The first time I went to the Hotel Caribe Cartagena, I was very young, about 8 or 9 years old. Back then, my father was President of the Syndicate of Industrialists of Panama and they invited him to an event, I do not remember well what it was, but “they threw the house out the window” as they say in Panama. The illuminated San Felipe de Barajas Castle was the setting for the party. I still remember running through the tunnels of the catacombs.
My return to Hotel Caribe Cartagena
About two years ago I went to do an inspection of the hotel. At that time I was working with Air Panama and we were going to open a flight between Panama and Cartagena.
The Hotel Association of Cartagena organized an agenda to visit hotels in Cartagena. This agenda included a visit to the Hotel Caribe Cartagena that at that time was being remodelled.
It was impressive to see how the property had grown. They showed us the rooms of the new tower that have a lower price. They are a good option for those who are travelling on a budget, but I think it is worth staying in the colonial part of the hotel.
A friend from my university got married in Cartagena and I came back in February, 2018. The remodeling was completed and the stately hotel had returned to its former glory.
The history of the hotel
Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo, President of Colombia during 1934-1938, commented that Cartagena needed a modern hotel and that it should be in Bocagrande. It had to be “a hotel surrounded by gardens and trees that would make everything cool”. In 1939 the first stone of the Hotel Caribe Cartagena was placed. It was an unprecedented project, with 35,000 square meters of space and 20,000 square meters of construction.
Bocagrande was not what it looks like today, obviously, in those times the peninsula was lonely. A location was chosen between the Caribbean Sea and what is now known as ‘El Laguito’. Before the hotel had access to the lake but as it was expanding this was eliminated.
If you visit the historical hotel, you will have memories of buildings in Cuba, this is because the architect who designed it, Jose Carrera Machado, was Cuban. His idea was to build a hotel where guests could sleep listening to the waves of the sea.
The work had a cost of $225,000, about $3,961,992 in current value of 2018.
The Caribe Cartagena Hotel opened in 1945 with five floors that could accommodate 172 guests in 87 rooms. Even in those times, they had hot water and air conditioning. Therefore, the first manager boasted that they had “the most modern and comfortable hotel on the Atlantic Coast”.
Since 1947, the most beautiful women of Colombia went annually to the hotel to participate in the National Beauty Pageant. I do not know if this event is still taking place at the hotel.
During the decade of the seventies the physical space of the hotel was extended, always maintaining the original structure. Then in the nineties the new tower was made.
On November 8, 1999, the Hotel Caribe Cartagena receiveD the title of Cultural Interest, granted by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.
Rooms and food
363 rooms currently host between 130,000 and 135,000 tourists per year at the Hotel Caribe Cartagena. To get to your room you must go up in a “vintage” elevator that is still operated by a person who closes the handle of the grate door. I think this elevator is one of the things that guests may like best. Its interior is made of wood and is full of vintage photos of the hotel.
When you get to your floor, you will see a long corridor with doors painted gray with a white wash style. There are tables with chairs in the hallway for those smokers who need a space for their vice. From the hallway you can see the beautiful view of the huge pool and the lake in the background.
The ceilings of the rooms are quite high, which makes them feel very spacious. We stayed in the Deluxe Classic Room located in the colonial tower. Our bed was super comfortable, thankfully, since we went out partying several nights and woke up late.
As we did not wake up early, we missed the hotel breakfast almost every day except the day we went to Islas del Rosario and Baru. We asked if they had egg arepa, a typical dish from Cartagena and the waiter went to the kitchen to bring us a special order. The buffet is quite extensive, but you have to please your cravings.
Animals, gardens and more amenities
The gardens of my childhood still exist at the Hotel Caribe Cartagena. Of course, in my mind, the hotel was much bigger in those times. I remember spending hours bathing in the pool and running around in the jungle with my siblings.
There is a bird section, where you can see macaws and toucans. Many more birds arrive on their own, seeking refuge from the city in the trees.
Next to the gardens and the pool there are many lounging areas, including beds and chairs.
Es un sitio ideal para descansar o puedes cruzar al club de playa del Hotel Caribe Cartagena. Este club tiene su propio restaurante y zona privada sobre la arena con camas.
The beach is known as ‘Hollywood’ because according to locals it is the most famous. If you want to avoid harassment from sellers, it is advisable to hang out inside the private club.
Children have many entertainment options including mini-golf, games room and playground.
It is a really ideal hotel for families with small children, more than for couples.
Other Faranda hotels in Cartagena
The Faranda chain has two more hotels in Cartagena, but they are more boutique. By coincidence I was walking through Getsemani, the new trendy old neighborhood and I saw the sign of Armeria Real Luxury Hotel and Spa. That day there was a wedding and they were fixing the hotel, but they let us pass to browse.
We went to the pool that is on the top floor. The panoramic views were incredible, you could see the San Felipe de Barajas Castle and the Yacht Club where my friend’s wedding would be.