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Cartagena is subsiding at a higher rate compared to that of global climate-driven sea level rise. We investigate the relative sea level rise (RSLR) and the influence of vertical land movements in Cartagena through the integration of different datasets, including tide gauge records, GPS geodetic subsidence data, and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) observations of vertical motions. Results reveal a long-term rate (> 60 years) of RSLR of 5.98 ± 0.01 mm/yr. The last two decades exhibited an even greater rate of RSLR of 7.02 ± 0.06 mm/yr. GPS subsidence rates range between − 5.71 ± 2.18 and − 2.85 ± 0.84 mm/yr. InSAR data for the 2014–2020 period show cumulative subsidence rates of up to 72.3 mm. We find that geologically induced vertical motions represent 41% of the observed changes in RSLR and that subsidence poses a major threat to Cartagena’s preservation. The geodetic subsidence rates found would imply a further additional RSLR of 83 mm by 2050 and 225 mm by 2100. The Colombian government should plan for the future and serve as an example to similar cities across the Caribbean.