Cartagena’s most famous hotel just got a sibling, the Sofitel Baru Calablanca Beach Resort
A A truly iconic hotel is one that travelers to a destination must see, whether they are staying overnight or not. For years, nearly every tourist who enters the polychrome marvel that is Cartagena will try to get to the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, the stately former convent now part of the French luxury hotel chain. And now that iconic The hotel has a new sibling right on the coast, Sofitel Baru Calablanca Beach Resort, which is Beast Travel’s latest pick for its series on exciting new hotels, Room Key.
When I travel to a new place, I’m always the type to have a bit of FOMO, fearing I’ll miss out on every aspect a place has to offer. On the beach side, downtown, old town, restaurants, bars, I want to do it all. So when I was invited for the combined city and beach experience between the two properties, I was ecstatic – no more dreary planning!
I started my trip at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara located inside the old city walls of Cartagena. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with buildings dating back over 500 years. Walking through its walls, originally built to protect against invaders and pirates, is like stepping into history. Cobblestone lanes, bougainvillea-covered balconies and Spanish colonial architecture instantly transport you to a different world. The atmosphere of the city continues in the hotel.
From the first walk through the former convent, built in 1621, the leafy enclosure of its square inner garden is, well, all. It’s a place where you want to put on huge sunglasses and drink in the heat of the afternoon, the perfect place to hide from your family, and really a place where you look chic with your partner at the surrounding restaurant, El Claustro. I ended up spending each morning in the middle of the open-air garden, sipping Colombian coffee and eating delicious homemade pastries.
After a few days in the heart of Cartagena looking out over the Caribbean from my room, I couldn’t wait to hit the beach. Just 40 minutes by catamaran from the port or an hour by car, the new Sofitel Baru Calablanca Beach Resort is easily accessible from Cartagena.
As I was fleeing 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 of this part of the world, and what better way to soak up the sun than on a boat. The closer we got to the hotel, the clearer the water became until the catamaran dropped me off directly in front of the hotel. From there a golf cart took me and my suitcase to the lobby and then to my rooms.
If Santa Clara focuses on its historical environment, Calablanca is on its natural environment. The hotel leans around an inlet on the coast and has a sort of tropical aesthetic with floor-to-ceiling bamboo shutters and soft-colored stone and brick. Three large pools separate the main building from the white sand beach. You can lounge by the pool while having a view of the water, perfect for those who love the sea but not the sand. In the distance, you can see the white and blue glass towers of modern Cartagena, although it could easily be confused with the Miami skyline.
After a very informative coffee tasting organized by the hotel with San Alberto Coffee (I learned that the coffee I spend $7 on almost every day at home is actually terrible), I set out to explore the property. The resort has 187 rooms sober in their design, spacious but simple and bright. All have terraces or balconies facing the sea. There are three restaurants and seven bars throughout the property, which I hope will encourage you to be a little more adventurous with your drink choices. (There’s also the option 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 the arepa of huevos.
The beauty of an area often creates the best adventure. Just 30 minutes from the resort is the National Aviary. Colombia is home to nearly 20% of the planet’s bird biodiversity and is the country with the most diverse bird species in the world. Even though I’m quite scared of birds, I felt compelled to go and visit this national park, a space that works to educate people about conservation. But if (like me) you are less fond of birds, there is also the possibility of diving or snorkeling.
My trip came full circle by returning to the old town of Cartagena for a night before returning home. Tanned, refreshed and satiated, I certainly wasn’t worried that I had missed anything on this trip.