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Review: Sofitel Cartagena Hotel
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Ford’s friend who lives in Cartagena told us that Hotel Santa Clara (aka the Sofitel Cartagena) is the place to stay in the city. It was almost sold out when we booked despite being significantly more expensive than anything else in the city, so it really does seem to be the “go to” place.
Our nightly rate at the Sofitel was $320, which is super expensive for Cartagena (and significantly more than I like to spend, in general). However, at least we managed to book through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, which is available to those with The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Enhanced Business Platinum® Card from American Express. This got us perks like a $100 food & beverage credit, complimentary breakfast, a room upgrade, and guaranteed 4PM check-out.
What makes the Sofitel unique is that it’s located within the walls of Cartagena’s old town. While it’s a touristy area, it’s also gorgeous.
The Sofitel is located inside a former convent, so it blends right into the neighborhood. The hotel is bigger than I was expecting, so I was amazed that it blended in so seamlessly.
Upon arriving at the hotel we were assisted by the bellmen and pointed towards the reception desk, located inside the lobby and to the right. The lobby of the hotel is a mixed indoor-outdoor space. It opens into the courtyard, so you’re exposed to whatever the temperature outside is (fortunately it was very nice for our stay).
To the left of the entrance was the concierge desk.
Meanwhile the reception desk was to the right of the entrance, which is where we headed. We arrived at around 2PM, a bit ahead of the hotel’s published check-in time. We had a friendly associate who I actually thought was from the US, though she explained she was Colombian and had lived in Canada for several years until recently.
She explained that our room wasn’t quite ready, but would be ready within about 30 minutes. That worked for us, as we headed to the hotel’s courtyard to grab something to eat. Sure enough, 30 minutes later she appeared to take us to our room for in-room check-in.
She presented us with the standard pamphlet for booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts.
There was also a separate printed letter explaining the entitlements for booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts.
She also gave me a card with the hotel’s address, which had my name printed on it. In practice I’m not sure what purpose that serves, though it’s a nice personalized touch.
Our room was on the third floor.
I just loved the little cute elements of the hotel which remind you of its history, like the hallway windows which open up onto the street, with beautiful flowers on display.
We had been upgraded to a superior room, which is one category up from the base room. This isn’t the world’s most modern hotel, but it’s extremely charming. The room featured an entryway with the bathroom to the left.
Much like at the Hilton, the room’s floor consisted of tiles rather than carpet, except these tiles were actually quite nice. Our room featured a king size bed, table with two chairs, and then a chair with ottoman in the corner.
The bed was quite comfortable, though not to the level of a Westin Heavenly Bed, for example.
Across from the bed was a flat screen TV, along with the Nespresso machine and the minibar.
Then in the corner was a glass table with two chairs. While I like having a desk with an ergonomic chair from which to work, when traveling with someone I also do appreciate having a table with a couple of chairs where you can sit, eat, work, etc. So I’ll take the former when traveling alone, while I’ll take the latter if traveling with someone else.
There was a welcome amenity consisting of some fruit, as well as a bottle of “ambiance perfume,” with the hotel’s signature scent.
The one part of the room which felt a bit cheap was the chair with ottoman in the corner, which had some stains on it. Even without the stains, it felt very Ikea-esque.
We had a beautiful balcony with two chairs and a side table overlooking the hotel’s pool.
Back near the entrance was the bathroom. The shower was separated from the rest of the bathroom by a glass shield, which was poorly designed — water would easily flow into the rest of the bathroom from there. However, at least the water pressure and temperature control were excellent.
Next to the shower was the sink.
And then in the corner was the partitioned off toilet.
Toiletries were provided by Lanvin. It’s not a brand I’m familiar with, but the quality of the products was quite good.
Wifi in the room was fast, and I was also pleasantly surprised by them bringing treats to our room every night, which you don’t often get at a hotel where you don’t have elite status/aren’t in a suite.
