Rafael Núñez International Airport is the third largest airport in Colombia in terms of passengers. And it’s the Cartagena airport for all international and domestic flights to the city, with airport code CTG.
Rafael Núñez Airport (the Spanish name is Aeropuerto Internacional Rafael Núñez) is the largest airport serving the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Several Medellin Guru readers asked us to provide a guide to the Cartagena airport – Rafael Núñez International Airport – since Cartagena is a very popular tourist location. So, this article is our Cartagena airport guide.
Note the above photo of inside the Rafael Núñez Cartagena airport is by David Shankbone.
History of the Rafael Núñez Cartagena Airport (CTG)
In 1930, SCADTA built an airfield on the island of Manzanillo near Cartagena. And by 1940, the company had become Avianca and continued operating from Manzanillo to various domestic destinations. But Avianca didn’t permit other airlines to use its airfields.
So, in 1946, TACA de Colombia established a subsidiary, Colombian Aerodromes Company, which opened the Crespo Air Field in Cartagena in December 1946. Plans for the new airfield were to eventually operate international flights to Costa Rica, Panama, and the U.S. But TACA suspended operations in April 1947 and the airport passed to the LANSA company.
By 1979, Cartagena had 99 flights a week to this airport. But this was insufficient capacity to support tourism demand to the city. So, in 1982, a new passenger terminal was added and the runway was extended. And the airport was renamed as Rafael Núñez Airport.
In February 1996, a contract was awarded to Society Caribbean Airports S.A. (SACSA). SACSA now operates the Rafael Núñez Airport in Cartagena. Also, SACSA has overseen several expansion projects since 2010 that have reportedly expanded capacity of the airport to 4.5 million passengers per year.
More About the Rafael Núñez Cartagena Airport (CTG)
The Rafael Núñez Cartagena airport is a relatively small airport with some restaurants and cafés. In addition, it has a small shopping area with a number of shops.
Note there aren’t jetways for the flights to Rafael Núñez airport. So, flights park and you have to walk to and from the terminal with some covered walkways. You’ll immediately notice the heat in Cartagena during this walk from the plane.
Inside the airport are two currency exchange places and several ATM machines. Also, there are two car rental companies at the airport: Avis and Budget. In addition, the airport is open 24 hours.
Outside the terminal of Rafael Núñez airport there are parking lots with spaces for over cars and motorcycles. And the terminal parking rate is currently 33,000 pesos per day for cars and 32,500 pesos per day for motorcycles.
Flight Options from Rafael Núñez Cartagena Airport (CTG)
Rafael Núñez airport currently has flights from 14 different airlines with direct flights to and from 17 different destinations:
- Air Canada Rouge – Toronto (seasonal)
- Air Panama – Panama City
- Air Transat – Montréal (seasonal), Toronto (seasonal)
- American Airlines – Miami
- Avianca – Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, San Andrés.
- Copa Airlines – Panama City
- Delta Air Lines – Atlanta
- EasyFly – Bucaramanga, Cúcuta
- JetBlue – Fort Lauderdale, New York-JFK
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines – Amsterdam
- LATAM – Bogotá, Cali, Lima, Medellín, San Andrés
- Spirit Airlines – Fort Lauderdale, Orlando
- VivaAir – Bogotá, Cali, Lima (only Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), Medellín, Pereira, San Andrés
- Wingo – Bogotá, Panama City, San Andrés
The most popular international flight locations at the Cartagena airport in 2015 were Panama City with 140,388 passengers, Fort Lauderdale with 140,266 passengers, New York-JFK with 91,554 passengers and Miami with 71,116 passengers.
Entering Colombia as a Tourist
We previously provided information about Colombia tourist visas and how to extend a tourist visa. And everyone seems to call this a “tourist visa” but it isn’t really a formal visa. It is just a stamp in your passport by immigration in Colombia.
There are over 90 countries, whose citizens can enter Colombia without a visa and receive a “tourist visa” stamp. The countries include Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States plus over 80 more countries.
If you are a tourist from Canada, you used to have to pay a reciprocity fee of 201,000 pesos – but were exempt from the fee if older than 79 or younger than 14. However this reciprocity fee was eliminated on May 1, 2019.
When you enter Colombia as a tourist, an immigration official will stamp your passport and normally write that it is good for 90 days. However, this is at the discretion of the official and occasionally may be shorter. And this tourist stamp can be extended pretty easily to a total 180 days.
Exchanging Money at the Cartagena Airport
Currency exchanges at the Cartagena airport can be one of the easiest ways for exchanging money. But the fees can be horrible as well as the actual exchange rate they offer won’t be great. So, this isn’t the best option for exchanging money.
There are two currency exchanges at the Cartagena airport: Americambios and GloboCambio. And both are open from 7 am to 8 pm.
Also, at the Cartagena airport there are ATM machines located in the domestic departures seating area outside of security. You can find ATM machines from Banco de Bogotá, BBVA and Servibanca. In addition, outside the terminal from domestic arrivals you can find a Bancolombia ATM machine at the airport.
The exchange rate ATM machines provide will usually be very close to the actual exchange rate that can be seen on XE. And the rate will be better than the rate found at the currency exchanges at the airport.
