Cartagena is Colombia’s most popular destination for tourists and for two good reasons: it’s a beautiful colonial city with a fortress wall, plus it’s right on the water. There are beaches stretching out in both directions.
If you’ve never been to the area though, this presents a challenge in finding your ideal Cartagena hotel. Do you want to walk out your door and stroll the narrow streets of the old walled city? Or do you want to lounge by a big resort pool and take a stroll on a pretty beach at sunset? Or are you willing to stay further out if it means you can play golf and lounge at a private beach club?
History and Character in the Old City
There are three main hotel zones in the city. In the walled city of Cartegena that is the oldest section, you’ll find dozens of boutique hotels and one famous large property in this UNESCO World Heritage city. You can find the best luxury hotels in Cartagena reviewed in detail at Luxury Latin America, including hotspots like Tcherassi and Ananda and can find some of the smaller ones represented by the Evoca Group.
There are dozens of small B&Bs though. Some require a bit more digging, however, like the impressive Hotel Agua I visited while I was there, with the public spaces outnumbering the five guest rooms. The photo at the right is the view from its pool deck at night.
A few new upscale boutique properties have opened up in recent years, including Casa Pestagua, an 11-room Relais & Chateaux property housed in a renovated 17th-century building. For now, this is the only property in Colombia belonging to that food-focused hotel alliance and here’s a key selling point: a 15-minute food massage or (if you book direct) a full body massage included in your rate.
The best-known hotel has a long history: Sofitel Santa Clara Cartagena, which was originally a convent built in the 17th century, has 122 rooms, a gorgeous pool area, and more staffers that can speak English than most other old city properties if you need that.
Eastern Beach Hotels
If you’re a beach lover or are attending a convention, the resort hotels strung along the beach to the east of the city (an area known as Los Morros) are the best bet. You’ll have to take a taxi from here every time you want to visit the historic district, but the hotels here have plenty of room for nice pool complexes and the wide beach here is attractive. It’s a short hop to the convention center if you’re here for a trade show.
I stayed in the Sonesta Cartagena, which has three great pools, free Wi-Fi, and easy beach access. There’s a bit of an odd set-up here though that’s duplicated in many hotels in this area: the hotel sits near the road, while the rooms with the best locations and views are actually condominiums owned by Colombians. If the view is not your prime consideration though, you can find great hotel deals here, at the Holiday Inn Cartagena Morros, and at the Radisson Hotel Cartagena Ocean Pavilion.
The best choice though is the resort right across from the convention center, Las Americas. The older section is good for families with its waterslide and poolside rooms with a hammock on the terrace or balcony. (Why doesn’t every beach resort have a hammock on the balcony?) A newer wing is more contemporary. With beach chairs under palapas and wait service shuttling drinks, it’s a prime place to relax.
Would you like to get in a few rounds of golf while you’re in Colombia? Then check out one of the newest large resorts in the area: Conrad Cartagena Resort. It’s part of the Hilton Group (if you’re an Honors member looking to earn or use points) and has a beach club, four restaurants, four pools, a spa, and a kids club. Just be advised it’s a long ride from the center, but it’s the only resort with a full 18-hole golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Western Beach Hotels
On the other side of the old city are more resort hotels in the Bocagrande area, where the Hilton was the main attraction for many years. Others are under construction for openings in the next couple years.
Getting competition but still a top choice is the Hilton Cartagena. Situated on a promontory with panoramic ocean views, it has a terrific pool complex with a bar and a great restaurant designed to look like a traditional Cartagena home. It boasts polished Hilton service and plenty of bilingual staffers.
The newer Intercontinental Cartagena has good meeting facilities, including a ballroom that seats 500 for banquets. It’s right by the beach, but the hotel is just one part of a big destination complex with a casino and a shopping mall.
Major international chain brands are popping up every few months it seems. A Hyatt is now open and the long-delayed Sheraton should be open soon. Plug Cartagena into Trivago.com or HotelsCombined to see the options from dozens of different booking sites.
See more on the area at the official Cartagena de Indias tourism site.
Post and photos by travel destinations expert Tim Leffel. He was hosted by Sonesta Cartagena as part of his attendance at TravelMart Latin America and was once hosted at Ananda on a media trip.