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Cartagena has been bustling with travelers since the Spanish Empire first colonized the port in 1533. Construction on the ancient walled city, a UNESCO Heritage Site, began in 1586 to defend the Spanish gold and silver coffers from pirates. Nowadays, travelers from around the world revel in both the weighty history of the colorful city and the amenities of its convenient location on the sunny Caribbean coast. History and beaches? Yes, please!
Travelers will also find that the range of hotels in Cartagena caters to both the history-loving crowd and the beach-ready crowd: you’ll find everything from renovated centuries-old monasteries inside the walled city to contemporary beachfront high-rises just outside of town. Here are some of the best options.
Best Overall: Hotel Quadrifolio
Lovingly renovated out of the crumbling ruins of a colonial manor house built in the 1700s, Hotel Quadrifolio is tiny but exquisite. Each of the eight guestrooms is uniquely decorated with a combination of antique and contemporary furniture and gorgeous local art pieces. Enjoy nightly turn-down services of your bed, made up with Frette cotton sheets and hypoallergenic feather pillows. Amenities in the bathrooms are from the luxury hotel lines of either Hermès or Ferragamo. A tropical fruit platter will greet you upon arrival, and you can cool down daily in the hotel pool or take an evening dip in the Jacuzzi. A small restaurant caters exclusively to guests.
The hotel also owns a 38-foot speedboat and guests can reserve tours to private beaches, catered lunches on the water, fishing tours and more. For days when you’d prefer to stay in town, the Quadrifolio’s convenient location in the heart of the walled old city puts you in reach of museums, shopping, and both fine and casual dining.
Best Budget: Hotel Pueblito Playa
Just steps from the beach in Bocagrande, the newer part of Cartagena, this cozy hotel offers luxury amenities at a serious bargain. The owner, a semi-retired fine dining chef from Monaco named Brian, creates a delicious complimentary gourmet breakfast spread for guests to enjoy daily. Rooms are individually decorated in bright, beachy colors and with simple furniture. Each room has a private bathroom and air conditioning, and free parking is available. Chef Brian and his wife, Esther, are dedicated animal rescuers, and visitors can enjoy snuggles with the foster cats and dogs who share the public spaces in the hotel.
Best Boutique: Bantú Hotel by Faranda Boutique
Enjoy a panoramic view of Cartagena’s old town from the rooftop pool and lounge area or sip cocktails in the historic central courtyard at this exclusive boutique hotel. Rooms feature elegant contemporary decor and chic colonial details: exposed beams and brick, high ceilings and wide windows. Bathrooms feature bathtubs and showers tiled in bright Caribbean colors. Three real live toucans live at the Bantú, and many guests enjoy sharing bits of breakfast fruit with them.
An on-site restaurant, bar, and spa will keep you fed and relaxed while you’re hanging out at the hotel, but its location inside the walled city will leave you wanting to wander. The walled city isn’t huge — basically everything is in walking distance from everything else — but the Bantú is particularly close to a few notable sights. These include Las Bovedas, a former dungeon which now houses a collection of shops selling arts and crafts and other souvenirs, as well as the lovely San Agustín campus of the University of Cartagena.
Best for Families: Hotel Las Americas Casa de Playa
The enormous Hotel Las Americas resort is situated outside of town on the North side, a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the walled city and Bocagrande, on a stretch of sandcastle-ready beach. The resort offers everything a family could need for a week away: multiple restaurants, swimming pools, a gym, business center, spa, tennis courts, game rooms and mini golf. Though you’d be missing out if you didn’t venture into the walled city at least a little bit, you could spend a week here and be fully entertained (and well-fed).
Kids will particularly enjoy the Club del Capitán Estrella, a fully-staffed childrens' club where they’ll be supervised by trained professionals while they bounce on trampolines, climb on a rock-climbing wall, and enjoy arts, crafts, games and all sorts of activities. The on-site restaurants offer childrens’ menus (and kid-friendly buffets) and the classy, simply-decorated rooms include a number of family-friendly suites with either extra bedrooms or pull-out couches for the little ones.
