Cartagena: Best Places to Stay

DSC02500

Cartagena is an incredible combination of history, architecture, incredible luxury and crystal clear waters. Getting to Cartagena’s best Caribbean beaches involves a yacht-bound mission that’s best for the more adventurous or sea loving. To visit this place feels like an intriguing combination between Buenos Aires, Mykonos and Panama City.

Loomis Luggage explored the best hotels in Cartagena to bring you our top recommendations. Each recommendation is within the walled city. We do not recommend staying outside of the walled city, unless you venture to the islands. All images Loomis Luggage unless otherwise noted.
Casa San Agustin
Casa San Agustin
Image from: Casa San Agustin
Casa San Agustin is incredible. It feels like an old estate house in Cartagena. Rooms have exposed stone walls and four poster beds. Our room had a stunning stone spiral staircase complete with thick a rope, reminiscent of a castle, leading up to a gorgeous sitting room, main room and expansive stone and tiled bathroom. The room itself is grand, with exposed beams and an incredibly high ceiling.
Casa San Agustine
Image: Casa San Agustin
You are sent to bed after your night on the town with meringues and card wishing you Buenas Noches. Breakfast in the morning is included and consists of a full spread of freshly baked breads with many different jams, butters, custom made egg creations, pancakes and of course bottles of French Champagne to pair with your Caribbean fruit juice.
DSC02333
The stunning pool which spans a signifigant portion of the first floor area is a stunning blue. It lends a very romantic and mysterious air to the already incredibly romantic hotel. It is grand- but not in an opulent way- in a tasteful way to preserve the original archetecture and feel of this incredible place. X Factor: Very strange and deep dreams at Casa San Agustin.
Tcherrassi Hotel and Spa
IMG_0180
With only 7 rooms this boutique, the Tcherassi Hotel is a 250 year old Colonial Mansion turned into chic modern get-away for the jetset.
Tcherassi-Hotel-and-Spa-in-Cartagena-de-Indias-Colombia-yatzer-10
As you walk in you are greeted by a refreshing green drink in a Champagne glass. Ladies are given a present which for us consisted of a whimsical white belt created by Colombian born high fashion and hotel designer Silvia Tcherassi. As you check in, you have the chance to peer into the courtyard with meandering pools and a vertical garden with over 3000 types of local plants. At night this poolside transforms into a glowing blue and is a great place to have a Caipirinha or Hookah before dinner.
Elle once described the style of Silvia Tcherassi as ‘tempting’. In a way you can describe this hotel in the same way. It’s similar in clientele to El Otro Lado in Panama, but unlike a place of rest and relaxation, this is a place to see and be seen. The glamour and vibe is more akin to the SLS Los Angeles than a remote beach getaway.
Tcherassi-Hotel-and-Spa-in-Cartagena-de-Indias-Colombia-yatzer-9
Image: Tcherassi Hotel
The drawback are as follows: The rooftop pool is quite small. While the hotel boasts a spa, it is really not a spa. It is a couple of rooms where you are able to have treatments.
La Passion
Door to La Passion
Image: La Passion
La Passion is an eight room boutique hotel. As you walk though the pale blue doors marking the entrance to La Passion you are brought into a the grand stone lobby. The first time we walked into La Passion they were filming a telenovela in their eclectic sitting room.
Image: La Passion
The hotel does not allow children, adding to the intriguing air of the place. The two things which set La Passion apart from other boutique hotels are the monumental granite stairway in the entry which was imported from Italy to Cartagena centuries ago and the expansive rooftop pool and terrace overlooking the city. The pool is one of the largest in Cartagena and certainly the largest relative to the number of guests who would be able to use it.
DSC02593
The restroom from the rooftop terrace was really quite spectacular. We do love attention to detail. This hotel is not as expensive as the Tcherassi or the Casa San Agustin. The drawbacks here would be that is lacks the glamour of the San Agustin or the Tcherassi. In addition, the bed is a bit hard.
DSC02311
Other hotel recommendations:
Agua Hotel Cartagena: This is fancy, well established and chic. Make sure you also make reservations at their island hotel on Isla Baru. You do need to give them a week’s notice to book this.
Santa Clara: This hotel has stunning rooms. It is very large. We saw multiple weddings and a conference here during our time here. From our perspective, this is the most luxurious place if you are 65 from Dallas, don’t like exploring boutique hotels and would be willing to pay up in price for an experience you know is safe and more catered to tourists. The suites are gorgeous but are lacking in some of the quirky charm of the boutiques. They do have a very cool bar which is guarded by men in traditional Colombian dress with gas lanterns outside reminiscent of Charleston, South Carolina.
Advertisements

The Most Luxurious Place in Panama

The Best Destination in Panama

pool

Our top two choices in Panama for a beach vacation were the untouched San Blas Islands — very rustic and undeveloped or a stunning private retreat near Portobello National Park called El Otro Lado. We decided on the latter.