There are also other ways for exchanging money, receiving and transferring money in Bogotá and other cities in Colombia like Medellín and Cartagena, which we previously covered.
These include exchange centers in the city (Casas de Cambio), the Zeepod mobile app, money transfer services and money transfers at banks.
Food Options at the Cartagena Airport
If you are planning to eat at the Cartagena airport there aren’t that many food options. So, I recommend trying to eat before going to the airport.
There are less than 15 food and café options in the airport including Bukash, Café Oma, Juan Valdez Café, Kokoriko, Mimo’s, Pizz Up (a pizzeria), Presto and Subway. And most of these are located in the domestic seating area before going through security.
There aren’t any 24-hour food options in the airport even though the airport is open 24 hours. The food places are normally open from 3 am to midnight.
Cartagena Airport Tips
Based on my experience flying over 20 times to/from Rafael Núñez International Airport in Cartagena, I have four airport tips for foreigners.
- Plan to arrive early for your departing flight. I like to play it safe, so I always plan to be at the Cartagena airport three hours before international flights and 1.5 hours before domestic flights. Probably you don’t need this much time at the airport to check-in and go through security and immigration for international flights. But you never know when you might have problems getting to the airport.
- There will almost always be taxis at the airport. I have never encountered a problem in finding a taxi at the airport even late at night. And I never have experienced a problem with a taxi.
- Don’t use the money exchanges at the airport. The ATM machines at the airport will offer a better exchange rate. Especially relevant, make sure to inform your bank you will be in Colombia to ensure your ATM card will work.
- Foreign tourists can get a refund of Colombia’s value-added tax (VAT) known as the IVA tax that is 19% at the DIAN office at the airport. In the Cartagena airport, just ask where the DIAN office is. We provide details about how to get the IVA tax refund here.
How to Get to Cartagena From the Airport – Rafael Núñez Cartagena Airport (CTG)
Rafael Núñez international airport is located in the Crespo neighborhood of Cartagena. Also, the airport is located only about 3.7 miles (6 km) from the Cartagena city center.
It normally takes about 20 minutes, depending on traffic, to go from Rafael Núñez airport to the historic Cartagena center or the reverse direction. And to get to other areas of Cartagena like Bocagrade it takes longer.
In Cartagena the easiest way to get to/from the airport is using yellow taxis. There is a taxi stand at the airport where you simply tell the attendant your destination. And you will receive a ticket with the fixed fare for the destination listed.
Taxi fares are fixed in Cartagena. The 2018 taxi fare to the hotel area in El Centro from the airport is 13,400 pesos. And to Bocagrande or Laguito from the airport the fare is 19,000 pesos.
There are rarely lines for taxis at the relatively small Cartagena airport. And taxis are easy to use with the airport taxi stand. So, there is not really a reason for using a higher cost private driver.
Note that taxis in Cartagena do not have taximeters. So, be careful of inflated taxi fares in Cartagena. To make sure you are not surprised at the fare at the destination when in Cartagena, always make sure to ask the fare to the destination before getting in a taxi.
In addition, as an alternative to taxis Uber is available in Cartagena. Also, there are higher cost private driver services available like Viator, which provides a Cartagena airport transfer service for $13.60 USD, which is 39,126 pesos at the current exchange rate. This is about double the taxi fare.
Airport Website: http://www.sacsa.com.co/
Address: Calle 70, Crespo, Cartagena
Telephone: +57 (5) 693 1351
Airports in Colombia
We have provided guides to the 10 largest airports in Colombia. The following list of these 10 largest airports in Colombia is in order by passenger traffic:
- El Dorado Airport (BOG) – Bogotá’s International Airport and the largest airport in Colombia.
- José María Córdova (MDE) – Medellín’s International Airport in Rionegro.
- Rafael Núñez Airport (CTG) – Cartagena’s International Airport.
- Alfonso Bonilla Aragón Airport (CLO) – Cali’s International Airport in Palmira.
- Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport (BAQ) – Barranquilla’s International Airport.
- Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport (ADZ) – San Andrés’ International Airport.
- Simón Bolívar International Airport (SMR) – Santa Marta’s International Airport.
- Matecaña International Airport (PEI) – Pereira’s International Airport.
- Palonegro Internationa Airport (BGA) – Bucaramanga’s International Airport.
- Olaya Herrera Airport (EOH) – Medellín’s domestic airport in the city.
We also looked at how to find cheap international flights to Medellín and Colombia.
Also, we looked at how to find cheap domestic flights in Colombia. I have flown multiple times from Medellín to Cartagena for less than $100 roundtrip. And the flight from Medellín to Cartagena is only 1-hour. So, it’s an easy domestic flight for a quick vacation in Cartagena.
The Bottom Line: Rafael Núñez Cartagena Airport (CTG)
Cartagena is a popular tourist destination in Colombia. And most foreigner tourists travel to Cartagena by air. So, we provided this guide to the Rafael Núñez Cartagena airport.
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Editors note: updated on March 25, 2019 to add that Avianca is suspending service to New York and Pereira from Cartagena on May 1, 2019.
Editors note: updated on May 4, 2019 to add that the reciprocity fee for Canadians entering Colombia has been eliminated on May 1, 2019.
Editors note: updated on June 16, 2019 to add VivaAir’s new flights from Cartagena to Lima that are only on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.