When putting together the last minute pieces of our spontaneous trip to Cartagena, Colombia we decided to book our four nights at the Conrad Cartagena, a stunning, secluded resort just outside of the city. But just how far outside of the city were we willing to go?
We found very little online as far as reviews of this property go and were excited to explore this new hotel and share our thoughts with the readers here at LALF. This post will not be a full review of the Conrad – look for Kyle’s review later today.
Outside the City
We knew that this property was outside of Bocagrande and walled city areas and thought we were prepared for a small journey to and from the city centre. However, as our taxi headed farther and farther away from the city’s coastal skyline into the great wide (lesser developed) open, we immediately knew we were too far away from the conveniences of the beautiful rich colored city.
This hotel is perfectly secluded – if that is what you are looking for.
As we arrived at the stunning, brand new Conrad Cartagena, we were warmly greeted and immediately checked in. The building is massive, modern, sleek and…quiet. It wasn’t just that there were very few other guests (at least we only ever saw a handful), it was that the property was still not completely finished, and not yet fully staffed. The design and finishes here seep luxury and tranquility. The hotel is set back just enough from the coastline to give guests endless sea views atop of the lush green golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. There is no doubt this place is what resort holiday dreams are made of… if that’s what you are looking for.
By the time we settled in, we were just outside the time of a late lunch. We inquired about the restaurants on the property and were informed that “Salt” the cafe near the pools was the only restaurant open. It surprised us that for a resort of this size there was only one place serving food, but we reluctantly obliged as there was no way we were going to turn back around and trek back to the city for food. There was a decent variety of offerings on the menu. I ordered the local fish, my husband a burger and for my not yet hungry daughter a sharing of both plus some plantain chips. I was excited to try the Colombian corn – but they did not have any. We also tried to order Tostones, but they never came. Needless to say, our hunger was satisfied, but overall there was a lingering disappointment. Even for those looking for a relaxing oasis, this one was off to a shaky start.
The good news is, there was a bit of confusion. This did seem to happen more than once, and I suspect that my husband will cover this in his full review, but there was more than one restaurant open on the resort. In fact I think all seven were open at some time or another, but the staff were not clear on what was open when and we were given conflicting information about the restaurants constantly.
We did address this with our point of contact at the property, not for any reason other than to let her know that guests who wish never to leave the property during a stay will want to maximize their on-site experiences. A resort map with handwritten times over the location of restaurants (6-11AM, 4-midnight over Allesso Tu, 4pm-midnight only for Biblioteka, etc.) It is possible to spend your days soaking up sun and eating exquisite meals at this resort…If that is what you are looking for.
Incase you haven’t gathered yet, we were not looking for a luxurious resort holiday. Even though this trip was spontaneous and last minute, we had been dreaming of strolling through the vibrant walled city, eating arepas, drinking fresh limonada and buying small trinkets for Lucy to take home to her cousins. This was our second time to Cartagena and we were anxious to re-visit some of our favorite haunts like this hidden gem near Plaza de San Diego.
The Conrad was a solid twenty minute taxi ride from any other sort of action. Our Uber ride from the airport was twenty minutes and around $12 USD. Speaking of Uber, it is illegal in Colombia but still very much running, just make sure you or someone with you sits in the front seat of your “friends” ride. When we later took a proper taxi ride into the city from the hotel the time again was twenty minutes but the cost was $22 USD. It was clear that we were going to be a captive audience at the Conrad for at least one night.
We decided we would stay at the Conrad for one night and later move hotels, which would comply with the terms of Hilton’s cancellation policy. (Kyle covers more regarding the cancellation which gave us one night/two days on property.)
With our alternative accommodations sorted for our following nights, we decided that for the next day and a half we would fully enjoy our time on the resort grounds. After our lunch we swam in one of the many pools. With so many pools and so very few other guests we had much of the pool area entirely to ourselves. Lucy enjoyed swimming in the different pools and eventually we all retired to the jacuzzi as the sun started to go down. We went back to our suite and on to our large balcony to watch the final moments of the sun setting into the Caribbean sea.
We noticed golf carts that were shuttling people from the main building out to an area of large thatched roof buildings near the beach. Kyle called down to the front desk to ask why people were going to and from the building and what was out at the area. The receptionist at the desk assured him that no one was going back and forth and that there was nothing out there. This was a bizarre response as we watched people coming and going, we decided we would head down to dinner and ask another staff member or just walk out there to see for ourselves.
Relieved that we had a few more options for dinner we decided to try the Italian restaurant on site, next door to Salt that we ate at for Lunch. After fully indulging in a three-course meal we decided to take a stroll down to the beach toward the buildings we saw from our balcony. It was quite dark and the path was not well lit. As we approached the buildings a security guard rushed over to us, repeating “Cerrado!” When we asked what the area was he told us it was a restaurant. No problem, we already ate, we would just like to walk down on the beach. “Peligroso!” The waves are very dangerous. We gave up, turned around and started our walk back in the dark. Was a night time stroll on the beach actually dangerous? I am not so sure. Doesn’t the hotel plan on having any romantics? It seemed like an odd restriction.
The next morning we made our way down to the lobby in search of which restaurant would be open for breakfast. We asked a staff member along the way who told us that we could either have breakfast at the buffet in the same restaurant that we had dinner or that we could take a cart down to the beach area and eat at the beach club restaurant.
That was an easy decision because we wanted to eat at the mysterious waterfront restaurant.
The front desk arranged for a golf cart to take us down to the beach area where upon arrival we were asked for our room number and if we would need any towels. No, we would just like to eat and then we will come back later to swim. Our golf cart driver drove off seeing that we were now being helped by the cabana staff. “Oh, I’m so sorry the beach club restaurant is not open yet. It does not open until lunch.” That same feeling of frustration from yesterday was creeping back in.
We ate breakfast at the only restaurant open and it was fine. After seeing the beach area (that we were told no one was going to yesterday) we knew that was where we wanted to spend the rest of our time before we moved hotels. Had we known what was there sooner, we probably would have stayed an extra day. The “beach club” offers yet another pool with lounge chairs, a private beach with cabana, a restaurant and staff waiting to bring you an ice cold limonada on the beach.
This place is the epitome of resort living.
The sole reason for switching hotels during our time in Cartagena was that we wanted to be near the city. Even when staying in the Bocagrande or historic walled city, you will still have the seaside nearby, though not as clean or as private as it is out at the Conrad.
Though this gorgeous resort still had plenty of kinks (mostly in communication regarding the restaurants) to work out, had we found the beach club on day one we probably would have opted to stay two nights at the Conrad to and two nights at the Hyatt Regency Cartagena where we ended up moving. Killer feature: Offer a shuttle into town with scheduled service that allows guests to enjoy both the seclusion and the history of this gorgeous city. The next time we are looking for a relaxing, luxurious resort-style holiday, the Conrad Cartagena will top our list. It’s private, affordable, just two and a half hours from Miami and near a city that we already love.
Do you prefer the privacy of a resort or the convenience of a city hotel?
Read more: Flying by the seat of our pants