A standing testament to Colombia’s colourful history, Hotel Casa San Agustín’s three colonial-era buildings have been re-imagined as an urban boutique retreat. Look for clues to its rich Caribbean past in the timber beams and artfully preserved architectural details that liven up the impeccable contemporary decor. Every corner here, from the leafy patios to the centrepiece pool, is designed to entice South America’s most discerning guests.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of wine and in-room local fruits on arrival; GoldSmith members also get free airport transfers
Double rooms from £266.85 ($336). Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of $1.50 per room per night on check-out.
Rates usually include a buffet breakfast with cooked-to-order eggs and a mimosa; guests are also treated to a welcome mocktail, an in-room platter of fruit or cold cuts and a free minibar stocked with soft drinks and local beer each day.
Interior designer Kelley McRorie also worked on Smith favourite Castello di Casole in Tuscany; her relaxed, breezy take on elegant living spaces has injected new life in Casa San Agustin’s restored 17th-century buildings.
At the hotel
Rooftop solarium, lounge, library, treatment rooms, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, minibar with a number of free drinks, tea and coffee-making facilities, Ortigia toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Decorated in soothing whites and dashes of aquamarine, rooms put a contemporary spin on earthy Colombian style. The striking bathrooms are dressed with marble and Moorish tiles. With tactile furnishings, shuttered windows and exposed timber beams, Deluxe Rooms have the feel of a private residence; some have elegant four-poster beds. Hideaway romantics will love the Premium Rooms’ private patio and mosaic-tiled plunge pools. Book the Suite Del Virrey for unbeatable city views from its two rooftop terraces and outdoor Jacuzzi.
Framed by towering tropical plants, the heated freshwater pool slinks around the courtyard, passing beneath a striking antique wall that once separated two properties. It can be lively in the evenings: guests can bask in the refreshing waters until 10pm.
Golden-hued Aurum Spa offers massages, scrubs, aromatherapy treatments and am assortment of personalised pampering sessions in its two treatment rooms; treatments incorporate local ingredients, including Colombian coffee, pure tobacco, volcanic mud, horse chestnut and sea salt, and botanical Naturopathica oils, lotions and aromatherapy products are used too. Options include lemongrass and mimosa body scrubs and pure gold massages.
Leave the vitamins at home – stop by one of the city’s many juice stalls to get your fill from Colombia’s otherworldly tropical fruit.
Claim one of the stylish rattan sunloungers on the rooftop solarium for postcard-worthy views of Cartagena, or pedal around on one of the hotel's bikes. An additional tax charge of 16 per cent applies for Colombian nationals.
Under-11s stay free; cots are available on request. Junior Suites have a sofa bed for two children. The restaurant has high chairs and tot-pleasing options. Babysitting can be arranged with 12 hours’ notice for US$25 an hour.
If you can tear your eyes away from the original Colombian art in the candlelit dining room, pick a table in the courtyard for an enchanting alfresco dinner.
Stick to loose cuts and breathable fabrics in the hot and humid clime, but bring designer accessories to feel at home in the hotel’s sophisticated atmosphere.
Oversized lanterns, comfy leather banquettes and luxuriant foliage decorate Alma’s refined dining room, which stretches out to the poolside courtyard. Chef Eljach’s contemporary Colombian cuisine makes the most of the area’s freshly caught seafood and exotic produce: expect zesty ceviche, sesame-crusted tuna and dry-aged churrasco.
Commandeer one of the sofas in the courtyard for an evening in. The resident mixologists whip up inventive twists on south-American classics: don’t miss the Humo Dulce, a concoction of tequila, mango and sriracha – a fiery accompaniment to conch croquettes and octopus carpaccio.
Breakfast is served 7am–11am, lunch 12.30pm–3.30pm and dinner 7.30pm–11pm.
In-room feasts such as lobster empanadas, Angus beef burgers and grilled sea bass can be ordered round the clock.
Hotel Casa San Agustín is right at the heart of Cartagena’s old town, a walled city of narrow streets, charming churches and attractive boutiques.
A 20-minute taxi ride from the hotel, Cartagena’s Rafael Nuñez International Airport has direct flights from New York and Miami, and seasonal flights from Canada. Connecting flights through Bogota are available to most major international cities.
The beaches are easily accessible by taxi and you won’t need a car to explore the walled city, but if you do bring your own wheels, the nearby Salomon Ganem building has indoor parking for around US$8 an hour.
Worth getting out of bed for
Much of Cartagena’s charm lies in its atmospheric walled city: set out on foot for a glimpse of the colourful history that played out among the picturesque churches and sorbet-hued colonial buildings. Framed by Baroque mansions and stately architecture, leafy Plaza de Bolívar is a good place to start. Gawp at bone-crushing devices in the Palacio de la Inquisición; nearby, the Zenú Gold Museum houses a rather more palatable collection of pre-Colombian artefacts and delicate indigenous filigree work. For a more up-to-date look at the nation’s cultural landscape, browse the stylish boutiques or head to the Museo de Arte Moderno to admire works by Alejandro Obrego, Fernando Botero, and Enrique Grau – Colombia’s native talent. The sea may sparkle enticingly beyond the city walls, but, bustling with touts and party-goers, Cartagena’s urban beaches are no Caribbean idyll. For clear waters and protected coral reefs, head to the Islas del Rosario; the hotel can arrange a trip on a private yacht and a chef to whip up an on-board feast.
