During our spontaneous trip to Colombia, we had a chance to try the Conrad Cartagena. Just the second Conrad in South America, this resort offered a ton of amenities and friendly service, but it’s not quite the whole package just yet.
A solid 20 minutes from the airport and another ten on top of that from the heart of the city, Conrad Cartagena offers seclusion, privacy, and separation from the coastal colonial fort. North of the airport and the city, the hotel is a $20 USD cab ride from CTG. It shares some common property with a new condo development but is mostly private.
Anillo Vial, KM 12 between Manzanillo del Mar and Punta Canoa, Cartagena, Colombia
+57 5 6517220
Why We Chose It
My wife previously discussed some elements of our stay so I will avoid belaboring any of her finer points. In short, we were close to staying at this property shortly after it opened in December of 2017, but opted instead for a week in Panama. This was our second visit to Cartagena and we wanted to try something different from the Hilton Cartagena, the polar opposite of this property.
Most Conrad hotels tend to be far more expensive in both nominal terms and respective to their fellow Hilton counterparts. The group also offers some of the best service Hilton has to offer. For a cash rate of $200/nt or 48,000 points, it seemed like an offer that was too good to pass up.
Further, the property has been covered in a limited fashion – we wanted to bring our readers a peak inside a luxury property in one of our favorite destinations in the world.
While we were scheduled originally for a four-night stay with a one-night cancellation penalty, by the time we arrived at the resort following our long drive in for the city, it was clear that this hotel would be too far out from where we wanted to be. We had used points, 192,000 in total, for those four nights and from the pool at the Conrad Cartagena we canceled before dinner on our first day. The first night penalty, as we had already checked in, meant we would stay in the property for the night and we really did want to give it a chance. But the distance in from the city was just too much for us initially and we made the choice right away.
In accordance with the cancelation policy, we paid for one night and the rest of the points were refunded. We later thought we may have jumped the gun on this after spending some time at the beach, but the hotel was great about the change.
Reservations, however, was not. There was a language barrier at the Diamond Desk and I called into the US number so it wasn’t a matter of local translation difficulties. When I asked for a supervisor as I suspected things hadn’t gone as expected after some difficulty, a natural English speaker got on the phone and realized that not only had they cancelled the current stay (the room we were checked into at the time) eating the cancelation fee, but then made another one night reservation for the following night that was then also subject to a cancelation fee. It took awhile to get the mess untangled and while I was trying to avoid confrontation at the unbelievably pleasant front desk, it was the hotel itself that sorted out the mess and were particularly helpful and gracious.
When it was time to check out following our (now) one-night stay, we requested late checkout as we were enjoying the beach so much. Carly mentions that in retrospect, we wish we would have stayed longer at the property but still split our time between sea and city and I concur. But really, as good as the food was on-site how could we delay eating at Cuba 1940?
The property sprawls over a few coastal acres encompassing more than half a dozen pools, tennis courts, a handful of restaurants and cafés – it’s a resort, not a hotel. The architecture is imposing, with portions of the lobby open to the top floor of the building, six stories up.
As Hilton Diamonds, we were upgraded to a one bedroom suite. It was called a golf course view, and it was correctly named, but beyond the golf course was the ocean and I don’t believe there would be a better view of the ocean from the property.
A long dining room table with chairs for four but room four eight ran halfway through the living room. For the other half, a chaise lounge at the sliding doors in front of the balcony, a couch, coffee table and TV separated from the bedroom. Opposite the long table was a minibar with limited room for your own drinks and an espresso station.
The suite also offered a guest bathroom with full shower off the living room. This is always an appreciated touch for a small family who may have more than one person that needs to occupy the facilities at a time.
The bedroom suite was spacious. The king bed featured a dressing footstool at the base, another large television, a double width chair and ottoman and excellent plugs. The room faced a picture perfect sunset that could be seen from the wrap around balcony. Closet space was also ample.
The master bathroom featured both a large bathtub and an expanded shower. The toilet held a separate water closet for privacy, another plus for the bathroom. This was an expected bathroom for a Conrad hotel but surprised us we have not seen one like this in South America, though many times in Asia. For those of you who read these hotel reviews often – no, this was not an Asian toilet with bidet functionality. A missed opportunity for me.
Near the hotel buildings and restaurants were a collection of pools, our last count was seven and a hot tub. Salt, the indoor/outdoor restaurant is at the edge of this complex, the pool bar towards the outer edge. There were less than five other people at the pool complex at any point in time, sometimes, we were the only ones.
