Skip to content

DO NOT Give This Charlatan Money in Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena – The Most Touristy Place in Colombia

Cartagena is a well-visited Colombian city, unfortunately with that comes a lot of people who want to take advantage of tourists. They think will be liberal with their money and will prey on easy targets. My Polish friend spent some time in Colombia last year and he didn’t enjoy Cartagena too much. It was because of the overwhelming number of street hustlers. You can’t go 1 minute on the streets without some guy trying to sell you something you definitely don’t want.

This story starts when I was just walking through a street popular with tourists nearby. I was walking to a place called Plaza de Trinidad. A man with a box of bracelets that probably no-one wants to buy approached me. I said to him in Spanish “I can’t help you.” He then proceeded to follow me and spoke to me in good English saying “you want problem.” I asked him in Spanish what he wanted and he said in English “give me 150 for protection.” For context 150K Colombian pesos is equal to about £30.

I refused to pay him and tried to outpace him, however he persisted to follow me. I then made an escape into a restaurant to get something to eat. I explained to the people working at the restaurant which was a family-owned place and they were very sympathetic to my situation. They very kindly gave me free soup and called the police straight away.

The Good Thing was I wasn’t in Danger

One of the people at the restaurant could speak English and asked me about what had happened. She offered to give me her taser, I did not feel comfortable carrying it around. I normally feel alright I had the knowledge of Muay Thai to protect myself. One of the owners at the restaurant told me not to worry and showed me he had a baseball bat. Within 5 minutes after calling the police, the police arrived and I explained the situation. I had to describe what the criminal looked like and the police were very understanding in this situation.

After finishing my dinner, I gave the staff at the restaurant a decent tip. One of the guys there knew the someone working at the hostel I was staying at. I explained the situation to him over the phone. To make sure I was safe, one of the guys at the restaurant also walked with me back to the hostel to make sure I would not be confronted again. It felt much more peaceful in the evening and I made it back safely.

The guy working at the hostel then explained that this is a common scam conducting by the street hustlers in Cartagena. What happens is that they will plant you with drugs if you don’t pay them for “protection.” Then they’ll tell the police that you are in possession of drugs.

A Slap in the Face to the People of Colombia

What I have to say is that this nasty man does not reflect Colombia. The people in the restaurant who helped me out reflects the excellence of the Colombian people. These types of scams are not just limited to Colombia. Similar things exist in other parts of the world such as in the most popular tourist sites in China and Italy.

I would like to thank the people at Restaurante Sabor Mulato for ensuring my safety and dealing with the situation with such professionalism. If you’re ever in Cartagena I do recommend coming here as it is an authentic Colombian dining experience.

What do I have to say about the scammer himself? What a deplorable life he must live if he lives off of dishonesty. You may make the odd 30 quid every now and then. The people of Colombia despise you and it’s a slap in the face to the majority of them. Through my time in Colombia, I met a lot them who are decent and hardworking people.

Furthermore, being able to speak English at such a level is a skill which not many Colombians possess. I think he should find a way of making money honestly with such a proficiency in English.

I admit, this post may make Colombia look bad, however I enjoyed my time here, here are some other posts about my time there:

My time in Medellín

My time in Bogotá

2 thoughts on “DO NOT Give This Charlatan Money in Cartagena, Colombia”

  1. Hi Hamish,

    We rode together in the cab from the Medellin airport and I visited your blog after our chat. It was interesting to read more about this encounter which you described in brief during our ride together. First and foremost, I’m glad you’re ok and we’re able to meet numerous benevolent people along the way to keep you safe.

    I must take exception to your last paragraph though. While your experience with this individual was troubling, I think your intonation about his deplorable character without any awareness of why he may have been driven to that state is purely ignorant. There seems to be no reflection on what environmental conditions may have driven him to that point. In Cartagena, employment is often informal, education levels vary significantly, and inequality runs rampant. It’s incorrect to assume individuals there have the same wealth of choices for their lives as you and I. On top of these suppressed conditions, locals are witness to a vibrant tourist economy where individuals can flaunt opulence that many in Cartagena will never experience in their lifetime. And they know this. Of course, this amplifies the sense of resentment towards tourists and leads some to try and make a living by taking a portion of what the visitors have in their wallet.

    I don’t support the behavior of this individual and agree there are likely better alternatives for him to make money in Cartagena. That being said, we really have no idea what led him to pursue that as a means of making a living. It’s wrong to try and apply your own life experience to his situation. £30 may be negligible to you and I because we know where we can find the next £30. But, it’s safe to say that is not the case for many. I encourage you to continue reflecting on the experience of the individuals and communities that you encounter throughout your travels with the lens of how your life experience is distinctly different from theirs.

    1. Hi Michel

      It was nice to meet you during the cab journey in Medellín, thank you for taking the time to read about my experience. I’d like to address that the last paragraph was written after I the experience and I’d say my words were in reaction to it and therefore not rational. Moreover, I mentioned that £30 sounded like nothing because other people who have tried to scam me have tried to ask for much more, however in Colombia, this amount goes a long way. Having travelled to other places in Colombia, I can understand that this is a country where inequality is rife and only in Cartagena did I encounter people aggressively trying to get money off me. While it’s true we cannot assume what kind of life people like this man lives, it’s a slap in the face to the normal, hardworking everyday Colombians who work honestly that this man possibly makes a bit of money in this way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *