Skip to content

Shipping Part 2: Cartagena

April 28, 2012

We had picked the worst weekend of the decade to go to Cartagena. The flights and hotels were all booked almost solid and prices were high. We didn’t realise why until we were there but the Summit of the Americas was being held this weekend. This means that all 34 presidents from North and South America were turning up for a tri-ennial conference along with what seemed like a million security guys.

We managed to book expensive flights from Panama City to Cartagena (via Bogota) on COPA for $350 each. The flight was fairly pleasant but there was one slight issue. I was told that my bag was checked through to Cartagena but it turned up on the baggage carousel at Bogota. Fortunately I thought to look as the lady at check-in didn’t instil me with a lot of confidence, so I was able to retrieve it and check-in again at Bogota.  When we arrived at Cartagena two American guys (secret service we think because they told us they worked for the “Government” but were very evasive about it) who had also flown from Panama City were missing their luggage! I guess they didn’t check the carousel at Bogota.

On arrival in Cartagena we took a taxi to our hotel in the San Diego district of the walled city (Centro Historico).  We soon discovered on checking the internet that our ship had been delayed and was not due to arrive until Friday. So our hope of getting the truck back before the weekend was gone. It seems to be fairly normal for ship schedules to slip so don’t believe the shippers when they tell you how quick the whole process will be.

On Friday we went in the morning to visit Enlace Caribe in the Manga district – a shipping agent. The Manga district is South of the old town and we paid COL5000 each time we took a taxi there. Enlace Caribe is a family-run business by Luis, Sonia and their sons. Luis speaks fairly good English so we managed to get by.  We went there on Friday thinking that we would just be arranging for them to represent us but they swung into action straight away.

They needed a copy of our Bill of Lading, the vehicle registration and my passport and this enabled them to start the process. The disadvantage of having an agent was that for a lot of the processes I didn’t have a clue what was going on. There were a lot of forms and visits to various locations. The first place we went was DIAN (the main customs office – Direccion de Impuestas y Aduana Nacionales) where an inspection was booked for Monday morning and we got a Temporary Importation Form.

Then we went to the port administration office where we went inside (ID is needed to get a security pass) and then met with a women in an office who spent 10 minutes with my passport before giving us a form we needed. (pretty vague I know). At some stage Enlace paid our port fees for us and we paid them at the end. This was it for the day though and a good start had been made – we were told to be back at the office of Enlace Caribe at 8am on Monday morning.

On Monday morning we arrived just after 8am to find that Sonia had been to the customs inspection at 7am but that the inspector was too busy to write it up until later, so we wouldn’t be able to get the sign off we needed until 2pm.  We headed back to the city for more tourist action (luckily there’s plenty to keep you busy in Cartagena).

When we returned at 2pm the documents were ready and waiting for us so we walked back across the road to the DIAN building and guided by Felipe (Luis & Sonia’s son) we went to the customs inspector to get our customs clearance. Unfortunately the inspector’s boss wasn’t around so we had to wait close to an hour before finally getting the clearance.  From here we drove to Naves (Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s agent in Cartagena) to retrieve the original Bill of Lading which we needed to get the Beast back.

Felipe then drove us to the administration office of the port where we waited outside while he went in to get the Vehicle Exit Form. Then it was time to go to the actual port, which is about 5km South of the port we had been at. I had to surrender a piece of ID in the port office to get a security badge and then we went to the offices to arrange for someone to take me to the Beast.  Once this was accomplished I went with Felipe to the main port vehicle entrance (Sarah went to the Cafeteria to wait). After about 15 minutes, a port employee screeched to a halt beside us driving a motorbike-based people mover to take me to the truck.

Our first stop in the port was a small office inside a warehouse where I handed over some of the documents we’d got from the Port and was given a long checklist in return to be used to sign back the truck. After this it was back on the bike and we started doing laps of the port area. The driver clearly had no idea where the Beast was and we visited several big lots full of row after row of shiny new cars but no Beast.

Eventually I managed to explain that the truck was big and was unlikely to be with the cars and he headed off to the far side of the port where the road was a pretty rough unpaved surface and we finally spotted The Beast alongside a row of diggers.

I quickly checked her over and to my complete relief found that nothing had been stolen or damaged. The keys were missing but I thought they must be on the way over.

After waiting at the truck for around 30 minutes another guy on a motorbike turned up who I gave the checklist to and we went over the truck looking for any problems. There were none and he signed off and told me to follow him out. I asked him where the keys were (although I had spares I wanted my original keys back). This flustered him a bit and he told me to wait while he fetched the keys.

I now had to wait for around an hour – only enlivened by Airforce 1 flying overhead as Obama left Cartagena – and it got dark. It was around 7pm before anyone reappeared, this time fortunately with the keys.

The guy on the motorbike told me to follow him and shot off at breakneck pace, in the dark, through the port on a pretty rough road – so I was pretty much bouncing around. At one stage he turned down a steep drop off and I managed to stop before following as there was a big rock below that would have hit my differential.

When we got back to the exit Felipe met me and took my paperwork to one final office (just before the exit to get a stamp on the vehicle exit form) and then gave it back to me and told me he’d get Sarah while I drove out after showing my papers to the guy at the gate (another five minute process). He also went to collect my ID from the security office.

So at around 7.30pm after starting the process for the day at 2pm we finally got out of the port and followed Felipe back to the Enlace Caribe office in Manga. Here we settled up with them. USD175 for their services (money well spent) and another USD175 for port fees.

It was good to be reunited with The Beast and we set off back to the Old Town where we had scouted out a car park by the Navy Museum.  We left The Beast there and headed back to our hotel for our last night in the beautiful city of Cartagena. We did have 1 last thing to do the following day before we could leave Cartagena and that was to purchase the compulsory insurance (SOAT) required in Colombia before hitting the road.  This was pretty straight-forward (Sonia had provided us with the address of the insurers in the old town) but pricey at COL 157,900 for 3 months (about $88).  (The address of the insurance agent was HBL Seguros, 1st Floor, Centro Commercial, Calle de la Moneda).  SOAT only covers you for damage to other people and property not vehicles but it’s better than nothing!

Finally we were on the road and ready to explore Colombia. The whole process was pretty time consuming and very expensive but not impossible. We used agents at both ends – it would be cheaper but probably longer doing it yourself and quite difficult I think, if like us, your Spanish is a little limited, to say the least.


Enlace Caribe:
Luis Ernesto La Rota R.
Enlace Caribe Ltda.
Manga, Calle 28  No. 26-47, Of. 103
Cartagena, Colombia

Ph +57 (5) 660 8960

Mob + 57 315 758 5872



Note: The office is open 6 days a week but is shut between 12 and 2pm.


Enlace Caribe: N10 24.553 W75 31.944
DIAN: N10 24.598 W75 31.977
Naves: N10 24.567 W75 32.288
Port Admin Office: N10 24.390 W75 31.707
Port Entrance: N10 22.628 W75 30.376
Car Park by Navy Museum: N10 25.273 W75 33.162
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: