Crafting a perfect getaway usually begins by choosing between a locale — beach escape or a city adventure? Would you rather see historic sites or hear the crash of waves up against the coast? More often than not, if you want a mix of both that entails a lot of planning, arranging transportation and most likely experiencing a few headaches along the way. Well, thanks to Sofitel Hotels & Resorts, the perfect mix of both experiences await in Cartagena, Colombia. No extra planning required.
The French luxury hotel brand recently renovated Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, a historic property located right inside the old city in Cartagena which was deemed a world heritage site by UNESCO. It also opened a new beach club, Sofitel Barú Calablanca Beach Resort, that’s just a short boat ride away from the city. While the Caribbean Sea can technically be seen from the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara above the stone wall encircling the city, Barú offers the perfect place to take a dip in those water for an ideal beach retreat.
The entire trip from Santa Clara to Barú can be arranged by the hotel, including transportation to the marina, and takes approximately 40 minutes by catamaran or 20 minutes by speedboat. While one can get there by road, it takes about 90 minutes. Both locations offer the upmost level of luxury and 5-star service, but present very different aesthetics, creating two incredibly memorable getaways.
At Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, every inch of the orange-hued square interior is filled with rich history that’s honored in beautiful and creative ways by the hotel. The structure was originally built in 1621 by cloistered Poor Clares nuns when it functioned as a convent. During those times, the old city, not yet protected by stone walls, often faced pirate attacks who looted the town for treasures. Because the nuns were cloistered and couldn’t be seen, there are special design details from their life that are still present today. In the convent’s chapel, which is currently the Great Santa Clara Hall and hosts events and weddings, there are squares built into the wall that were made to allow a nun to sit on the other side of the wall and be heard by a visiting family member, but importantly, not seen.
In the lobby, there is a small wooden window with doors called a “torno” that acted as the convent’s only form of communication with the outside world. Locals could make donations to the nuns by placing money in the window, or at times, nuns would find abandoned babies placed there to be raised in the convent.
Over the years, the space was used as a military fortress, a jail, a hospital and a medical school. It transformed into a tropical palace hotel in 1995 and many aspects of the property’s history can be seen from the moment guests arrive. In the entryway, there are original wood beams carved with the date of completion in 1788. Look directly down and one will notice cannonballs (which were found in the ’90s in the pool area but used for protection against pirates) being used as door stoppers as one makes their way into the hotel.
While you sip on signature mojitos at the El Coro Lounge Bar, which was the chapel during the days of the convent, one can see the staircase to the crypt, which just so happened to have inspired author Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his 1994 novel, Of Love and Other Demons. The crypt is available to tour daily until 5:30 p.m. Most of the decor and furniture seen throughout the hotel was discovered during the restoration while any other piece was sourced from the colonial period. Many feature religious elements, reminding the visitor of the site’s rich history at every turn.
After being transformed into a luxury hotel space in 1995, it joined the prestigious Sofitel Legend properties (there are five other Legends around the world in Vietnam, Egypt, China, Amsterdam and Panama City) which are all located in historic landmark buildings. All Legends also honor a nightly ritual, which has historic ties to the heritage and history of the space. At Santa Clara, monks walk throughout the property every night at sunset.
Today, the pool is located where the nun’s garden and later the hospital once stood, and the second main structure of the hotel surrounding it (also built for the hospital) now features the majority of rooms on the property, which all have balconies overlooking the pool. The 125-room hotel, which recently renovated 25 of them, has four “Iconic Suites” one of which is the Fernando Botero Presidential Suite, named after the Colombian artist who designed the space with his daughter Lina Botero.
If you’re feeling inspired to continue to learn about the history of the property, guests can book a free 30-minute tour with a Sofitel Butler. There’s also plenty to do just inside the hotel during your stay too. In addition to lounging at the enormous pool or saddling up to the pool bar, the Sofitel SPA Cartagena offers a variety of treatments using Sisely products, there’s also a hammam to unwind and relax.
There are four restaurants and bars on-site including the restaurant, Jardín Santa Clara, located within the Colonial Garden (the largest garden in the walled city) filled with real palm trees, native orchids and lush greenery in the center of the first main structure of the hotel. The menu highlights local organic products and fishes with Mediterranean flavors and local specialties, as well as some sure-fire hits like pizzas and burgers.
For a memorable tasting menu experience, 1621 Restaurant — named after the year the convent began — mixes Colombian gastronomy with refined French cuisine for a delicious dinner and wine pairing feast. There’s also a private room where guests can enjoy special wine or rum tastings from a knowledgable sommelier.
For a drink, there’s the Botika Bar located near the pool that offers views of the Caribbean Sea, and El Coro Lounge Bar, which is the perfect spot to enjoy live music on the weekends or catch a soccer match.
After experiencing all the property — and the old city — has to offer, a change in scenery awaits at Sofitel Barú Calablanca Beach Resort. After getting off the catamaran or speed boat, golf carts escort guests up the winding hills to the main structure of the hotel, which opened in 2021. The property is built on the hills where all 187 guest rooms and 23 suites have scenic view of the pools and ocean.
Despite the winding paths, everything on the property is walkable without a golf cart (the handy map connected to each room key ensures one can never get lost). While the rooms all utilize stone and wood accents with soothing colors that evoke the seaside landscape, spending time lounging in the five pools or sprawling beach across the length of the property is the best spot to be.
Among the many places to take a dip, there is one adults-only and one kids pool, plus plenty of seating across the sandy shores. On the beach, one will find a food truck offering Caribbean fritters, guacamole and fresh catches of the day, as well as Corona bar for the ultimate level of seaside luxury. Back on land, there are plenty of other delicious food options throughout, too.
Calablanca is the main all-day restaurant that opens with a breakfast buffet offering a huge variety of dishes with many highlighting traditional Colombian and Mediterranean cuisines. Humo Restaurant is a robata grill concept that fuses Japanese, Chinese, Thai, French and Peruvian cuisines. Bahía offers picturesque views of the water that serves the best fresh fishes, ceviches, crudos and more utilizing a slow-cooking grill technique. There’s no shortage of bars, with seven spread throughout the property. One highlight includes the rooftop Bar La Pergola, which has unforgettable views of the Isla Barú sunset.
A minimum two-night stay is recommended to soak up all the island as to offer, and right now, the brand is featuring a special wellness package called the “The Colombian Royal Treatment.” It offers two nights at both Sofitel locations as well as spa treatments at each property that focus on strength and balance. At Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, one can experience the Emerald Spa Ritual for two, inspired by the Colombian stone, which is known to “impart wisdom, calms emotions, eliminates negativity and transmits mental clarity.” At Sofitel Barú Calablanca, the Vida de Reyes Ritual will be offered, inspired by ancient royalty treatments.
Make the most of your time away with two perfect stays wrapped into one. For more, visit sofitellegendsantaclara.com and sofitelbarucalablanca.com.