El Otro Lado, Private Retreat
Question: What do you do if you want to take a vacation– but one person wants an adventure and the other wants to sit on a gorgeous beach and sip on boat drinks by an infinity pool all day?
Answer: You go to El Otro Lado. This is a good spot spot for people who would like a jungle adventure — without compromising luxury or seclusion. Typically to achieve that type of profile you would need 18 hours of air travel, various doses of malaria pills and a scary ride in a plane that formerly belonged to Russia. However, getting to El Otro Lado is a bit more simple.

The View of El Otro Lado from Portobello Bay

Getting There

To get to El Otro Lado first you must get to Panama City. This is a 3.5 hour direct flight from Houston, Texas. From there, El Otro Lado will either pick you up or you can rent a car and drive 2 hours from the International Airport to Portobelo though a combination of smooth paid highway and country roads. Note: driving in Panama is an adventure in itself. If you don’t speak Spanish I wouldn’t do it because chances are extremely high that you will get lost and need directions at some point.

 

Arriving at El Otro Lado:

Once you arrive in Portobelo you need to get out a map. And not one with street names. But one with pictures that looks like you are hunting for a buried Pirate’s Bounty. And, metaphorically, you are. Directions like, ‘go straight at the big building’ and ‘walk next to the escuela de ritmo and there you find the little boat dock that will bring you to your private retreat’.
A 5 min boat ride will transport you to El Otro Lado. We were were greeted with fresh papaya juice (from the papayas on property) and promptly met the three well-trained well-manicured house black labs. Given the personal touch of this private retreat, check-in consisted of eating fresh ceviche and drinking Papaya Mojitos as we marveled at the interior decorating of the clubhouse. The decorating style should not make sense… yet it works perfectly.
It’s like Africa meets Lilly Pulitzer meets Vogue.
Another guest, who had just returned from deep sea fishing, was intrigued by the fact my husband brought his fly rod. As we discussed the incredible clubhouse decor he commented that the same designer had done his estate in Panama City– but with a lot less pink.
Gorgeous yet funky dinner settings at El Otro Lado
The Layout   
There are four separate houses for guests. Three of the four are for two people and one larger house is for four people. Guest houses are painted in aqua with white trim or in turquoise with purple cabana stripes. They have white lattice work around the roof and a wrap around porch with one side facing the sea and the other backing up to the jungle.
You have a proper desk in your little house. Inside the drawers are bird, orchid and fish maps to identify rare species in daily viewing.  Chic white beds and sofas stand in-contrast to the vibrant and colorful artwork in the room. The modern bathroom has polka dot accents and the shower feels like you are outside.
 
White linen towels embroidered with their name ‘El Otro Lado’ were a very calming site for someone native to Connecticut. There was a modern white cube sitting on the bedside table that seemed to be useless until I clapped and the time appeared. Flat screen TVs, iPods fully loaded with different “El Otro Lado Mixes” sitting on Bose surround sound docking stations add modern flair to the artistic house.

View from the Private Beach, Woman not Included

What to Do? 

During your days you can chose to lounge by the infinity pool, as pictured above. It is here you watch boats sail by in Portobelo Bay which, centuries ago, was a vibrant port and the non-fictional basis for modern day tales of Pirates of the Caribbean. The staff to guest ratio ensures you are never without a a cocktail (ask for the Loominescence– a banana colada which we named on our last night… and used all of the bananas). And if you need to get up and walk around, grab one of the pareos neatly folded as you step out of the pool. It brings a little Nantucket elegance to this Central American retreat.

For the Adventurer

If you are interested, there is a wide range of activities are offered such as: a hike through the jungle with a guide (who has a machete that was put to good use), boat trips to private beaches for the day, kayaking and, my favorite, art classes.

View of the Bay from an Evening Boat Cruise
After spending a week at the retreat we could say definitively that El Otro Lado is an incredibly unique, relaxing and adventurous place to vacation.
For another favorite spot, check out New England in the Winter