Where to stay in Cartagena for a Local Experience

Casa San Agustin
Casa San Agustin | Courtesy of Casa San Agustin / Expedia
Photo of Luke Waterson
8 January 2021

A dynamic port city in northern Colombia, wrapped around a Unesco-listed historic old town, Cartagena is one of those places you need to really take your time to enjoy. Cut through the crowds and settle into a centuries-old hotel, or escape to a hush-hush island.

Sure, Cartagena, which sits on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, can be touristy at times. But this local-leaning list of lodgings is designed to help you become better acquainted with the city, to better understand more about what makes it so special and meet locals – and better still, live like one.

Casa San Agustin

Luxury, Boutique Hotel
Map View
Casa San Agustin
Courtesy of Casa San Agustin / Expedia
To get a feel for Cartagena’s architecture, a stay at these understatedly elegant digs, set within a trio of the city’s traditional whitewashed 17th-century houses in the Walled City, should do the trick – from the frescoes in the library through to the wooden beams in the rooms. Centuries old the Casa San Agustin may be, but that doesn’t stop the minibars being refilled daily with complimentary refreshments, nor the pool and poolside bar from tempting guests to linger. If there was a competition for being Colombian, this would win, hands down.
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Viajero Hostel

Hostel
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Hotel El Viajero Centro
Courtesy of Hotel El Viajero Centro / Expedia
If meeting other travelers is your aim, this colonial abode within Cartagena’s Walled City is a vivacious first step. Part of the Viajero mini-chain – with hip sister hangouts in Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay – it centers on a prettily painted courtyard where global wanderers relax on hammocks or gather round the tables. With a bar and free dance classes facilitating mingling, plus epic nights out to local bars and clubs, this place has a finger firmly on the pulse of Cartagena’s local nightlife.

Casa India Catalina

Boutique Hotel
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Casa India Catalina
Courtesy of Casa India Catalina / Expedia
Venerable lemon-yellow walls, terracotta-tiled floors, stylish rooms with beamed ceilings appealingly decorated in folk art, greenery dripping down the sides of a terrace slung with hammocks and around the pool – these are all signs you have entered a lovely historic hotel in Cartagena’s Walled City. The India of the title references Cartagena’s colonial-era name: Cartagena de Indias. The very good tour desk helps visitors get under the skin of the old town. Indeed, it’s close to one of the most handsome of city squares, Plaza de Bolívar.

Hotel Boutique Santo Toribio

Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel
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Hotel Boutique Santo Toribio
Courtesy of Hotel Boutique Santo Toribio / Expedia
The Santo Toribio manages to rank among Cartagena’s best boutique hotels by paying homage to the city’s origins in a fascinating mix of historic and modern photographs, many of which form the centerpiece in the bedrooms, and in the burnished terracotta roofs and aged beams typical of Colombian colonial residences. Kick back in the plunge pool or rooftop jacuzzi, from where you can ogle the beauty of the old town. The property faces onto a balconied Cartagena street, lined with multicolored colonial buildings.
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Blue Apple Beach House

Guesthouse
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Blue Apple Beach House
Courtesy of Blue Apple Beach House / Expedia
Out on Isla Tierra Bomba, an island just off Cartagena’s beach-blessed coast, this idyllic collection of palm-thatched huts, laid out on a nook of sand, feels light years away from the city, but it’s only a few miles. Gearing itself towards young people who want to have fun, but do so in a way that doesn’t impact on the environment, the Blue Apple features 10 rooms, five of which are cabanas with private plunge pools.

