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 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.

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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.

Old town Cartagena

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.

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Sofitel Cartagena exterior

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).

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Sofitel Cartagena lobby

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Sofitel Cartagena lobby

To the left of the entrance was the concierge desk.

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Sofitel Cartagena 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.

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Sofitel Cartagena reception

She presented us with the standard pamphlet for booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts.

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Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts pamphlet

There was also a separate printed letter explaining the entitlements for booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts.

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Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits

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.

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Sofitel Cartagena personalized hotel card

Our room was on the third floor.

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Sofitel Cartagena hallway

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.

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Sofitel Cartagena hallway windows

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room entryway

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room

The bed was quite comfortable, though not to the level of a Westin Heavenly Bed, for example.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room bed

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room

Across from the bed was a flat screen TV, along with the Nespresso machine and the minibar.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room TV & Nespresso machine

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room Nespresso machine

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room dining table

There was a welcome amenity consisting of some fruit, as well as a bottle of “ambiance perfume,” with the hotel’s signature scent.

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Hotel Santa Clara welcome amenity

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Hotel Santa Clara welcome amenity

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room chair with ottoman

We had a beautiful balcony with two chairs and a side table overlooking the hotel’s pool.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room balcony

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room balcony view

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room shower

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room shower

Next to the shower was the sink.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room bathroom

And then in the corner was the partitioned off toilet.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room toilet

Toiletries were provided by Lanvin. It’s not a brand I’m familiar with, but the quality of the products was quite good.

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Hotel Santa Clara superior king room toiletries

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara evening treats

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Hotel Santa Clara evening treats

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara pool

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Hotel Santa Clara pool

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Hotel Santa Clara pool

Then up a set of stairs was the gym, which was basic, but had all the essentials.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena gym

The mis-matched equipment seemed a bit cheap, however.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena gym

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena gym

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena gym

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).

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena (not so) hot tub

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…

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast restaurant

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast restaurant

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast restaurant

However, we always ate outside, as there were quite a few tables set up there as well.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast restaurant

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast restaurant

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast restaurant view

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):

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In addition to the buffet, a breadbasket was brought to our table as soon as we were seated.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast breads

The buffet itself was excellent, with all kinds of fresh bread and pastries, fruit, cereal, yogurt, cold cuts, juice, etc.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

There were also several hot dishes, including scrambled eggs, bacon, breakfast potatoes, etc.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena breakfast buffet

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:

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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.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena outdoor patio

It was an indescribably peaceful setting, both day and night.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena outdoor patio view

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena outdoor patio view

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena outdoor patio view

The lunch and dinner options were great as well, and very reasonably priced.

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The ceviche and prawns were my favorite, and we ordered those more often than I could count throughout our stay.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch

One day I ordered the smoked salmon, ricotta, and basil wrap, which was delicious.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch

Ford had a chicken caesar salad.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch

And then we split a beef carpaccio.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch

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.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch buffet

There was even a dessert section.

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena lunch buffet

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Hotel Santa Clara Cartagena salad lunch buffet

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.

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  1. What’s the difference between Fine Hotels and Amex Fine Hotels besides the benefits?

  2. You really should check out another (of the 5) hotel of the Sofitel Legend chain: Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan, Egypt. Words don’t do justice!

  3. Easily the best restaurant in Cartagena for a nice dinner. The prices for dinner there are amazingly inexpensive as well. If I recall correctly, I paid $88USD for two people including wine. Easily a $200+ experience in the US.

  4. FYI, Lanvin is one of the oldest fashion houses in France and a very upscale brand.

  5. To answer your question as to reason for personalized cards with hotel address on them; this is a courtesy as they knew you were not Spanish and when you were to go out , you could give them to a taxi driver so you could always return “home” .

  6. It looks like @Santastico beat me to it – I was about to comment about the Lanvin toiletries, which I think would be amazing – better than most brands of toiletries that hotels provide.

    The hotel looks like a contrast in styles -as you said, the seat and ottoman in your room looked decidedly out of place; I would say the same thing about the furniture on your balcony!

  7. Thanks for the review! To me, this looks incredibly overpriced. I think you explained why it seemed so enjoyable to you really fairly, but I couldn’t put enough of a premium on the nice courtyard to overcome the mediocre (bathroom especially), gym, and location. The non-breakfast food actually looked great, but I keep reading about all the great restaurants in town, so it’s hard to award too many points there.

    Considering you’ve frequently mentioned how much you don’t generally care to lounge outside, I wonder if this is at least partially a case where your traveling companion is positively influencing your perception.

  8. Up until last summer I had never stayed at a Sofitel but I’ve stayed at three of their properties in the past 10 months and each stay has been great. I know that the rewards program is not quite as lucrative as Hilton, Starwood or Hyatt but the hotels and service are consistently much better at similar prices, in my limited experience. For my travel, the ability to pay for any stay entirely or partially with points at a rate of $46 USD/2000 points is very useful. I am getting fewer points from Le Club Accor than I might from Hilton or Marriott but the Le Club Accor points are much more usable to me. Besides, I have more points than I can use so I am much more likely to chose a hotel based on service and comfort rather than rewards program, and Sofitel is head and shoulders above the US chains in that regard.

  9. Try the Tcherassi hotel next time. Only 7 amazing rooms. Very small and boutique. Public areas are better at the Santa Clara though. No buffet breakfast but the chef will cook you anything you is included.

  10. Ben,
    Santastico and Mary are absolutely correct. Lanvin is one of the oldest fashion houses in Paris with many prestigious perfumes…The first fragrance, Irisé, appeared in 1923. Well known fragrances from Lanvin include My Sin (1925), Arpège (1927, relaunched 1993). You are showing your age (or lack of it). Or, perhaps I am showing mine;
    The last time I was in Cartagena was in 1971, when I tacked a visit on to a business trip to Cali. There was no airport then. One took the bus to and from Barranquilla, which was then (and probably still is) the drug capital of the world. The bus ride was interesting…to say the least. From Barranquilla one flew to Bogota and then on to Miami.
    I don’t remember where my husband and I stayed. There were only two hotels at that time. I do remember that Cartagena was beautiful.I am glad that I saw it before it was “colonized” by the mileage runners looking for their amenities.

  11. Upscale….yet they are serving Stash brand tea, which is pretty cheap. I have not stayed at a Sofitel before so I dont know if this is property specific or used/given across the entire chain.

  12. This is actually a Sofitel Legend not a Sofitel, they’re two different brands. Sofitel Legend only has 5 properties and all of them are worth a visit.

  13. $320 is not expensive for this hotel nor for Cartagena. I’ve paid close to $500 at the Santa Theresa, which is an inferior property. Cartagena is not a cheap city (though the recent peso drop has made it more affordable).

  14. Monsieur Lanvin was one of the classic men’s fragrances of the 60s and 70s. Sadly no more, superseded by stuff reminiscent of insect spray.
    As a frequent visitor to Bangkok you will have noticed the Lanvin store in the mall adjacent to The Hyatt Erawan
    It was common for Sofitel to provide small bottles of scent as an amenity in suites , just a Le Meridien used to do but with Nina Ricci. Sadly ended.

  15. Paying that much is ridiculous. You could easily find a hotel in the same location just by walking around and asking for about 25-30 bucks and it would be a great little place in one of the old buildings inside the walls.

    For the rest of the money you wasted on that hotel (for one night) you could have eaten in some really nice authentic restaurants that aren’t tourist traps.

    I have no idea why anyone would spend that much time in Cartagena if you only had a week in Colombia.

    You also could have flown Viva Colombia for 50ish dollars from city to city.

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