I stay at a lot of hotels but, if you look through the “Hotels” section on this site, you’ll see only a handful of them represented with their own posts. Why is that? While many hotels and resorts are perfectly nice and my experiences there are fine, they’re not remarkable. If you stop to think about it, it takes a lot to make a hotel something truly special. To elevate it above and beyond its competitors and to highlight it as something truly unique . No, if I wrote a hotel review about every place where I spent the night, then this blog would be full of many, boring and entirely predictable reviews. I save those posts for properties that deserve them, that are so unique and different that they warrant some extra attention and such is the case with the stunning Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena in Colombia. More than just a refined and relaxed place to stay, the Santa Clara added more to my travel experience than I could have imagined, which is one of many reasons why I was thrilled to see it as a hotel option on my Monograms tour of Colombia. I wrote more about Monograms in this post, but they’re a unique tour company that provides outlines of trips so that independent-minded travelers can travel as they would normally, but without some of the headaches and worries that would ordinarily be part of the trip. In selecting the Santa Clara, Monograms offers guests an amazing option for the reasons I’m about to outline and so many more.
Walking Back in Time
In 1621, the Clarisa nuns built this massive convent in what we would now call a classic Spanish colonial style. Taking up city blocks, the traditionally muted exterior gave little indication to the wonders inside, beautiful architecture that has been lovingly restored to its original condition today. That’s what it is like first walking into the Santa Clara Cartagena, nothing is as one expects and instead there are amazing moments of wonder and awe to be enjoyed. At least that’s how it was for me not only the first time I walked through the front doors of this luxury property, but every time I returned, not once failing to have the massive courtyard take away my breath for a few moments. It was if I was transported to another era, in the midst of the colorful foundation of the always-beautiful city of Cartagena. With a prized position within the old city walls, the Sofitel Santa Clara is so much more than just a well-located hotel. Living amongst the UNESCO-recognized streets and buildings of this colonial masterpiece of a town, you become part of the experience. You step into a storybook where you can live history in a manner impossible to do in any other way. That is at the heart of the experience, that’s the greatest attribute of this remarkable property, to live not just close to the historical sites but to become a participant in the narrative of the city.
This commitment to preserving the history of the building and city though doesn’t end with the convent’s rehabilitation, it’s introduced throughout the property with period antiques, chapels and halls returned to their former glory and even personal narratives of the people who once passed through not only the hotel, but Cartagena itself. This is more than an old building, the Santa Clara has been an integral part of the history of Cartagena for nearly 400 years and thankfully Sofitel highlights these traditions at every turn. Walking into my spacious and elegantly designed suite in the original section of the building, I noticed a small placard as soon as I entered the room. On it was the story of but one dignitary of many who called the same space home, immediately making the history come alive once again. It’s a remarkable sensation and from my experience, rare not only when you travel but especially in a hotel.
History or not, it’s important for a luxury hotel as famous as the Santa Clara Cartagena to live up to its name; to offer guests the high level of service and hospitality that they expect. I’ve stayed at other Sofitel properties and while they were fine, as soon as I checked into the Santa Clara I could tell the difference. Service here is on as high a level as I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Plenty of staff guarantees that every need or request is addressed quickly and with a smile. I was a little concerned before arriving that the style of the hotel itself would be too old-fashioned, running contrary to my own predilection towards modern and refined spaces. Luckily as soon as I entered my well-appointed suite I could tell that recent updates maintained a modern but comfortable aesthetic. Split into two levels, the suite enjoys separate living and sleeping areas with baths both up and downstairs. A large (and comfy couch) became my de facto chill spot and the bedroom with its antique beams and wood inlays made me feel as if I was a member of the Spanish nobility, if only for a few nights.
That style and commitment to service is pervasive throughout the Santa Clara evidenced both in the republican and colonial style sections of the hotel. My preference though leaned towards the colonial, perfectly reconstructed and lovingly maintained. With sweeping balconies overlooking the lush central courtyard, I found myself relaxing there many times, getting lost in the comings and goings down below.
While firmly rooted in the proud history of Cartagena, this is not a hotel lost to time. Boasting every modern convenience one would expect from a luxury property in the 21st century, I never wanted for a thing while calling this graceful hotel home. A massive pool and spa area for many guests is the perfect way to spend a hot afternoon in this tropical city. The Santa Clara also boasts restaurants and bars that rank amongst the best in Cartagena, saying a lot for a city and country that takes food very seriously. Enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the courtyard at the El Claustro restaurant, it was easy to imagine myself eating al fresco in Madrid or Barcelona. In the evenings though the dining scene really shines at the Restaurant 1621, boasting elegantly prepared and delicious dishes with Cartagenan flair.
More than the pool, spa or food, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena has something that is almost indefinable. The halls are graced with centuries of stories from the ancient nuns to more recent notables, like famed author Gabriel Garcia-Marquez who used to live next door. Staying here is about so much more than finding a place to sleep. The Santa Clara is an integral part of the story of Cartagena and to enjoy some time at the hotel is to live the history in a way impossible to otherwise replicate. Add in incredible luxury and comfort as remarkable as I’ve ever seen, and you have a hotel experience that isn’t only the best in the city, but amongst the best in the world.