Within the walled city of Cartagena exists a number of archival structures that makeup the historic center of the Colombian port; among them is Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena. The luxury colonial hotel was deemed a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1984 and its past– and the preservation of it — sheds light on the religious leaders, artists, and authors who came to shape the culture of the second-largest city in the Caribbean region.
Built in 1621, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara was originally a convent that housed the Poor Clares for 240 years. In the entryway of the property and throughout the ground level, which maintains its traditional Spanish colonial style, you’ll find religious relics from that time period, including a wooden statue of the founder of the Poor Clares, Saint Clare of Assisi. Many design elements also remain from the building’s original structure, one of them being a beam in the roof of the main entrance which reads, “This roof was built on April 5, 1788.”
After the nuns were evicted in 1861, the structure served many purposes, from a charity hospital, to a prison, and even a medical school, before becoming the luxury hotel property it is now. The Sofitel Legend consists of 125 rooms, 25 of which are suites, two restaurants, a lounge bar, swimming pool, and spa, all of which retain some element of the original details and Cartagena‘s rich history.
Within the Coro bar, for instance, is a staircase that leads to the crypt where the abbesses from the convent were buried. When the crypt was discovered during an excavation of the property in 1949, Gabriel García Márquez, then a student at the Universidad de Cartagena, was sent to cover the news as a reporter. The revealing served as the inspiration for the famed author and Nobel Prize winner’s 1994 novel Of Love and other demons. And, yes, you can indeed wander down the steep stairway to see the space for yourself. There’s even a guestbook where you can sign your name.
Fernando Botero is another famous Colombian whose legacy lives on within the falls of the Sofitel Legend. On the third floor of the colonial area of the property sits the Fernando Botero Presidential Suite named after the artist and sculptor who was born in Medellín. Overlooking the pool, the living area, which is adorned with portraits of Botero and his artwork, was once where the Poor Clares would perform their sewing work as they stared out the picture window and out to the sea.
The grand space is one of four Iconic Suites on the property. The others are the Amaral Suite, which has two rooms, a private jacuzzi, and a terrace facing the sea, and features original art from Jim and Olga de Amaral. The Enrique Grau Suite, named after the Colombian artist, which is split into a downstairs area for socializing and an upstairs bedroom. And finally, the Ana Mercedes Hoyos Legend Suite, inspired by the white textiles made by the Poor Claires, features work from the Colombian painter which honors the pelenqueras, or women who sell fruit in the street.
If you’re looking for an even more unique accommodation experience, Sofitel recently introduced the The Colombian Royal Treatment package in partnership with its sister property, Sofitel Barú (more on that below). The four-night offering includes two nights in a superior room at Sofitel Legend complete with an Emerald Spa Ritual for two. The 150-minute session inspired by the Colombian stone is crafted to fully immerse mind body, and soul with the sequence of a body scrub, aromatic pindas bath, massage, and facial. Regardless of whether you choose this special, don’t leave the property without indulging in at least one relaxing service at the Hammam spa.
Jardín Santa Clara is one of two restaurants on the property and features traditional Colombian gastronomy with mediterranean flavors. Located in the center of the hotel, it offers a casual indoor-outdoor feel which matches the healthy, yet fulfilling menu of salads, and baked and grilled meats. I’m a personal fan of the Chicharrón de cerdo.
In 1621 Restaurant, you can enjoy an upscale dining experience where the Poor Clares used to have their daily meals. The wine cellar within the restaurant, which was awarded by Wine Spectator for eight consecutive years, is a must-see. (I’d recommend a wine or rum tasting as well.) Gourmet french cuisine combined with traditional Colombian dishes served in multiple courses is what you can expect as you take in the 17th century ambiance. You will regret not trying the onion soup and heart of palm.
While you could end your Colombian adventure in Cartagena, I encourage you to take your travels from historic city to seaside haven, with a short catamaran ride to the Sofitel Barú Calablanca Beach Resort. In fact, if you take advantage of The Colombian Royal Treatment offer, transportation is included along with a two-night stay in a superior room and the Vida de Reyes Ritual at the spa. The experience, inspired by ancient practices, includes a 30-minute facial, a 30-minute body exfoliation, a 40-minute massage, and a sensorial hydromassage.
A complementary healthy lunch is included in the treatment and is just one of several exceptional meals you can enjoy at Sofitel Barú. Bahía Restaurant is surf and turf meets South America, with fresh, light fare served to diners as they look out into the Caribbean Sea.
Humo provides a flavor immersion like no other with its mix of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, French and Peruvian cuisine. Every dish is a work of art and an explosion of flavor, from corn on the cob brought to you on a steaming griddle to a dessert made with chocolate and pistachios shaped like a withering tree — and of course, the freshest sushi around.
A total of 10 towers house 187 rooms at Softiel Barú, including 23 suites. Floor-to-ceiling windows leading out to either a private terrace or balcony makes you feel like you’re still outdoors taking in the hot sun and breathing in the fresh air. There’s plenty of space for two in the superior rooms, and with the Caribbean Love package, you can easily turn your stay into a baecation.
You can also comfortably do a girls getaway or family vacation with a stay in the Casablanca Suite which comes with either two king beds or one king bed and two twin beds with up to 1485 sq ft of space. L ́Occitane amenities are the icing on the cake when it comes to these open airy spaces.
Speaking of open spaces, you’ll find plenty to lay out, whether you’re a beach babe or like to lay poolside. With decks along multiple pools on the property, crowding isn’t something you’ll have to worry about, which adds to the serenity of the picturesque scene.
The lush greenery and natural landscape speaks to the resort’s commitment to sustainability. Sofitel is the first and only hotel on the island of Barú to have LEED certification and you’ll notice the widespread elimination of plastic on the property, from the cartons of water in the room to the wooden room keys, and biodegradable packaging.
As climate change continues to be at the forefront of environmental concerns, those elements add peace of mind. And if you want to up the tranquility factor, don’t hesitate to book a signature service at the spa. The Ayurvedic treatment is one of the specialities and just what your body will need whether you’re fighting off jet lag or shaking off stress from the prior work week.
When it comes to vacations, people often lean toward big cities or lush beaches. I’ve always fallen in the middle, looking to explore the history and culture of a city while being able to swim up to a bar and have a drink a few days later. Sofitel’s Colombian properties are perfect for travelers like me who crave the best of both worlds and want to experience them in the most luxurious way possible.