Travelling from the sultry Caribbean cost to the lush mountains of Colombia, you’ve got a few options, including a long bus ride and a quick (but more expensive) flight from Cartagena to Medellín.
In the interest of full disclosure, there’s also a train across the country, but it takes 20hrs+, involves at least one transfer, and there is basically no information about the journey anywhere, so instead this Colombia transport guide will cover absolutely everything you need to know about travelling from Cartagena to Medellín via bus or plane, including how to get to the bus terminal or airport in Cartagena, how to buy tickets, and how to get to your hostel in Medellín.
Travelling between other popular destinations in Colombia? Check out all of my Colombia transport guides:
- Bogotá to San Gil or Barichara
- Bogotá to Medellín
- San Gil to Medellín or Guatapé
- Medellín to Santa Marta
- Santa Marta to Cartagena COMING SOON
- Cartagena to Medellín
Taking the bus from Cartagena to Medellín
Buses in Colombia are incredibly nice, very inexpensive, and perfectly safe, which makes them the best transport option about 99% of the time. The 14-16hr bus from Cartagena to Medellín is right on the cusp of where I’d seriously consider flying, but it’s still a fair bit cheaper (once you factor in getting to the airport and paying for a checked bag), so the bus is my personal pick for the best way to get to Medellín.
At a glance: bus from Cartagena to Medellín
* 120,000COP / $55AUD
* 14-16hrs travel time (+ 1.5hrs getting to & from bus terminal)
* Book directly at the bus terminal or online with BusBud
Step 1: Get to the bus terminal in Cartagena
Public transport to the bus terminal in Cartagena
There is a Transcaribe bus departing from Avenue Santander (which runs along the water) that can take you to the Terminal de Transportes for 2,300COP, but you’ll also need to purchase a travel card for 4,000COP to use the service.
Taxi to the bus terminal in Cartagena
A taxi from Cartagena to Terminal Norte should cost 15-20,000COP / $6-8AUD), so try to share with some other travellers if possible.
Even though it’s only 12km from Getsemani (my favourite neighbourhood in Cartagena) to the bus terminal, traffic is known to absolutely explode in this city at seemingly random times and it’s not uncommon to spend an HOUR getting to the bus terminal. Allow plenty of time if you don’t want to risk missing your bus!
Step 2: Buy bus tickets to Medellín
Both Expreso Brasilia and Rápido Ochoa make the trip between Cartagena and Medellín— I’ve always had a very positive experience travelling with Expreso Brasilia in Colombia, so this would be my first choice.
Between companies, you should have plenty of departure options throughout the day, but I’d specifically recommend the night bus so you can at least sleep through some of that LONG drive to the coast. The added bonus is that you’ll also save on paying for a night’s accommodation! Expreso Brasilia has night buses departing at 5.30pm, 7.30pm or 9.30pm (which then arrive at 6am, 8am, or 10am the next day in Medellín— but expect to arrive at least several hours late).
I didn’t have any trouble just rocking up at the bus station and buying tickets whenever I was leaving each city in Colombia, but if you’re travelling during the high tourist season (North American/European summer or around the holidays) you might consider pre-booking your bus from Cartagena to Medellín.
The best way to check bus routes, current timetables, AND buy tickets online in Colombia is the super-handy comparison site BusBud. The Expreso Brasilia site is also very easy to use as long as you can read Spanish!
Cost of bus tickets from Cartagena to Medellín
The Expreso Brasilia bus ranges from 100-125,000COP ($39-49AUD) and the Rápido Ochoa bus is similar. It’s not a super inexpensive ticket, but it does still work out a fair bit cheaper than flying.
Essential Spanish for buying a bus ticket
- Me gustaría comprar un boleto a Medellín, por favor. | I would like to buy a bus ticket to Medellín, please.
- A qué hora es el próximo bus? | What time is the next bus?
- A qué hora el bus llegas en Medellín? | What time does the bus arrive in Medellín?
- Cuánto cuesta este boleto? | How much does this ticket cost?
- Es posible pagar con una tarjeta? | Is it possible to pay with a credit card?
- El bus tiene un baño? | Does the bus have a toilet?
- De donde sale el bus? | Where does the bus depart from?
Step 3: Travel by bus from Cartagena to Medellín
Despite bus companies listing the drive from Medellín to Santa Marta as 12.5hrs, it’s really more like 14hrs— and it’s not unheard of to spend 16hrs on the bus if traffic or road conditions are bad. Do not expect to arrive on time (and that pretty much goes for all buses in Colombia).
Tardiness aside, Colombian buses are incredibly nice, and you can expect superbly comfortable reclining seats, a toilet on-board, and even seat-back TVs playing Spanish films with most companies.
The only irritating aspect of bus travel (in all of Latin America, really) is that the aircon will be blasting— make SURE you have some layers with you on the bus or you will not have a good time.
Step 4: Get to your hostel in Medellín
When you do finally arrive into Medellín, reclaim your bag (staff would have given you a bag ticket when you placed your big bag under the bus) and then either take the Metro or order an Uber to your hostel.
Public transport from the bus terminal in Medellín
Buses from Cartagena arrive into Medellín’s busier northern bus terminal (Terminal Norte), which is directly and very conveniently connected to the Caribe Metro Station. Follow signs to the Metro and then purchase a ticket for 2,550COP ($1AUD). You can buy the ticket directly from the counter, and there’s no need to say where you’re headed— all tickets on the Medellín Metro cost the same!
