Anillo Vial KM 12, Between Manzanillo del Mar and Punta Canoa, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
Enormous rooms, local art, smart new packages, and no wrist bands mean that even independent travelers can enjoy this big box, luxury beach resort—the only one of its type in Colombia.
The Conrad Cartagena, which fully opened in 2018 as part of the Hilton family, makes a very good first impression. Walk through the huge front doors, inspired by the colonial architecture seen in the historic center of Cartagena, Colombia, and you're greeted by two imposing busts created by Colombian artist Ana Maria Hoyos to depict residents of the country's black villages. Inside the enormous, breezy, and inviting lobby you are then greeted by attentive (and English speaking) staff.
With 268 rooms and suites there's a lot of variety at the Conrad Cartagena, but even the most economical room types offer 538 square feet of space, a small terrace, and a view. Feeling splurgy? The four ground level Pool Suites are worth it with a living room, separate bedroom, and two full bathrooms in 1,313 square feet of space along with a large private patio and private plunge pool.
All rooms have a bathtub, which is extremely unusual in Latin America. All rooms also have silent ceiling fans in addition to air conditioning, an ample work space, Shanghai Tang bathroom amenities, and at least a small amount of outdoor space with views of the pools, golf course, Caribbean, or all three. Beds are extremely comfortable and there's a pillow menu. Continuing the theme of Colombian art, rooms are decorated with vibrant paintings by Colombian artist Pedro Ruiz.
Housekeeping service was a bit sloppy, however. For example, an empty box of Kleenex was not replaced even though it was left out on the bathroom counter and an ever-growing collection of dirty glasses was not removed. Bottled water is provided at turn down, but nothing else, which seemed a bit stingy.
The resort's most unique offering is the 18-hole Karibana golf course which surrounds the property. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the course is the only one in South America that conforms to Tournament Players Club (TPC) standards. However, even non-golfers will find plenty to do at the Conrad Cartagena.
There are four large swimming pools at the resort, most of them clustered together in the same central area. There are also four tennis courts, but if you prefer an indoor workout the gym offers TRX system equipment, Precor machines, free weights, Studio Cycle III stationary bikes, and more.
Nearby is the resort's enormous spa, with 10 treatment rooms (plus two outdoor open-air treatment spaces), a roomy and sunny lounge, and a private pool for those getting treatments. Those include massages (about $90 for 60 minutes) using herbs, volcanic mud, and volcanic stones, facials (about $95 for 60 minutes), and an after-sun cacao body wrap (about $60 for 30 minute). There's also a full-service beauty salon and a nearby kids' club.
There are seven restaurants and bars at the resort, so you could stay a week in this remote area and still have some variety. Biblioteka is the flagship, serving international cuisine in three elegant and romantic dining rooms. The grilled octopus was tender and smoky. The snook was a bit dry, but it was topped with tender crab-stuffed ravioli and a generous amount of moist crab. The dark and richly flavored Meloso Arroz channeled the best of Louisiana jambalaya with shrimp and sausage.
The resort's other eating and drinking options are more casual. The breakfast buffet in the Adesso Tu restaurant is vast and there's also an a la carte menu and an eggs-to-order station. Pizzas and casual Italian fare are available here at night. Lunch options in the Sea Salt Grill include seafood dishes, satisfying salads, burgers, and much more in a lovely al fresco setting with views of the sea.
The Son y Ron lobby bar is festive hub day and night and the Conrad Cartagena also recently took over operations of the nearby beachfront Karibana Beach Club. That offers yet another casual eating option (daytime only) as well as a pool and thatch umbrellas and loungers on the beach.
After a full opening, the resort introduced an all-inclusive package that gives guests access to all of the food and beverage options (with a few exclusions). And in 2019 the hotel's Executive Lounge will also be operational with exclusive staff, snacks, drinks, breakfast, and more for those who book suites or pay for lounge access.
It must be said that the Conrad Cartagena is not located in the city itself, but about 11 miles (30 minutes) away. To make it easier for guests to experience this UNESCO World Heritage site that is the main draw for tourists, the resort runs free shuttles to/from the historic colonial center of the city twice a day. The Discover Cartagena packages even further, offering guests unlimited private transport to and from the city.
So while this is not the best choice for those who want to be inside the city fort walls, it's the clear winner for golfers and vacationers looking for a large beach resort experience.
Web Address: ConradHotels.Hilton Cartagena
Total Number of Rooms: 268
Published rates: $160 to $1,845 double occupancy
Review by Karen Catchpole, photos by Eric Mohl.