How to Get from Medellín to Cartagena
Navigating the Colombian Landscape: How Far is it Between Medellín and Cartagena?
Colombia is a country known for its diverse landscapes, changing culture in each region, and deep history. Making travel difficult around the country is its geography marked by being the only country with three ranges of the Andes, the only in South America with both Pacific and Atlantic (Caribbean) coast, deserts, plains, Amazon, and more. Because of this difficult terrain, what might only take 15 minutes in plan might take 5 to 10 hours in a car, bus, or van.
Two of the most popular cities in the country are Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín and the most popular city in the Caribbean, Cartagena de Indias. Although not very common to traverse by road, some may wonder how far is it between Medellín and Cartagena?
To be very clear, the best mode of transport for this distance is definitely flying. Some adventurous travelers may consider travel by bus, but even for the most experienced travelers, we recommend against trying to drive yourself.
Medellín and Cartagena are situated in regions of Colombia that are so different, they may feel like they are separate countries. In each place people talk different, walk different, look different, and live different. Medellín, the capital of the department of Antioquia department, is nestled in the Aburrá Valley, surrounded by the central ridge of the Andes Mountains and bragging about its almost perfect year-round weather.
On the other hand, Cartagena, a port city and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located on the northern Caribbean coast, where the temperature is hot and humid, and the topography is totally flat. While people on the coast are used to getting around by walking, buses, and motorcycles, people in Medellín rarely walk, but more commonly use mass transport or have their own bike or car. While Cartagena sits at sea level, Medellín is located at an elevation between 1,500 and 1700 meters (4,905 – 5,100 feet) depending on where you are in the city.
Beyond the geographical disparities, Medellín and Cartagena showcase distinct cultural identities. Medellín, often referred to as the "City of Eternal Spring," is renowned for its pleasant weather, modern infrastructure, and innovative urban projects. The city has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent decades, shedding its turbulent past and emerging as a hub of creativity and progress. The city is known as one of the most quickly growing culinary hubs in Latin America, and despite the mistaken belief, Medellín has a much richer history with salsa music and dance than Cartagena as many of the most well-known artists recorded their music in Medellín.
Cartagena, steeped in history and colonial charm, exudes a different kind of allure. The well-preserved walled city, with its cobblestone streets and colorful facades, transports visitors to a bygone era. The coastal city is also a melting pot of Afro-Caribbean, indigenous, and Spanish influences, evident in its music, dance, and cuisine.
Distance by Road and Travel Times:
The distance between Medellín and Cartagena is approximately 650 kilometers (400 miles) when traveling by road. Although Colombia has a great network of roads and highways, this distance feels considerably longer given the difficult Colombian topography. While 400 miles in most countries might take 4-6 hours by car, in Colombia that same distance will take 12 to 16 hours. This is because the drive requires climbs up and down the Andes mountains before reaching the long straight stretches on the much flatter coastline.
Travelers should keep in mind as well that the highway between Medellín and Montería is often not very wide and popularly transited by large trucks. This causes large and sometimes dangerous potholes. The country is building a new highway, but a focus on the new construction means that the existing roads are often neglected.
The road itself is very pretty in some places and less interesting in others. For travelers who have a lot of time, there are interesting stops along the way including the historic town of Mompox, sometimes considered to be a lesser-known mini-Cartagena; Coveñas a popular beach getaway mostly known by Colombians themselves; and Montería, a large and popular city on the coast.
Those who prefer the scenic route can opt for a long-distance bus journey. Several reputable bus companies operate routes between Medellín and Cartagena, offering comfortable and affordable options for travelers looking to enjoy the picturesque landscapes of Colombia. Websites such as redBus will let you filter between options and amenities as you choose bus tickets. Some of the buses have wifi, fully reclining seats, chargers, and more. The website will help you find the best prices as well. The ticket prices of bus tickets usually ranges between 175,000 Colombian Pesos (COP) and 200,000 Colombian Pesos (COP) (about $45-$55 USD).
In Medellín, you can grab buses and vans from the bus station called Terminal del Norte, and in Cartagena at the Terminal de Transporte. The night buses are often popular as they usually feature fully reclining seats which are great for an overnight bus trip. Rapido Ochoa and Expreso Brasilia are the two most common bus companies.
Is it safe to take the road between the cities
In general the road is safe and you should feel comfortable when traveling with a bus line. However, we recommend renting a car as there are areas along the coast where crime is an issue. In particular we recommend avoiding the region known as Planeta Rica, as well as some of the area around Yarumal.
For those seeking a faster mode of transportation, domestic flights are available between Medellín's José María Córdova International Airport and Cartagena's Rafael Núñez International Airport. The flight takes approximately one to 1.5 hours from takeoff to touchdown, providing a convenient option for travelers with time constraints.
There is no question that air travel is far faster and more convenient. The flight time between Cartagena and Medellín is between one hour and one hour and a half (which is about the same between Cartagena and Bogotá).
In Medellín there are two airports:
- Olaya Herrera (EOH) is the municipal airport located in the city. It is the hub for smaller and generally propeller planes (puddle jumpers). The majority of the flights go to less-common and smaller destinations, but there are some limited flights to Cartagena on both Clic Airlines and Satena. In general, these flights tend to be more expensive, like around $150-$200. You’ll also be limited to 15 kilos per bag (about 30 pounds)
- José María Córdova (MDE) is the international airport. It is located about 45 minutes from Medellín in the town or Rionegro and it is much bigger than Olaya Herrera. When people refer to the Medellín airport, this is the airport that is most likely in reference. You can find flights on major airliners through Latam airlines (Oneworld Alliance), Avianca (Star Alliance), and Wingo. There are regular flights to Cartagena at almost every hour and the flights usually cost between $100 - $300 USD depending on the season.
In Cartagena there is only one airport, Rafael Núñez (CTG), which makes things easy. The airport is located in the city, about a 20-30 minute taxi or Uber ride from the old walled city or Getsemaní. The airport is also convenient for international flights including a popular flight on JetBlue that is direct with round trip to and from New York. So, if it is more convenient, travelers can fly in and out of Cartagena and easily book a round trip from Cartagena to Medellín.
While many of the flights between Medellín and Cartagena are non-stop, direct flights, please keep in mind that many also require a connection in Bogotá. In general the direct flights are earlier in the day or late in the evening and should be booked well in advance as they fill up and/or become expensive. Cheap flights may include a connection or are usually more available on Wingo. Previously, there was a cheap flight option with Viva Air, but the airline went out of business. It is possible that other companies enter the market in 2024.
We definitely recommend flying between the Cartagena airport Rafael Nunez and Jose Maria Cordova, the international airport in Medellín as there are far more flight options, non-stop flights, and better connectivity.
The distance between Medellín and Cartagena may be significant, but Colombia's efficient transportation network ensures that exploring these two cities is a manageable and rewarding experience.
There is no question that we recommend flying over traveling by road. But if you choose to embark on a scenic and epic road trip, please choose to travel by bus. The journey will feature contrasting landscapes and cultural richness especially if you are able to visit a couple of the villages like Mompox along the way.
Remember that the distance between Medellín, Cartagena, and Bogotá is only about an hour (give or take) flying between the cities. So, our big travel tip is to just look for the most cheap tickets or best schedule in and out of Colombia, and then book a round trip between cities in the country.