If you are backpacking around Colombia it is important to know the best way to get from A to B. In this guide I’m going to share with you the different ways you can travel from Medellin to Cartagena (or travel from Cartagena to Medellin).
I normally split these posts into 3 categories, the cheapest way the mid-budget way and the no expenses spared way. However, prices fluctuate in Colombia so this changes from day to day.
Fly from Medellin to Cartagena
Flying from Medellin to Cartagena is actually the best and cheapest option normally… You can get some really cheap flights from Medellin to Cartagena on Skyscanner. Having traveled both by bus and by plane I can 100% say fly if you can. Over Christmas and during peak times airfares go up so it may be cheaper to get the bus. In my experience booking a few weeks in advance, it was at least $10 cheaper to fly.
There are 2 airports in Medellin. A small one close to the south bus terminal and a large international one in Reonegro. Most flights from Medellin to Cartagena go from the international airport but do check.
Be aware if the direct flight you book is with Viva Colombia. They are very strict on printing out boarding passes and luggage. If you book with them read the fine print and don’t break the rules, otherwise it is likely to cost you a lot more than the airfare. If you want to take more than 5kg hand luggage you will need to pay extra, you need to take this into account.
Getting to the Medellin Airport
The airport in Medellin is an hour away in Rionegro. A colectivo will cost around $15mil COP and you can catch it from San Diego shopping center. They normally park at the petrol station. A private taxi is more like $70 mil COP.
To get to the airport in Cartagena you will need to get a taxi. There are buses but you need a card to pay for it as they don’t take cash. Unless you are going to be there for a while and taking the bus a lot it’s not worth it. A taxi shouldn’t cost more than $10mil COP.
How long is the flight from Medellin to Cartagena?
The flight between Medellin and Cartagena is really quick, under 45 minutes. If you are not checking in luggage you just need to be there an hour before boarding and you will walk right out of the airport at the other side. It should take around 3 hours max in total. If you have to change in Bogota than the flight will take longer.
Medellin Cartagena by Bus
The Cartagena Medellin bus is by far the easiest way to go when you take into consideration having to deal with airport security etc. However it isn’t much cheaper, it is often more expensive, and it takes a LONG time. They may tell you 12 hours, but expect more like 18-20.
Do You Need to Book the Bus from Medellin to Cartagena?
To take the bus from Medellin to Cartagena I would strongly recommend booking early! Especially if you are planning to travel on one of the night buses. They often get booked up so don’t risk it if you want a night bus. Book your ticket on Busbud (you MUST print off your ticket). Or go to the bus station and pre-book the bus at least 24 hours before.
Getting to the Bus Station in Medellin and Cartagena
In Cartagena, the easiest way is to take a taxi. The bus station is about 11km to the east of the city and it should cost around 15mil COP. Or if you want to save some money you can take a bus from Avenue Santander, just look for one that says Terminal des Transportes. The bus will stop right outside the bus terminal and should only cost a few mil COP.
In Medellin, the Cartagena bus drops off and picks up from the North Terminal (Terminal Norte) you can take a colectivo there (just find one that says Terminal Norte) or a taxi from Laureles should be around $6Mi COP. If you don’t know Medellin and your Spanish isn’t great I would get a taxi and the colectivos can be confusing!
Why Take the Bus?
Even though taking the bus taken a ridiculous amount of time and isn’t that much different in cost I often prefer the bus. If I have luggage it’s just so much easier to sling my bag on a bus and sit there for a day than have to deal with packing my bag, weighing it and dealing with the whole airport security stress. So if you aren’t in any rush and you hate airports as much as me then the bus is a good option. They are comfortable, the food is better and cheaper (well that’s if you are lucky and the driver lets the guys who board the bus to sell food on) and there are no hidden costs!
Need some tips to help you survive long bus journeys? Read this!
By Private Transfer from Medellin to Cartagena
Does anyone even do this? Honestly, I really wouldn’t recommend it. But if you want someone to organize everything for you and money is no object then speak to my friends at Colombian Buddy. They can organize an English or Spanish speaking driver who can drive you around Colombia.
A bit about travel in Colombia
It is no secret that Colombia is emerging out of decades of civil war. During this time it was extremely unsafe to travel by road anywhere. For that reason, Colombia’s infrastructure for traveling between cities isn’t great. Even though the geographical distance may not look far, for the most part, you have to go over and around the mountains on single track roads. It can be slow going! However, as the roads are now considered safe and as more people are traveling the government is investing in the countries roads. Within the next decade, bus journeys will get quicker and it will be much easier to travel. For example, a new tunnel due to be completed at the end of 2018 connecting Medellin and San Jose airport will half the drive time.
Wondering where to stay in Medellin? I recommend staying in either El Poblado or Laureles and here are a few of my favorite places to stay:
Wondering where to stay in Cartagena? Here are my personal recommendations:
I hope this is helpful if you are backpacking in Colombia be sure to check out my other guides! Also, you can follow my 1-week, 2-week, and 3-week Itineraries for the Caribbean coast.
This post was proofread by Grammarly
Book your trip now
Are you ready to book your trip? To help you get the best deals and service here are the companies that I personally use to book all of my travel online. I always shop around before booking anything, but these are my tried and tested starting places.
- Skyscanner – I’m a bit fan of Skyscanner, it is who I use to book all of my flights. I often will check other like Google Flights or Momodo, but I always go here first and it is who I book 99% of my flights with.
- Booking.com – I LOVE booking.com especially when I can book and cancel free up until a certain point, mostly because my plans are forever changing. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections.
- Airbnb – I’m not a huge user of Airbnb, but sometimes I do like to use it, and I ALWAYS check it before I book anything else. You can get some really cool places to stay here, and it is especially good in places like Cuba. If you don’t have an account and you click on this link then you will get $36 off your first booking.
- Hostelworld – If you are looking for hostels then this is a great place to check first. They often have additional places that you won’t find on Bookin.com.
- Agoda – Although I don’t use it as much as booking.com, Agonda is especially good if you are traveling in Asia as they really do dominate there.
- Worldpackers – If you want to travel on the cheap and save money on accommodation then you need Worldpackers in your life. You can read more about it here. If you click this link to sign up and use the code CLAIRESITCHYFEET then you can get a 40% discount on your membership!
- Book a Way – If you are traveling in Asia and want to pre-book your transportation then bookaway.com is a fantastic site to do so. They have buses, trains, and cars.
- RentalCars – Looking to rent a. car while you are away? I always book through Rental Cars as they do a search of all of the big sites and find the best deals.
- Welcome Pickups – Very occasionally getting from the airport to my accommodation is a total pain in the butt, or I’m traveling in a group and it makes sense to arrange a pickup. When I do I use Welcome pickups.
- World Nomads – If you are looking for flexible travel insurance then it’s World Nomads all the way. I wrote all about insurance here if you want a more thorough review.
- SafetyWing – AsI’m a Digital Nomad and not moving around quite so much anymore I personally use SafetyWing now for my health insurance. I wrote a full review here.
- Viatour – Sometimes it can be a little expensive, but I like Viatour for somethings, especially if you can get a discount code! It’s also great for inspiration.
- Klook – If you are traveling in Asia, then Klook is great! You can book all kinds of tours, activities, and train tickets, plus they even have sim cards and WiFi.