While the room was very nice (especially in comparison to the Hilton), it was the outdoor space which made me fall in love with this hotel. Outside our room was a pool with plenty of lounge chairs around it. Personally I’m not much of a pool person (after all, maintaining my vampire-esque complexion takes work!), so I never used the pool.
Then up a set of stairs was the gym, which was basic, but had all the essentials.
The mis-matched equipment seemed a bit cheap, however.
Past the gym was the hot tub, which we decided to use late one night. There was only one issue — it wasn’t actually hot (it was maybe 90 degrees, so warmer than a pool, but not hot enough so you’d want to sit in it for extended periods of time).
That brings us to the hotel’s dining and outdoor area, which is the highlight of the hotel. There’s a stunning courtyard in the hotel with lush greenery in the middle, and then there’s seating around the perimeter. I can’t put into words how gorgeous and peaceful I found the area. I had to work for several hours each day, and I did it almost exclusively while sitting in the courtyard.
We ate breakfast all three mornings in the hotel’s restaurant. The inside of the restaurant is quite nice…
However, we always ate outside, as there were quite a few tables set up there as well.
The breakfast buffet was included with Fine Hotels & Resorts. The menu read as follows, with prices in Colombian Pesos (for what it’s worth, 66,000 Colombian Pesos converts to ~$22):
In addition to the buffet, a breadbasket was brought to our table as soon as we were seated.
The buffet itself was excellent, with all kinds of fresh bread and pastries, fruit, cereal, yogurt, cold cuts, juice, etc.
There were also several hot dishes, including scrambled eggs, bacon, breakfast potatoes, etc.
I should note that for booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts you can also order either the Continental or American breakfast via room service, which includes the following options:
In addition to the actual outdoor restaurant seating, there was more informal seating around the courtyard. I don’t think the area was technically part of the restaurant, but in practice you could order food & drinks there. So that became the base from which I worked.
It was an indescribably peaceful setting, both day and night.
The lunch and dinner options were great as well, and very reasonably priced.
The ceviche and prawns were my favorite, and we ordered those more often than I could count throughout our stay.
We had lunch at the hotel for two of the days (otherwise we ate outside the hotel, given the amazing restaurants in Cartagena), which both times started with bread, olives, and a delicious olive tapenade.
One day I ordered the smoked salmon, ricotta, and basil wrap, which was delicious.
Ford had a chicken caesar salad.
And then we split a beef carpaccio.
The other day we had the salad buffet. Usually I’m not a fan of non-breakfast buffets (and I’m even iffy on breakfast buffets), but for some reason I have a soft spot in my heart for salad buffets. For ~$16, I thought it was an excellent buffet.
There was even a dessert section.
I figured I’d also briefly talk about the service and location of the hotel.
The service at the Sofitel was extremely attentive. While I found hospitality in Colombia in general to be warm and genuine, service at this hotel was significantly more polished than elsewhere. However, at times I was a bit confused by the execution.
For example, the hotel has “butlers,” which is a nice concept in theory, though in practice they were a bit too intrusive for my tastes. They’d stop by all the time to see if there was anything they could do and ask what we were up to, when I’d much rather just be left alone and call when I need something. But I also know that’s an area where hotels can’t win, as everyone has a different preference when it comes to proactive vs. reactive service.
As far as the location of the hotel goes, it’s in the old town, as mentioned above. Traffic in the old town can be horrible, given how narrow the streets are and how many people want to visit. Personally I found the old town to be charming and it’s where we spent most of our time. I loved the convenience of always being able to walk around, rather than having to take a taxi. Conversely, if your goal is to visit a lot of places outside the old town, the traffic just to get out of the area can be pretty bad. I loved the location, though I realize others might feel differently.
Hotel Santa Clara Sofitel bottom line
When I booked this hotel I figured there was no way it would be worth it. I was wrong. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s a gorgeous hotel with attentive and polished service and a great location. The courtyard at this hotel was one of the most tranquil places of any hotel I’ve visited, and it was a great place from which to work. Sitting down there for hours while snacking on ceviche was heavenly.
If I returned to Cartagena I’d definitely stay at the Sofitel again.