From Caribe, hop on a train towards La Estrella and then disembark at Poblado Metro Station, which is located in the popular tourist district of El Poblado and should be walking distance from most hostels.
Wondering what to do and where to stay in Medellín? Check out my complete guide: 9 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA’S MOST INNOVATIVE CITY
Uber from the bus terminal in Medellín
If you want to take an Uber to your hostel in Medellín, it should only cost around 10,000COP ($4AUD) from Terminal Norte to El Poblado, although that is subject to change based on time of day or how busy the roads are.
Flying from Cartagena to Medellín
If you’re looking for the fastest way to get from Cartagena to Medellín, it’s impossible to beat the 1hr flight. You’ll pay a bit more for the luxury of arriving quickly, but honestly not that much more, so this is likely to appeal to travellers aiming to maximise their time in each city.
At a glance: flight from Cartagena to Medellín
* 115,000COP (+ 45,000COP checked bag + 20,000COP boarding pass) / $71AUD total
* 1hr flight time (+ 2hrs check-in + 1hrs getting to & from airport)
* Book online with Viva Air or compare flights using Skyscanner
Step 1: Get to the airport in Cartagena
Taxi to the airport in Cartagena
Grabbing a taxi to Cartagena’s airport (officially Rafael Núñez International Airport) is the easiest way to get to your flight. The airport is only 6km from the centre of Cartagena, so it only takes about 20min and costs 12,000COP / $5AUD to get to Getsemani (the best neighbourhood in Cartagena!) in a taxi.
Public transport to the airport in Cartagena
I was never able to learn the Transcaribe bus route well enough to figure out if there is a bus from town to the airport, but it might be worth enquiring at your hostel if you are travelling alone and really don’t want to spend the 12,000COP on a taxi.
Step 2: Check-in for your flight to Medellín
Check-in for your flight as usual, just be aware that budget airlines like Viva Air LOVE to charge you for “extras”, which range from standard add-ons like checked luggage (45,000COP / $18AUD online and double that at the airport) to absolutely ridiculous fees like 20,000COP to print your boarding pass. Learn from my mistakes and print your boarding pass before you leave home OR ask to print at your hostel!
When you consider the cost of the ticket (115,000COP) + checking a backpack (45,000COP) + printing a boarding pass (20,000COP), the total cost of flying from Cartagena to Medellín is 180,000COP / $71AUD. It’ll save you 10hrs+ compared to taking the bus for only $16AUD more, which makes it an enticing option for those without unlimited time.
Avianca, Viva Air, and LATAM can all get you from Cartagena to Medellín, but Viva Air tends to be the cheapest. I’d recommend purchasing your flights online through Viva Air and buying checked baggage at the same time, as this will save you considerably; alternatively, compare flights using Skyscanner.
Step 3: Fly from Cartagena to Medellín
The flight from Cartagena to Medellín is advertised as 1hr15min, but usually arrives in less than 1 hour. Budget airlines like Viva certainly don’t have any fancy trimmings, it’s more than comfortable enough for a short journey.
Step 4: Get to your hostel in Medellín
Public transport from the airport in Medellín
José María Cordova International Airport (MDE) is actually located around 35km out of Medellín, so there’s no option to just hop on a quick and convenient metro train to get to El Poblado.
The best option in terms of shared transport is the official Aeropuerto-Combuses (busetas) departing near gates 2A and 2B (10,000COP or $4AUD; buy your ticket from the driver). It will take approximately 60min to get to Medellín on this bus, which terminates at the Hotel Nutibara.
From here, walk about 300m to the Parque Berrío Metro Station, purchase a one-way ticket (2,550COP / $1AUD), hop on a train bound for La Estrella, and disembark at Poblado about 15min later. Allow around 1.5-2hrs to get to your hostel in El Poblado using this option.
Uber from the airport in Medellín
Thanks to a newly completed tunnel running through the mountains, the hour-long drive from the airport to Medellín now only takes around 30min, although this can certainly vary depending on time of day and traffic.
There are heaps of taxis operating from the airport, and although it’s safe enough to trust these registered companies, the taxi fare into Medellín can be quite expensive (90-100,000COP or $36-40AUD, which is nearly the price of your flight!). Uber is a bit cheaper at 80,000COP ($32AUD), but still adds a considerable amount to the overall cost of flying.
Make the most of your time in Medellín: 9 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA’S MOST INNOVATIVE CITY
Travelling from Medellín to Guatapé
Guatapé is Colombia’s most colourful town, located just out of Medellín on the shores of an enormous lake. It’s unquestionably one of the best places to explore from Medellín, and actually one of my favourites in whole the country— thankfully, it’s super easy to get there. From Terminal Norte in Medellín, hop on a 2hr bus to Guatapé (14,000COP); usually these depart from the lower level, ticket window #14.
Check out my detailed Guatapé travel guide: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING GUATAPÉ AS A DAY TRIP FROM MEDELLÍN, COLOMBIA
Travelling from Medellín to Cartagena
If you’re travelling from Medellín to Cartagena, just reverse these directions! All the same prices and instructions still apply.
Check out this super comprehensive post for all the best things to do in Cartagena: COMING SOON
Read more about Colombia
HEAPS MORE COMING SOON