Guide to Cartagena, Colombia from Miami, Florida

Updated version of my guide to Cartagena. Just finished my second delivery.

Warning: Do not travel this route during high hurricane season from August to October.
Caution: From June until November, keep a sharp eye on tropical weather and avoid crossing the Caribbean Sea if a storm is predicted.

Route From Miami to Cartagena
Route From Miami to Cartagena

The key to cruising from Southeast Florida ( whether your departure location is Fort Lauderdale, Miami, or further north such as Stuart ) to Colombia is to stay as far east as possible. The prevailing south easterly trade winds will push you west to Panama and force you to beat back to Colombia. The trick is to sail into the Bahamas, follow along the leeward side of the Exumas, shoot through the Windward Passage, and power reach down to Cartagena. If the winds are strong from the south east, a trick may be to hug the west coast of Haiti and leave Navassa well to starboard. Then let the winds lift you as far east as possible when you round the mountainous coast. The winds sometimes wrap around Hispanola here and will come from due south. The further east you are lifted, the more you will have in the bank during the long Caribbean Sea crossing. Do not go north around Hispanola and leave the Dominican Republic to starboard. You are wasting your time going 300 nautical miles upwind when you can catch the currents underneath Hispanola for the same effect. Read on for a more detailed report on the two halves of this journey.

The first half of your passage through the Bahamas will be motoring through calm and scenic green waters. Take your fishing gear and troll along to maybe catch a tuna or dolphin. The Tongue of the Ocean is a particularly good spot to catch fish as the depth drops off from 10 feet along the banks to 100 feet. Your vessel must draw 6 feet or less to avoid running aground or hitting coral heads along the Exumas Banks of this route. You should refuel and fill up on water sometime through here such as Highbourne or Staniel Cay before making the big jump when leaving the Bahamas and passing through the Windward Passage. You could cut through to Georgetown on the windward side. Your last option in the Bahamas is Inagua. I highly recommend not stopping here unless you like to tie up to concrete fuel docks with rusty rebar sticking out to gauge your gelcoat.

Magdalena River
Magdalena River

The second half has few stopping options. If a storm is brewing you could find safe harbour in Cuba, Haiti, or most likely Jamaica. None of these spots are the most welcoming for cruisers, so the best route is to hope for normal weather. Even so, the predominant weather in the Caribbean Sea is pretty rough. Expect sustained wind of 20 to 30 knots and seas from 5 to 15 feet. In June of 2011, I crossed the Caribbean to Cartagena on a Catalina 320 through a tropical wave with gusts up to 39 knots. In November of 2011, I crossed in exceptional calm weather on a Leopard 46 catamaran. Once you arrive near Colombia, make sure you avoid the Magdalena River’s mouth which is a treacherous delta of shoal water and flotsam. Large logs and dead cows float out of here are high speeds. To enter Cartagena, follow the coastline and pass through the entrance buoys which mark the ancient sunken wall that kept out eighteenth century pirates.

For anyone who considers such a trip, I say go for it. The destination is incredible. Colombia is a beautiful country with a happy, welcoming people. Forget the horror stories of rats as big as cats and rampant crime. Colombia has changed since the 80’s and 90’s, and you will as safe as in any other Latin American country. And the country is only getting better with continued investment from the USA and other allies abroad. Espero que nos vemos alla. Hasta entonces, chao.

12 Replies to “Guide to Cartagena, Colombia from Miami, Florida”

  1. Thanks for the information.  Do you feel that a West Wight Potter 19 could make this passage safely?  If not, what size and type of sailboat would you recommend?  What size boat did you use? And how many days did it take? Thanks.

  2. Took 10 days sin parar sobre a Catalina 320. But would not attempt it again in that boat. Just arrived in Cartagena after 11 passage from Fort Lauderdale on Leopard 46. We should talk when I get settled as I know the route well after doing it 2 times. Think I could help. Depends equally on equipment of choice.
    Sent from my iPad

  3. Thanks Richard.  I’m in Cartagena now also, but my boat is in Maine- a West Wight Potter 19.  It sounds like I’ll need a bigger boat for this trip.  My friend here sailed from Puerto Rico to Cartagena in a Beneteau 45 and he said it was pretty rough.

  4. Yes, it can be rough.  You want a bigger boat.  I recommend longer than 40-foot for speed and comfort during crossing.  There is some serious blue water and no easy pause points after Jamaica.  Do an engine overhaul and take plenty of fuel and water.  If all fails, sail to Panama.  Get your friend to go with you.

  5.  Hi Richard, thank you for sharing your experience, my wife and I are planning sailing this same route on April 2014, but we have a Tartan 34 C 1978, is this boat big enough?. Thanks in advance

  6. Hi Luis: More length would be nice, but my concerns for you would be the condition of your vessel and equipment. When you are out there in the middle of the Caribe, there is no escape. Number one is a good engine, plenty of fuel, and clean tanks. Number two is fresh rigging and steering systems. It is okay to question yourself out there; it is not okay to question your boat. Take 1 gallon of water / day / person. Buenas suerte. Ricardo

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  7. I sailed from Tampa to Covenas Colombia to Tampa in a Aquarius 23′.  Hardest part was rounding Cuba on my return. I would have loved the comfort of a larger vessel.  But you sail what you have, not what you wish for.

  8. Hi, I have been trying to find a unique way (i.e:not flying or bussing) from south america to USA for days now and haven’t stumbled accross much usefull. Perhaps someone on this blog could enlighten me (keep in mind I know nothing of sailing or Carribean weather etc). Do people sail from Cartegena (or other northern S.A ports) during July/August/September? If so, is this something I could get on board with? Like help out or just keep someone company? Haha, have no idea how outrageous this might be and I’m sure some people pay through the roof for such an experience. Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!

  9. Hi Richard, My name is Sebastian, I have a couple questions and it might sound crazy, but here it goes:
    I’m from Colombia and i am living currently in San Francisco, i have a couple friends from DC that are getting married in Cartagena this December, and the Bride’s best friend is terrifying of flying, she lives in San Francisco too, so she is contemplating either driving through Central America all the way to Colombia, or driving to Florida and make the trip by sea from there.
    I’ve been trying to help with the research but so far i haven’t been able to find a way to make the trip by sea from Miami, are you aware of some charter service, cruise or another option you can think of?.
    I appreciate any help you can give me with this. Thanks!

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