Another further pool complex resided at the beach. It featured a zero entry pool, lounge chairs, restaurant, showers, and bar. At the beach itself, more chairs, palapas, and beachside service was available with drinks brought to your chair.
The beach was private, with no other properties around for a considerable distance. We walked a quarter of the length of the golf course which bordered the sea and found crabs climbing on the rocks, a metallic glitter sand rolling in on the waves, and all of the privacy you could hope for. My daughter and I loved looking for crabs and watching the birds who sat patiently waiting to catch them.
The golf course as pictured below from our suite balcony was designed by Jack Nicklaus. To the bottom right of the image below you can just barely see the tennis courts, also available to guests as part of their resort fee. Greens fees may have been an additional cost – I didn’t bring any clubs and didn’t think to ask.
Carly covered some of the challenges with the restaurants on site and determining which were open and when. We mentioned that to the staff at checkout that the only consistency was that none of the staff seemed to know where we could eat. The food itself was pretty good at each encounter, but there was always some avoidable issue that cropped up. At lunch at the restaurant, Salt, which we were told was the only one that was open at the time (we later learned that was unlikely) they were out of a recommended side then forgot to bring another (images in Carly’s post).
For dinner at Alesso Tu, the Italian restaurant (which also serves breakfast in the morning) service was tip top – we were one of two tables in the restaurant. The pizza needed a little sauce, and that arugula… was not arugula. But it’s Italian in Colombia is not a good enough excuse when we saw flawless execution elsewhere in town. The Shrimp Caeser Salad was excellent, the risotto even better, and a Tiramisu was polished clean. However, this is what $85 looks like (when you add gratuity – a standard 18%) – see this post for what $85 looks like at our favorite spot, Cuba 1940.
We didn’t get a chance to try Bibioteka (isn’t three meals sufficient for a 24-hour stay?) but their menu looked fantastic. One frustration was that there were just two [confirmed] restaurants for dinner (Alesso and Biblioteka) and Biblioteka was clear that they do not offer a kids menu. I might not be the smartest man that ever walked the earth, I am not splitting items or curing polio over here, but if the menu items are expensive and intricate, and I don’t see a kids menu, I get the point. Spelling it out seems to suggest, “in case you didn’t get the picture, no kids”. On the night we considered it (the menu looked really impressive) we would have been one of two tables in the restaurant. Between the two restaurants, there were three tables occupied – you would think they would avoid narrowing their customer list as much as possible.
Gold and Diamond elites can help themselves to menu items in the Italian restaurant Adesso Tu or the breakfast buffet. While the buffet, which features hot and cold items, exceeds the minimum standards of the Continental breakfast option that Hilton provides for elites, the breakfast is also sold to guests and I found it a little light.
There are egg options (made to order omelet, scrambled, poached or fried) but limited meat. Fruit is abundant but the pastries were well picked over and as the restaurant is open-air, occasionally covered with an insect or two. Unlike the evening before, service was lackluster in the morning. We waited more than ten minutes just to order our drinks then another ten for our pair of iced coffees and pot of hot water for tea to arrive. It was another 10 before Lucy’s small pancake order arrived – we had nearly finished with breakfast by the time hers arrived.
For free, the breakfast is great; but at $20 in a country where the same amount will get you a five-star dinner – it just wasn’t to the Conrad standard.
With the exception of the breakfast at Adesso Tu and some confusion on restaurant availability, service on the property was exemplary. We called for a few oddball items and yet they were provided to our door every time. From housekeeping to waitstaff to the front desk, the service on the property was top notch. Particularly, Marinela, head of guest services, made a personal connection with Lucy who insisted on getting a photo with her before we left. But the property as a whole has a little bit of fine tuning to get to the final step of the process. It’s not for lack of effort, it’s a lack of experience and repition. With a full house, for an extended period, this hotel will be one of the best.
Will We Be Back?
Carly mentioned that we were a little torn on this property. The greatest weakness of the property is also the strength. Its isolation provides for true peace and quiet, and separation from the city of Cartagena. But that’s also what I liked least about the property. We stayed on site for every meal, snack and drink – any whim at all – during our short stay but Cartagena has so much to offer that this is a disservice. That being said, the food was excellent, the property was luxurious, affordable, and had a secluded private beach that none of the city hotels could have offered.
We will definitely be back, but will likely split our time between this resort and a city property to have the best of both worlds. If you like Caribbean destinations with quiet beaches where you don’t leave the property, you have found a new favorite at the Conrad Cartagena.
Do you prefer the isolation of resorts or convenient but busy city hotels? Somewhere in between?