Cartagena, Columbia harbors a fascinating and colorful past, which can be seen along its colorful streets, in its Spanish colonial homes with wood-beamed balconies and stone towers, and its impressive salt-bleached stone walls. Your stop here as a cruise ship passenger will provide you with a significant link to the region’s grand past. Cartagena grew rapidly after being established in 1553 as a shipping center for gold, silver, and slaves between the Americas and Spain. Because of the rich cargoes, the city became a favorite target of pirates. After more than 250 years as part of the Spanish crown, Cartagena declared its independence in 1811, and today enjoys its reputation as a city so rich in history it’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Your ship will likely dock at one of two berths in an industrial part of the city. If you have booked a tour through your cruise line, your bus will be waiting for you on the pier as soon as you disembark from your ship. That being said, I’m not aware of any accessible tours being offered by any cruise lines that dock in Cartagena. If you keep rolling past the buses, you’ll make a right to pass the piers and head towards a very large and accessible gift shop. Once you exit the gift shop, there’s a small animal sanctuary with macaws, flamingos, monkeys, peacocks, and other animals. The sanctuary is completely ramped and fully accessible, with the exception of accessible toilets. Definitely use the bathroom before you disembark. You can also purchase snacks and beverages in this area.
You will not be able to safely roll to the city center from the pier. Once you exit the sanctuary, you will find yourself in a large parking lot where you can hail a taxi or hire a tour guide. There are no wheelchair accessible taxis in Cartagena, so you will need to be able to transfer into a sedan at a minimum. I hired a private guide through Dora de Explorer for a 4-hour city tour that utilized a 4-door Mercedes sedan. The trunk was large enough to hold the three pieces of my Whill Ci, and it would definitely hold a folding manual wheelchair or small collapsible travel scooter.
Some newer buses in Cartagena are wheelchair accessible, and the Hop-On Hop-Off (HoHo) city sightseeing bus has a ramp at the center door. However, neither stops at the cruise port (although you may want to double check on the HoHo bus), so you will have to make your way to the closest HoHo stop at the Muelle de la Bodeguita. If you can get around using either option, the exterior of the Castillo de San Felipe appears to be accessible via zigzagging inclined sidewalks, but you may want to inquire further before visiting. The Convento de la Popa monastery can be reached via elevator, and the birds’ eye view of Cartagena is worth the trip. However, there are two steep steps to enter the monastery and small museum inside. I was able to enter using a combination of my ramp and two very kind and helpful Colombians.
While Cartagena has parts that are extremely charming and beautiful, like the 12 square-block historic area and the colorful Getsemani neighborhood, most of it is not wheelchair friendly. Dropped curbs are very rare, and the sidewalks are very narrow and in mixed condition. This being said, you can roll along the side of the road and no one will give you a hard time. The roads are in good shape and cobblestones are minimal. There are ramps to enter San Pedro Claver church, and it’s lovely just to roll through the beautiful historic streets filled with brightly painted buildings and flowery balconies. However, if at all possible, I would strongly recommend bringing a small portable travel ramp with you. The majority of obstacles have only one step, and a portable ramp will allow you to enter many museums, churches, restaurants, and shops. In many cases, a ramp is the only way you can get onto the sidewalk.
Bottom Line: Cartagena is a challenging port of call for wheelchair users. Only those with the ability to transfer and use a regular taxi with a portable mobility device will be able to get out of the port area into the city. If that is an option, you will still be limited by the almost complete lack of ramps and dropped curbs. A portable travel ramp will open up many options for more flexible and physically capable wheelchair travelers.
Are you interested in booking a wheelchair accessible cruise with an itinerary that stops in Limon, Costa Rica? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so we can get started!