The Colombian town of Cartagena is steeped in old-world, Spanish colonial charm, its cobblestone streets and brightly-painted buildings embraced by vines of bougainvillea are a fantasy brought to life. And who couldn’t use a fantasy escape right about now?
To discover the best of the best in this must-visit city, we consulted Nicole Schmidt, founder of Cartagena Services, specializing in villa rentals, yacht charters, and VIP services including security teams, wardrobe services, and private chefs. Her local expertise—from restaurants to nightclubs, to where to shop and stay—has made her the city’s unofficial welcome committee. With a discerning client list (the designer Peter Dundas calls personally upon Schmidt to curate and create his Cartagena getaways), you can trust you’re in the best hands.
First things first, the climate in Cartagena is either hot or hotter and it’s dense with humidity, which is why Schmidt’s guidance in regard to dress code is very simple: “Don’t overpack,” she says. “It’s very hot, humid, and breezy in Cartagena, so bring light clothing and accessories only.” That said, Colombians, like many South American cultures, value taste, refinement, and elegance, so while packing light is important, it’s important to err on the side of chic-and-conservative to respect the culture. It’s best for both men and women to leave the shorts at home and opt for long, flowing dresses and stylish flats if you’re female, while men tend to dress in head-to-toe linen.
As for where to start your journey, “Stay and get lost in the romance, charm, and elegance of the Old City,” says Schmidt. The Old City, also called the Walled City, is contained within the perimeter of a 400-year-old wall that lines it and is the part of town most associated with Cartagena. A stay in the Old City is important as it’s the heart of the experience and once outside the wall Cartagena is like any big city with modern high-rises and fast-paced life. Lazy mornings dipping in and out of your hotel pool followed by dinners al fresco and late nights strolling its narrow streets taking in the famous nightlife are what will transport you, and that all happens in the Old City.
WHERE TO STAY:
Sofitel Santa Clara
Images Courtesy of Sofitel Santa Clara
The Sofitel Santa Clara—a converted convent—is the most revered and storied hotel within the Old City.
Bastion Luxury Hotel
Images Courtesy of The Bastion Luxury Hotel instagram
The Bastion Luxury Hotel offers 5-star service in a more intimate, boutique setting.
Schmidt also says villas are the way to go when in Cartagena, and with the exchange rates in favor of most foreign currencies, it’s hardly as cost-prohibitive as it may sound.
“There are so many gorgeous colonial mansions located right in the heart of where you want to be and are always walking distance to the best restaurants, nightlife, shopping,” she says. “Villas, when shared, can be cheaper than the best hotels and you are in a much larger space with everything tailor-made for your enjoyment, from having your own fiesta with friends to massages by your pool, each villa has a full staff including amazing chefs and also feature private pools and gorgeous rooftops with ocean and city views.”
La Casa que Besa el Mar
Images courtesy of La Casa que Besa el Mar
Casa de Indias
Images courtesy of Casa de Indias
Casa Don Sancho
Images courtesy of Casa Don Sancho
And no trip to Cartagena is complete without time spent on the white sands and in the warm, turquoise waters of the idyllic Rosario Islands. The ocean conditions are so perfect the locals call it piscina natural, or natural pool, for its crystal clear waters with bath-like temperatures. Schmidt believes the same for the Rosario Islands that she does for the Old City--that the best way to experience the islands is privately on one of the many boats, villas, and islands for hire.
WHERE TO DAY TRIP
Image courtesy of Isla Matamba instagram
Image courtesy of Isla Rosa instagram
Isla Coco Solo
Image courtesy of Isla Coco Solo
WHERE TO SHOP
Image courtesy of St. Dom instagram
All of Colombia can be defined as a cornucopia of luxury encompassing art, fashion, jewelry, and accessories—and like a buried treasure within a treasure, St. Dom is the very best that Latin America has to offer. The cavernous space of bricked archways that meet walls painted or papered in bright prints and smaller, contemporary rooms of stark white contains one of the most impressive curations of the country’s vibrant and original designs, featuring Colombian designers like Leal Daccarett and local brands like Pepa Pombo, Maison Alma, Juan de Dios, and Suki Cohen.
WHERE TO EAT
Image courtesy of Carmen
If you’re a foodie and relish in experiencing the biodiversity of a region through its cuisine, make a reservation at Carmen. The food is ingredient-focused and Colombian-forward, and the ambience is incredible. The central courtyard lined with towering palm trees is the ideal backdrop to enjoy the seven-course tasting menu.
WHERE TO SOCIALIZE
Image courtesy of Townhouse HotelThe rooftop at the Townhouse Hotel is intimate and exclusive, chic and vibey, and the place to start, end, or spend your entire night. Bring your chicest look to this space boasting the best views in Cartagena, with two tiny soaking pools in case you want a midnight dip and or to soak up the sun post-brunch. What to drink? The neon sign reading, “Bitch Where's My Champagne” really says it all.