How Colombia’s Tourism Boom Has Affected Cartagena

Cartagena sunset

Soaring tourism rates countrywide have set the stage for unparalleled investment opportunities in Cartagena.

When describing Colombia, the tourism industry often likes to draw comparisons with the ancient greek tale of the Phoenix resurrecting from the flames.

Once marred by a reputation of violent crime and drug conflict, Colombia has indeed risen from its dark past and re-emerged as one of the world’s most coveted international destinations.

Spurred by the historic peace accord signed with FARC, the country has rebranded itself as a safe, modern, up-and-coming country with islands, mountains, and buzzing cities to explore.

This year, New York Times named Colombia as the #2 top place to go in 2018, writing: “After over a half-century of civil war coming to a close, Colombia is eager to become the adventurous, cosmopolitan hot spot it deserves to be”.

Data suggests that travelers are just as eager to help Colombia meet that potential. Tourism has grown 300 percent since 2006 within the last decade. Data from the Ministerio de Comercio, Industria, y Turismo de Colombia shows that the country welcomed more than six million visitors last years and brought in a record-breaking amount of tourism revenue.

According the the Ministry, foreign visitors spent nearly $5.7 billion USD in Colombia in 2016, a figure that nearly doubled the tourist revenue received by the country in 2010.

Much of the tourism boom is concentrated in cities like Medellin, Bogota, and Cali, whose violent reputations kept visitors away until the 2000’s. But tourism is also growing and evolving in Cartagena, the seaside town largely unscathed by drug conflict that has been a popular destination for generations.

A brief history of Cartagena tourism

Founded by the Spanish in 1533, Cartagena is a colorful, Caribbean-side town that quickly flourished as an important trade and shipping port. The prosperous city with its mansions, riches, and natural commerce began attracting visitors — including pirates and invaders. To keep out unwanted guests, the Spanish crown erected the seven miles of high stone walls that still surround the city today.

Pirates or European invaders aside, Cartagena has always welcomed international visitors. Tropical, seasoned, and abounding with incredible historic architecture, the city has remained a relatively safe and popular tourist site even as the surrounding country dealt and struggled with civil conflict.

Cartagena has always attracted a diverse mix of vacationers, backpackers, and adventure seekers from around the globe, and was notoriously beloved by both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mick Jagger.

During 2000, former U.S. president Bill Clinton visited Cartagena for talks on ending the drug trafficking conflict.

In 1984, Cartagena’s Old Town was named a world heritage site. With its time-worn walls and striking Spanish-Colonial architecture, the Old Town quickly became the most touristed neighborhood in the city.

Trendy restaurants, shops, and boutique hotels began to pop up, even around vividly eye-catching centuries-old buildings and local joints.
Across the street from Old Town, Getsemani emerged as a bohemian neighborhood for artists and backpackers, with hip bars and graffiti-adorned walls.

As tourists crowded the Old Town and Getsemani, spillover led to development of nearby barrios. Steps away from Old Town, the lush, bayside neighborhood began attracting Manga vacationing families and budget travelers.

Across the bay in Boca Grande, colorful beach cabanas and shiny new hotels drew flocks of beachgoers and businessmen.

Cartagena tourism rates are soaring

As tourism increases in Medellin, Bogota, Cali, and the rest of Colombia, Cartagena travel rates are skyrocketing. The colorful Caribbean town has long been the star of Colombian tourism, and positive press and improved safety measures have only made it beam brighter.  

Travel data is demonstrating a growing international interest in Cartagena. Data published by flight-finder KAYAK revealed that Cartagena was the top destination for Canadians in 2018, when the search engine noticed a 58 percent increase in searches for flights from Canada to Cartagena.

Last year, three international airlines opened lines to the Puerto de Cartagena, joining the eight other international carriers already serving the airport. New lines to Cartagena were recently introduced by local carriers KLM, TATAM, and Viva Colombia. The growing number of airlines serving Cartagena is a key indicator of escalating tourist demands.

Meanwhile, a soaring number of cruise ships have expanded their route to include Cartagena. Currently a large number of major cruise lines dock ships in Colombia, including Norwegian, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Viking Ocean Cruises. With each arrival come hundreds of tourists, who make up seven percent of all visitors who enter Colombia by sea.

The city has been the subject of increased media attention. Forbes named Cartagena’s Getsemani as one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world, citing quirky cafes and bohemian bars amid generations-old restaurants and homes. A recent Essence article named Cartagena the “perfect girls trip”  while Fodor’s just dubbed the city “The caribbean destination that looks like a Disney movie.”

What the tourism hike means for investors

With year-round balmy weather, dreamy ocean views, and a vibrant, friendly culture, Cartagena has always been a dream spot for smart investors. Now, the rest of the world is catching on.

As the flood of Cartagena tourists, backpackers, retirees, digital nomads, and adventure seekers swells, the demand for hotels and other accommodation is mounting. Steadily, visitors are beginning to venture out of traditional tourist areas like Old Town and Getsemani and seek out other neighborhoods.

Safe, clean, quiet, centrally located neighborhoods like Manga represent unparalleled opportunities to invest in cheap, high quality real estate as the town takes off.

Even with all the positive press, Cartagena real estate prices are still below the cost of comparable properties in other South American cities and a fraction of the prices seen in Europe and the U.S.

But as the tenacious country continues to prosper, it’s unlikely such real estate windows will last for much longer.

If you’re interested in Cartagena real estate investment opportunities, we encourage you to get in touch with Lifeafar. We have a number of ambitious projects in Cartagena and beyond. As long-time Colombia residents and Cartagena lovers, we’re excited to chat about the city’s bright future.

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