Best Romance: San Pedro Hotel Spa
Before you even set foot in your room, you’ll see that the San Pedro Hotel Spa oozes romance. From the curving wrought-iron gates to the vine-draped columns surrounding the colonial-era courtyard, even the public spaces make you feel like you’re in a scene from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s epic novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Guestrooms are ornately decorated with dark woods, rich colors, and even subtly-placed gilded antiques. Each features a king-sized bed with 450-thread count linens and a brightly-tiled bathroom with a deep bathtub. Some guest rooms overlook the lush courtyard, and some look out into the cobbled streets of the old walled city.
Upgrade your stay with the San Pedro’s Romance Package, which includes rose petals sprinkled around your room, a bottle of champagne, complimentary hand and foot massages for two and a 30-minute coach ride around the walled city. Breakfast is included, but there is no hotel restaurant for later meals; a great excuse to explore the wide variety of restaurants in the walled city.
Best Luxury: Sofitel Legend Santa Clara
Tiny architectural treasures — confessionals, prayer altars, even crypts — are tucked away in every dark corner of this exquisite property, carefully refurbished from the remains of a circa 1621 convent by top-tier French hotel chain Sofitel. Combining the elegance of the stunning historical building with fully modern amenities and a convenient location in the heart of the walled city, it’s a traveler’s dream. A huge swimming pool sits in the center of the indoor terrace, an on-site full-service spa offers all manner of treatments and a gourmet restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
True luxury-seekers should consider the Presidential Suite Fernando Botero, designed and decorated by the famous Colombian artist’s daughter, Lina Botero, which bears one of its namesake’s original paintings, as well as photographs and books from the family vault. A well-appointed sitting area bears chaises lounges and a couch, a balcony overlooking the pool and courtyard and a stunning chandelier over a dining room table. The bedroom is outfitted with an fluffy, decadent king-sized bed and a separate private seating area, balcony and minibar. A private butler will cater to your every need during your stay.
Best Nightlife: Allure Chocolat by Karisma Hotel
Situated in Getsemani, the trendy historical neighborhood adjacent to the old city, the Allure Chocolat is perfectly located for younger travelers who want a taste of authenticity, as well as good bar-hopping. Decor is chic and modern, with bright accent colors and clean lines. On the rooftop, you’ll find an infinity pool and a bar, where you can sip cocktails in your swimsuit while gazing at a prime view of the Caribbean Sea.
Luxe beds with extra pillows, blackout curtains on the windows and a room service menu from the in-house steakhouse-meets-gastropub will help you relax and replenish if your evenings get too exciting. A long shower in your private bathroom, complete with Bath and Body Works amenities, should also help bring you back to life.
Best Business: Hyatt Regency Cartagena
This modern high-rise hotel sits on the walled city end of the Bocagrande stretch, putting guests in a prime location for quick jaunts into both the old and new city. Extensive meeting and conference facilities and the Hyatt brand commitment to business travelers make this an ideal choice for hosting both large events and intimate meetings.
Spend your off hours and break times partaking in the hotel’s many leisure activities: a pool, fitness center, spa, steam room, three bars, an excellent on-site restaurant and beach access. Or simply relax in your guestroom, serenely decorated with light colors and minimalist furniture, designed not to overpower the stunning views.
Best Hostel: Bourbon St. Hostal Boutique
You don’t hear “luxury” and “hostel” in the same sentence often, but this gorgeous property astounds its guests with a true combination of the two. Built into a historic house in a choice location at the heart of the walled city, Bourbon St. Hostal offers three separate dorm areas, each featuring beds with full blackout shades that make your bed feel like a private room.
A chic bar and common area, private bathrooms (cold water showers only — common in Cartagena), free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a tiny-but-refreshing pool and super-friendly staff round out the experience. If you’ve wavered on the hostel experience before, this is one that you shouldn’t be afraid to try.