Cartagena, Colombia, is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast with vibrant colors, sounds and tastes around every curious corner.
Nestled right on Plaza San Diego, one of the culinary hotspots at the northern edge of Cartagena’s historic district, sits the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara, a former convent built in 1621, overflowing with picturesque charm and storied curiosity.
Walking through the arched entryway, guests are first greeted by the insanely lush Colonial-style courtyard garden which feels like a holistic retreat within itself, catching those Caribbean sunbeams and reverberating with the sounds of rare Colombian birds, as if having just been transported into a tropical soundscape from the Calm meditation app.
The property, originally a convent that housed local nuns for more than 200 years, now boasts 125 guestrooms, including 25 suites, spanning two distinct architectural wings. The first, a colonial 17th-century building that now houses the restaurants and bars, along with a few suites and endless nods to history throughout. And the second, a Republican-style addition from the 19th century where the majority of the modern guest rooms can be found.
@lonelyplanet 🇨🇴 Checking out is the hardest part 😩 #traveltiktok #wanderlust #colombia #cartagena #sofitellegendsantaclara #hotels ♬ TOGETHER - Kyle May
Not to be missed on the colonial side of the property is the legendary crypt, located right off the lounge bar, which was discovered during one of the excavations throughout the hotel’s renovations. This unique and eerie part of the hotel is said to have inspired Gabriel García Márquez’s book “Of Love and Other Demons” based on the story of the Santa Clara Convent.
Wandering the open-air halls of the property itself is reminiscent of soaking in the hottest new exhibit at the Met, with history and magic around every corner. The charming combination of colonial architecture, French luxury and modern comfort with a storied history and an unbeatable location in the heart of Cartagena’s Unesco-listed Old Town make this property truly one-of-a-kind.
Let’s take a look around…
The innovative guest rooms offer high-end, modern comfort coupled perfectly with the historic colonial architecture to provide an unassuming take on luxury. Of the 125 guest rooms, each has its own balcony or private terrace, with views internally of the picturesque pool, or of the surrounding cobbled streets and sea views of Old Town Cartagena.
Each of the 25 suites offers its own charm and personality with tranquility and tradition throughout. The Presidential Botero Suite is easily the most impressive, evoking the life and work of the famed Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Decorated by Lina Botero, the renowned decorator and the artist’s daughter, the space evokes the life and work of Botero with elegance and functionality, housing an original Botero painting, a personal book collection and some of the artist’s intimate photographs.
You don’t have to go far for a good time or an incredible culinary experience while at the Santa Clara. 1621 Restaurant, the property’s central eatery, is an upscale and elegant nod to the 400-year-old dining room where the Clarisas sisters took their meals. With a tasting menu full of French haute cuisine and the best local products, 1621 offers a bevy of unique and satiating experiences for the palate.
Jardin Santa Clara, in the open-air courtyard, is the perfect spot to grab lunch before a day of wandering the walled city. With Mediterranean flavors and local specialties, the menu focuses on fresh, sustainable and healthy options. However, the real highlight is the breakfast buffet here each morning with the most expansive selection of incredibly fresh and mouth-watering French and Colombian-inspired options to choose from. Trust me – don’t skimp on the croissants.
For more panoramic views of the property and the surrounding Caribbean waters, head up to the rooftop for a drink at Botika on the weekend. Viewed as the “drugstore” to provide the cures for all your ailments, the lively bar features an innovative menu of cocktails and hookah in a magical atmosphere, overlooking the hotel pool and accompanying leafy courtyard.
The property’s lounge bar, El Coro – named for the choir of the former convent that occupied the property – is a favorite of travelers and affluent locals alike, establishing itself as one of the best spots in town for live music and inspired cocktails. Stop here for a drink before or after dinner.
I threw my sightseeing checklist out the window and instead spent hours wandering the maze of cobbled alleys that makes up the Unesco World Heritage site of Old Town Cartagena, admiring the colorful balconies covered in bougainvillea and perfectly preserved colonial churches. And I snagged more than my fair share of fresh, mouth-watering granadilla from local street vendors at every opportunity.
If you want to learn about the history of the town from a local, book an historical walking tour with Marcella “March” Diaz, founder of Mar de Leva Travel, and a third-generation tour guide with a mission to “stop boring tours” of her beloved hometown.
Swing by El Portal de los Dulces, an arcaded walkway right off of Plaza de Los Coches, lined with confectionery stands selling the most delicious local sweets. While in the area, pop into Ábaco, an idyllic bookshop-cafe offering strong espressos and pretty much everything Gabriel García Márquez ever wrote.
If you’re looking for a souvenir to bring home, stop by El Centro Artesano, a local handmade craft shop and coffee bar, supporting Colombian artists that reinvests its revenue back into the local artisan community.
The tropical and tranquil pool is definitely one of the highlights of the property, surrounded by cabanas and lush sun beds, as well as an adjacent pool bar and an attentive bar staff who won’t let your drink go empty. I easily could’ve sat here all day enjoying the quiet and comfortable luxury of those views. The poolside piña colada did not disappoint.
The property offers a host of other onsite amenities for guests to enjoy during their stay, like the full-service spa and fitness center, as well as various tours, tastings and classes offered weekly throughout the property.
It’s worth noting the property also incorporates a number of sustainable practices into its daily operations to continue to do its part for a more eco-friendly experience. From developing its own vegetable garden for the kitchen to grow fresh plants and produce, to reducing the consumption of single-use plastic, and implementing protocols to achieve a zero-carbon footprint in corporate events, the Sofitel has partnered with all its employees and partners to stick to this important commitment.
The Superior guest rooms start around $400 USD per night with the option to have breakfast included in the rate, while the higher-end suites start around $800 USD per night. The price tags reflect the level of luxury, service and comfort guests can expect throughout their entire stay.