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The Hotel Caribe Cartagena Looks Grand But Really Isn't

Go To The Hotel's Web 
  Site Where: Carrera 1a no 2-87, Cartagena, Colombia
March 10, 2009 at 2:33 PM | by | ()

Last month, Amanda Pressner gave Jaunted a report on her jaunt down to Colombia. This week, she is giving HotelChatter reviews of the hotels she checked into during her trip. Any questions or suggestions about the Colombia Hotel Scene? Let us know. Enjoy.

In the Bocagrande section of Cartagena, a crook-armed, sea-level stretch of beach primed to sink under the weight of so many tightly-packed, modern high rises, you’ll find the Hotel Caribe, a pastel wedding cake of property that appears left over from another era, a earlier time when the wealthiest Colombians escaped the chill of Bogotá and Medellin to winter along the coast.

While the property, built in the neoclassical style in the 1930s and restored in the mid 90s greatly impresses at first sight from the street and has all of the makings of a five-star hotel, the execution falls well short. It’s no coincidence that you won’t find many Americans or Europeans at the check in desk with you.

Despite the price and glossy website, this property, which isn’t actually located within the famed UNESCO-protected old city of Cartagena, caters almost exclusively to Colombians on holiday, locals seeking decent beaches and a family-friendly, resort-style atmosphere.

If you’re heading down from the arctic Northeast, as we were, the idea of “Caribbean resort” might sound good. But if its sun and surf you want, you’ll find vastly better beaches, updated hotels and a more social “island” atmosphere, in places like Jamaica, Aruba or Grand Cayman. Come to Cartagena for the culture, and make sure you get a hotel inside the old city—otherwise you’ll be paying a cab to shuttle you over every day.

Check in
As we’ve said, the property does impress upon arrival—we were greeted at our taxi by a wave of uniformed men, and deposited efficiently at the front desk. But this is where things start to go off track, just a bit.

Since only a handful of English speakers stay at the hotel, the desk clerks struggle a bit with basic questions about taxes and the deposit (our credit card was charged two nights, right off the bat, as insurance against off future damage or guest who may run off in the night).

However, the did accommodate our request to bump our reservation from seven nights to two (we sense early on that we might want to stay elsewhere during the trip).

Room Reaction
Most of the guest rooms are located in an ugly glass and concrete tower only accessible through a maze of narrow passages and stairways, with no ramps for luggage or handicap access. Our living space, with its white marble floor and white bedding felt tad sterile, but efforts had been made to warm it up with citrusy throws and pillows, a large wooden headboard and a couple of 70s style, polyester red chairs. The bed was decently comfortable, but nowhere within striking distance of a "Heavenly."

If we thought the bedroom was sterile, the bathroom reminded us of a solitary confinement chamber in a sanitarium—without the cozy, plush walls. The florescent white light crackled within the totally white room and made our own reflection look simply terrifying. The shower took 20 minutes to heat up each time we used it, and even then, only trickled water.

Beaches and Pool
Supposedly, the beaches are better in Bocagrande than they are nearer to the old city, but we were harassed so much as we strolled near the water that we turned tail and headed back to the hotel to lie by the pool.

At, we found something that we liked! The enormous pool area had two sections, one that accommodated lap swimmers and the other for the kiddies, a delineation that was nice for everyone involved. The staff consistently brought us drinks, which were a little pricey but still reasonable, and thanks to a DJ playing bouncy Latin music, we didn’t have to turn on our iPods.

Internet Connect
We asked for and received an access code that ensured we had fast, reliable wireless throughout the length our stay.

If you manage to wander in to this room (off the pool) accidentally, run, don’t walk before the toxic smell of never-cleaned sweat and sauna action asphyxiates you. We tried to put in a 30-minute workout on the half-broken machines, but became so overcome with the heat and smell then we had to crawl out before collapsing. Avoid at all costs to your health.

What we liked
Actually, in a weird way, we liked spending a couple days in the Bocagrande neighborhood, as it allowed us to experience a more local, insider-y part of Cartagena we might not otherwise have sought out. The people we spoke with (or, more aptly, asked directions in mediocre Spanish) were all incredibly friendly, and seemed remiss that they couldn’t do more to direct these random Americans who’d gotten lost in their neighborhood.

What we didn’t like
Ooh, so much to choose from. The scary bathroom, the torture chamber of a gym, the spotty, indifferent service. When we called the front desk find out the exchange rate, we were passed of to five different human beings before someone finally shared the anticlimactic news that it notes were essentially two to one (2000 Colombian pesos = 1 dollar).

Bottom line
Skip this unless you’re really looking to do an authentic, Colombian style holiday. Just make sure you speak Spanish.

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