Cartagena is one of the most visited cities of Colombia. Many cruise ships used to go there but a decade ago, after a few incidents affecting tourists, the cruise companies decided to skip that city until things would get safer. Now that the city is much safer, and the country is winning in popularity, several touristic ships can be seen in the old town’s dock once again. Over my time there I realized that the old town of Cartagena is quite peaceful and secure and the biggest problem you might get during the day is dehydration due to the awesome temperature. However, like everywhere else, if you look for trouble you’ll find it.
Cocain in Cartagena
In my opinion Cartagena really isn’t dangerous if you are smart. We met some tourists that had some big problems but it was always for the same reason: cocaine. Coke in Colombia is bought for extremely low prices (5 USD) for one of the purest one in the world.Problem is most of the time the deals are in some shady bars; a guy in the street will talk you into a deal and offer you to fallow him.
A backpacker I met in Santa Marta told me that him and his friend followed a guy in a bar for a deal. The dealer, accompanied by 2 massive henchman, told them that his time is precious and they need to buy at least 500$ of cocaine from him. The two guys said they didn’t have the money and were just looking for a few grams. The Colombian dealer got furious, pulled out a gun and told the guys to give them everything they got and to F__ off if they want to leave; it was the payment for wasting his time. One they cleared the place they had no money, empty pockets but had a story to tell me.
What do you do after that happens to you? Pretty much nothing considering the cops are often more corrupted then the worst mob of Cartagena… and that you ripped in an illegal drug transaction.
Don’t be stupid, don’t get into trouble.
I don’t want to stir up stereotypes but honestly, in all other cities of Colombia, policemen really were much more decent than in Cartagena. Corrupted cops are everywhere… but there are more of them in certain place for sociopolitical reasons.
The Corrupted Cops of Cartagena
One night, at 3 am, we were a big gang of backpackers in the street outside our hostel. There was about 20 of us and we were hanging out and talking in this good neighbourhood because noise was prohibited in the hostel after 2:30 in the morning. Everything was going smoothly until a police car stopped in front of us.
Two Colombian cops came out of the car and starting speaking together while looking at our group. One of them took a few steps toward us, halted, started looking at each of us one by one and eventually stopped his attention on a Swedish guy. He told the Swede to come towards him, and he obeyed (good guy Swede!). The cop took out a bag of powder from HIS OWN POCKETS, while looking at our swedish dude in the eye, and told the Swedish that they found this bag on him and that they were taking him to the station! Suddenly there was an uproar in our group, realizing just how corrupted the allegation was some people started yelling at the cop.
What was going to happen to our poor blond friend: The cops would take the guy in the car, tell him he is going to jail and make tons of threats and tell him, luckily, there is a way out! They would offer to bring him to an ATM so the tourist would retrieve as much money as he could and in exchange for that money let him go… corruption 101!
If it wasn’t for the three Colombian girls that worked at the hostel and that where chilling with us outside that guy was finished. One of them called the police station and said tourist where being threatened by corrupted corps, another girl was taking picture of the car plate number and the cops and filming the scene and the third one was yelling like mad at the cops in spanish. Turns out that was enough to scare the cops away; they told us everything was alright and to forget it and then they left.
Everything ended well that night!
One thing is for sure, in general the situation in Colombia keeps improving year after year and these kind of events will be rarer over time, but for now it is still important to watch out and be careful. Try to never be alone as it makes you an easy target. Nothing bad happened to us in Colombia, but if you go there just be careful; remember these stories but don’t worry you’ll hear plenty of them from other backpackers you meet.