent note them in the agreement form too.
• Understand the mileage requirements and adhere to them.
• You’ll get your vehicle with a full tank. Be sure to take it back, refilled. The agency may charge a premium to get it refilled.
Getting to Selina from Cartagena city
Selina Cartagena is a hotspot for travelers who want a heavenly treat of the Colombian Caribbean coast. This hostel is located within a stone’s throw of the 500-year-old port city walls in Getsemani’s historic neighborhood.
From Rafael Nunez International Airport (CTG) airport (also known as Cartagena airport), they are just 15 minutes away. A taxi ride will cost you around 8.5 USD.
If you are arriving by bus, Selina is around 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) from Cartagena transportation terminal and about 5.6 USD by taxi.
What is Medellin known for?
Medellin is known for its music, nightlife, museums, friendly locals (known as paisas), and endless entertainment options. It’s also nicknamed the City of Eternal Spring due to its ever-perfect weather.
Is Medellin safe?
Yes- although Medellin was once known as the most dangerous place to live in Colombia, this up-and-coming tourist destination is now lauded as being twice as safer as New Orleans. To boost your safety in this city, I’d recommend using ATMs in shopping malls and grocery stores. At any cost, avoid the ATMs on the streets, especially those with few people. Secondly, don’t go flashing money, cameras, and jewelry around. This may attract unwanted attention.
Is there Uber in Medellin?
No. Uber recently exited the Colombian market after a recent court ruling against its operations. However, yellow taxis make almost 50% of the vehicles on the road. Beat and Didi are possible alternatives to Uber too.
How far is Cartagena from Medellin?
The distance from Medellin to Cartagena is 628.8 kilometers (390.7 miles) by road and 461 kilometers (287 miles) by air.
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