You’d be remiss for leaving port without a taste of Cartagena’s fabulous seafood. Old-town address Don Juan has earned plaudits for its langoustine-laden menu of pan-Pacific delights. Head to nearby Vera for poolside linen-dressed tables and refined coastal Italian cuisine. Dress up and book ahead for dinner at Restaurante 1621, an upscale French restaurant with spectacular chandeliers, an enchanting palm-shaded courtyard and the best wine list in town. Hole-in-the-wall Andante Allegro Vivace dishes up nonna-worthy Puglian comfort food – expat owner Elena even makes her own pasta.
Try the fried fish at La Casa de Socorro (112 Calle Larga), a casual spot for a taste of Colombia’s coastal cuisine. There are several branches in town, but the one on Calle Larga is a local favourite. Cuzco serves hearty Peruvian fare in an atmospheric courtyard. Tabetai (36 Calle Segunda de Badillo) only has a few tables, but this beloved sushi bar is worth the wait. In Bocagrande, Kiosko El Bony is a low-key beach shack dishing up delicious fried and grilled fish. Di Silvio’s Trattoria’s pizzas are thin and crispy; take a seat on the street to soak up the up-and-coming Getsemani neighbourhood (9A Calle de la Sierpe).
If you’re in the mood for a sundowner, Café del Mar is blessed with Caribbean views from its perch atop the 400-year-old city wall. Nab a table at Café Havana – it’s best to get there before 10pm – to watch Cartagena’s hottest salsa dancers shaking their thing. Two left feet? We dare you to resist the infectious rhythms of La Vitrola’s Cuban band – especially after a mojito or two.
How many times can you Google a hotel before you find yourself, feet finally and almost surreally planted (after such anticipation, can it be real?), in the cool reception of your paramour? When it comes to Casa San Agustín in Cartagena's Centro Historico, the answer is: infinite clicks.
‘It is the best place to stay in Cartagena,’ a portly Glaswegian fellow told us in the rainy city of Medellìn, before Mr Smith and I embarked on our pilgrimage to the colourful, colonial town of eternal sunshine on the Caribbean coast. ‘Get a massage on top of the roof,’ another friend advised – duly noted and adhered to by myself (it was delicious. Firm, peaceful and invigorating all at once).
On arrival, a cool lime ‘mocktail’ is thrust into your hands, and a thankfully brief tour (the staff know that nothing is better than discovering a hotel yourself) reveals an impressive pool snaking around the courtyard. The pool, in a breath-taking historic setting, is set in the shade. Sunbathing is to be done on the small, hibiscus-framed solarium, where just two beds are to be hogged immediately by an English couple in want of a tan (ie. me and Mr Smith). The hotel has been sympathetically built within the Centro Historico's colonial walls, respecting the solid boundaries that pre-date the erection of this gorgeous 30-bed boutique hotel. The wall is dominating, beautifully marbled by a life well-lived. The effect is a swim in a spot that feels protected from the rest of the world, like you are a rare beast. And protected, you are from the hustle and bustle of the colourful Mochila bag-sellers outside the hotel; the men selling mango in sticky plastic packets on street corners; the women in colourful, tiered, ruffled dresses proffering watermelon; the tourists on bicycles (Casa San Agustín has some adorable sets of wheels that you may borrow, though we were a little too hot); from the dry heat of a city going about its day in a salsa dance of colour and noise.
No noise can be heard from Casa San Agustín's delicious, enormous white bed in our Deluxe Room, though. There is a quiet, leafy balcony; a bathroom with heavenly coloured tiles; a smart array of Ortigia shower miniatures. Is the sign of a great hotel the calibre of its miniatures? I'd warrant so. Just across from our room lies the drawing room, a chic and cool lounging space with an honesty bar that calls our name. Is it too early? ‘We are on holiday!’ we cry, pouring ourselves an amaretto for me; a whisky for him. Tiny biscuits are to be nibbled whilst we sip. No pushy waiter bustles in, service is discreet here. You are left to your own devices, and we were.
However, when we need a tricky internal airline called and boarding passes printed, all is done efficiently by the concierge at reception: tricky airlines soothed, boarding passes neatly folded into a monogrammed envelope. Service is not showy here. Nothing at Casa San Agustín is showy. It is quiet, efficient, and more often than not accompanied with a cool lime drink. Or, should you want (or need) it, a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot or Moët & Chandon on the solarium. On the subject of the solarium, an apology: we know we hogged the beds, but we couldn't help it; it was all too tempting to bake the day away, while peering nosily into the rooftop suite with its small plunge pool and four-poster day-beds. Who’s in that heavenly abode? we wondered.
Fortified by the honesty bar and a strong Hendrick’s G&T (in a glass the size of a modest fishbowl), after a day spent steaming in the sun and a long refreshing shower, we embark on a game of Scrabble, which I frustratingly lose. I may be a journalist, but my husband is a wily fox. My words are trumped by his numbers – or his manipulation of them. We move on to dinner in the hotel courtyard, where a medley of appetisers (lobster ceviche, ibérico ham and beef sliders) give way to traditional Colombian steak with chimichurri sauce. Before we move on (for drinks at El Barón or Café Havana; for people watching in the more robust area of Getsemaní) we take a minute to appreciate that we are staying in the best place in Cartagena. The pool’s warm lighting makes it shimmer, seemingly in agreement
The turndown service in our room has been completed by the time we return; the crisp inviting sheets and the towelling slippers by our bed await. There is a new day dawning soon; but for now, we have today at Casa San Agustín.