El Marqués Hotel Boutique

Luxury, Boutique Hotel
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El Marqués Hotel Boutique
Courtesy of El Marqués Hotel Boutique / Expedia
You will feel less like a guest at this suave, nine-room boutique offering, and more like you’re in your own private villa. Lofty stone-beamed ceilings, gilt-framed mirrors, candelabras and greenery around the elegant courtyard restaurant bring a sense of calm from the Walled City bustle nearby. Hotel staff are courteous, yet happy to offer tips for local explorations.
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Townhouse Boutique Hotel

Boutique Hotel, Luxury
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Townhouse Boutique Hotel
Courtesy of Townhouse Boutique Hotel / Expedia
“Fancy doesn’t have to be boring” goes the motto at Cartagena’s Walled City counterpart to Isla Tierra Bomba’s Blue Apple Beach House. Larger-than-life birdlife, in a nation renowned for its avian residents, makes for chirpy decor in the amply sized rooms (a pelican cycling with a palm in a basket is a favorite). The rooftop restaurant lets you take in the beautiful Cartagena skyline while eating tapas or sipping cocktails. One for millennials who want chic without stuffiness.

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  • Anandá Boutique Hotel

    Boutique Hotel, Chain Hotel
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    Anandá Boutique Hotel
    Courtesy of Anandá Boutique Hotel / Expedia
    Run by the Hoteles Cosmos chain, with 35 years’ experience in the Colombian accommodation game, the Anandá goes all 16th-century chic on guests. This Walled City building hones in around an alluring central courtyard and dining area wrapped by winsome terracotta-roofed lodgings with incredible balconies, while rooms themselves disappear behind attractive archways beyond. The pretty pool has the original storied property wall rearing above it and there’s also a Jacuzzi terrace. What a way to launch an exploration of historic Cartagena.
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    Casa La Cartujita

    Boutique Hotel, Spa Hotel, Luxury
    Map View
    Casa La Cartujita
    Courtesy of Casa La Cartujita / Expedia
    The folks running Casa La Cartujita are clearly passionate about the history of their beautiful lodging, which they are happy to impart to interested guests: this, after all, is one of Old Cartagena’s oldest, most intriguing buildings, originally a resting place for Carthusian monks back in the 1770s. Open the heavy molded wooden doors to enter an enclave of quietude, classily finished in soothing whites. There are seven exquisite rooms, a plunge pool and a third-floor lounge and hot tub.

    Casa del Arzobispado Hotel

    Guesthouse, Boutique Hotel
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    Casa del Arzobispado Hotel
    Courtesy of Casa del Arzobispado Hotel / Expedia
    Independence hero, José de Ayos, was tasked with the building of this sumptuous abode, and evidently excelled at construction as much as he did at revolution: today this colonial hotel has been restored faithfully to its elegant origins, full of centuries-old art and artefacts. The 10 rooms have tiled floors and delightful lofty, wood-beamed ceilings: a colonial way to keep cool in the often sizzling heat. Modern-day touches include free local phone calls, minibars and Le Labo toiletries.
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    Oz Hotel

    Boutique Hotel
    Map View
    Oz Hotel
    Courtesy of Oz Hotel / Expedia
    On the hook of a peninsula tapering out 2.5mi (4km) south of the Walled City, this trendy sleepover gleams as one of Cartagena’s newer hotels and is only a frisbee skim back from the popular sandy city beach of Playa de Bocagrande. Neat, clean rooms feature huge writing desks and widescreen TVs, and flash geometric pillow designs. The long, bright colonnaded restaurant is an inviting place to eat, and don’t miss a trip up to the sixth-floor solarium and roof terrace for its bird’s-eye beach views.
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    Hotel Quadrifolio

    Boutique Hotel
    Map View
    Hotel Quadrifolio
    Courtesy of Hotel Quadrifolio / Expedia
    The Hotel Quadrifolio’s eight suites, sequestered away in the Walled City near the art museum, are as luxury as Cartagena comes while remaining faithful to 17th-century colonial design. High and mighty vaulted wood-beamed ceilings, louvred shutters, tiled floors where footfall echoes fade back into dignified silence, divine wood-framed beds, a serene internal courtyard, greenery peeking from behind each alcove or archway, mesmeric one-of-a-kind curios adorning the walls… You get the idea. It’s as if the city’s halcyon days never ended.
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    These recommendations were updated on January 8, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.