A truly iconic hotel is one that travelers to a destination must see–regardless of if they’re spending the night. For years, nearly every tourist who enters the polychromatic wonder that is Cartagena will try to make their way over to the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, the stately former convent now operating as part of the French luxury hotel chain. And now that iconic hotel has a new sibling just up the coast–Sofitel Baru Calablanca Beach Resort, which is Beast Travel’s latest selection for its series on exciting new hotels, Room Key.
When traveling somewhere new, I am always one to get a bit of FOMO, worrying I’ll be missing out on every aspect that a place has to offer. Beach side, downtown, old town, restaurants, bar–I want to do it all. So when I was invited down for the combo experience of city and beach between the two properties, I was ecstatic–no more of the dreary planning!
I started my journey in the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara located inside the walls of the old town of Cartagena. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and displays architecture dating from over 500 years that is for the most part perfectly intact. When you enter its walls (which were originally built to protect against invaders and pirates) it’s like it was frozen in time. The narrow cobbled streets, the balconies covered in bougainvillea and the Spanish colonial architecture instantly transport you to a different world. The atmosphere of the town carries on into the hotel.
As you first walk in the former convent built in 1621, the leafy confines of its square interior garden is, well, everything. It’s a place you want to put on enormous sunglasses and drink during the afternoon heat, the perfect spot to hide from your family, and very much somewhere you look chic with your significant other at the restaurant set around it–El Claustro. I ended up spending every morning in the middle of the garden under the open sky, sipping on some Colombian coffee and eating delightful pastries made in house.
After a couple days spent in the heart of Cartagena watching the Caribbean from my room, I could not wait to get to the beach. Just a 40 minute catamaran ride from the port or an hour car ride, the new Sofitel Baru Calablanca Beach Resort is easy to get to from Cartagena.
Since I was escaping the hell that is winter on the east coast, I ended up taking the catamaran. After all, the weather is one of the best parts about this part of the world, and what better way to enjoy the sun than to be on a boat. The closer we got to the hotel the clearer the water got until the catamaran dropped me off directly in front of the hotel. From there a golf cart took me with my suitcase to the lobby and then to my rooms.
If the Santa Clara is all about its historic environs, Calablanca is about its natural one. The hotel bends around a cove on the coast and has a sort of tropical ecoresort aesthetic with floor-to-ceiling bamboo shutters and soft-colored stones and brick throughout. Three large pools separate the main building from the white sand beach. You can lounge by the pool and still have a view of the water–perfect for those who love the sea but not the sand. In the distance one can spot the white and blue glass towers of modern Cartagena, though one could easily mistake it for the Miami skyline.
After a very educational coffee tasting arranged by the hotel with San Alberto Coffee ( I learned that the coffee I spend $7 on almost everyday back home is actually terrible), I set out to explore the property. The resort has a total of 187 rooms which are restrained in their design, spacious but simple and light. All have terraces or balconies facing the sea. There are 3 restaurants and 7 different bars throughout the whole property, something which I hope encourages you to be a bit more adventurous with your drink choices. (There’s also the possibility to book a candlelit dinner on the beach.) One of the restaurants was pan-Asian while the other two were influenced by regional cuisine with dishes like coconut rice and arepa de huevos.
The beauty of a region often creates the best adventure. Just 30 minutes away from the resort is the National Aviary. Colombia is home to almost 20% of the bird biodiversity on the planet and is the country with the most diverse bird species in the world and so even though I am pretty scared of birds I felt like I had to go visit this national park. Despite the fact that I had to walk in enclosed areas where birds were flying everywhere around which is actually my worst nightmare, I’m actually glad I went because I learned a lot and it’s a space that works to educate people about conservation. But if you are less into birds like me there’s also the possibility to go diving or snorkeling.
My trip came full circle by returning to Cartagena’s old town for a night before flying home. Tanned, refreshed, and full, I certainly didn’t worry I missed out on anything this trip.