“ Address: Avenida El Melecón Carrera 1 No. 5 - 82 / Bocagrande / Cartagena / Colombia / Tel: (575) 6657527 „
Our second hotel in Cartagena was a beachfront one in the Bocagrande area. The place is packed with tall, modern hotels (Benidorm style) and I didn't have a clue which one to go for, as all seemed to have mixed reviews. In the end, I booked the Regatta on the recommendation of my school's director who, although not having stayed there himself, passed on the praise of his wife and daughter who went there for a long weekend. Located about 20 minutes from the airport (taxi is $16,000 or just over £5) and 10 minutes from the Old Town (taxi is $6000 or £2), the hotel is in a prime location facing the Caribbean. We arrived early, about 10.30am, as we were coming from our cheaper, city hotel, and as the taxi pulled up I was instantly impressed. A bell boy jumped out to grab our bags and although they were talking to each other when we arrived, the reception staff immediately stopped, mid-conversation, and turned to attend to us. With check in not until 3pm we hadn't expected the room to be ready, but were given some hotel info which included the location of the swimming pools, which we took as a sign that we should go and use them until the room was ready... We went for lunch and came back to find it still being cleaned, but dot on 3pm it was available and we were shown up.
~~ Rooms With A VIEW ~~
I think there are different types of rooms and I did wonder whether we got a better one for being foreign and/or paying a higher rate (though it was cheap by our standards) but our room was STUNNING. It was absolutely huge, and had massive windows looking our onto the Caribbean on both sides of the bed, with another window angled towards the old town which is only a few km away and lit up beautifully at night. We had wondered what it would be like not having a balcony - something we are used to on beach holidays, but which is rare in Cartagena - but we didn't miss it as the view was so good. The windows also opened which was unexpected; although only on the 5th floor, falling out would have caused quite a splat. Rooms higher up had these windows too - hurray for Colombian (lack of) health and safety law.
Our room had the largest bed I've ever slept in, which must have been bigger than King. Booking online hadn't given me the option of twin beds, and the hotel was full so we couldn't switch to one of those, but with the size of the bed it really didn't matter. It was made up with a quilt which seemed hilarious given the temperature outside, but since we had air con the room remained cool. We also had beautiful fluffy pillows, two each, which I loved lounging on and quite wanted to steal. Both sides of the bed had bedside tables - useful for her glasses and Kindle, and my remote controls and earrings. The storage space was in fact excellent throughout, and we made a 'library' on one of the many shelves (if you can call 5 trashy magazines and 3 review paperbacks a library). The wardrobe had lots of hangers and more shelves, and also housed the safe though I managed to lock this on day one (thankfully empty) and we couldn't open it again, though I'm sure reception would have helped had we asked.
The room also included a kitchen though this was not advertised, so came as a nice surprise. I got the impression this used to be marketed as an aparthotel but wasn't any more, which explained why we had an unplugged hob (with no gas supply remaining). Though we couldn't cook, therefore, it was great to have the extra counter space. We had a minibar that, although stocked, had extra room for our stuff, and there was a kitchen sink which was handy for when we picnicked. In the kitchen there was a bin, and opposite, a full length mirror - two things I find sadly lacking in many rooms.
The bathroom was equally impressive, with a massive shower cubicle that boasted hot water (a rarity for the coast). The doors stuck a bit as you tried to slide them, but although the flow was powerful, the jets pointed downwards so you could shower with the shower door open and not soak the bathroom. Toiletries were upgraded to reflect the hotel's 4 star status, and included always useful small packets of tissues, and fancy exfoliating soaps. The one downside was that we only had one towel each (plus hand towel and bath mat) but again, I'm sure we could have asked for more if it had really bothered us.
The TV was large and included some 100 channels, more than a third of which were in English. The air con was simple to use and worked well - though we switched if off while we were out, the room stayed quite cool if we'd had it pumping overnight. The room was kept very clean, and the sand I trekked in every day vanished as if by magic. The maid seemed to think my mother was in charge of our room (as if!) and always returned the TV and air con remotes to her side of the bed, but otherwise the room was left perfect. I especially liked that the maid came in early, so by the time we came back to the room for lunch it was always finished.
~~ Restaurant ~~
The buffet restaurant is at the front on the ground floor and looks towards the sea but without a view of it, if you see what I mean. It is open for 3 meals a day but we only sampled breakfast, as that was included in our rate. This was, again, an upgraded version of what we had enjoyed at the previous hotel with more of everything: more juices, more types of bread and cereal and so on. The cooked dishes included things like sausages and corn fritters, while eggs were cooked to order. They had little mini pastries as well as rolls and brown and white bread for toasting, and both cheese and ham showed up every morning, though sadly the first day's pancakes never reappeared. Coffee was served at your table but service varied - sometimes we were offered second cups, sometimes we had to ask. They also practiced the standard Latin American thing of whizzing away your plates as soon as you had finished, which seemed contrary to their displays about wastage: these stated that it was bad for the planet to help yourself to more food than you could eat, but I think it could apply to plates too, and I will happily reuse mine for second, and third, trip to the buffet.
One morning I was making toast and turned up the level of the browning, much to the distress of several waiters who came over and wanted to pop up my bread. I kindly explained that I wasn't Colombian and didn't, therefore, want hot bread, but instead wanted it (cue mad searching of the brain for the correct Spanish phrase), um, bronzed like skin in the sun. Ah, said the final waiter, and you too are bronzed from the sun. This was my last morning, so I had indeed been working on said tan, but it was very nice of him to notice.
The breakfast buffet was reasonable by most standards, and exceptional for Colombia, so we were very happy with it. They never ran out of food and it was always nicely presented. Breakfast started from 7am but they must have let people in early as we were rarely later than 7.05am and never the first ones there. You didn't have to hand around waiting to register your number either: the coffee waiters either tried subtly to spot your room key, or would ask as they were serving you.
Information in the room told us that Room Service was on offer....but menus were not provided so we had no clue what it would be.
~~ Facilities ~~
I was pleased that this was the hotel my director of studies recommended because I knew it had 2 pools. I hadn't realised how small they were, or that they would be upstairs, but in the end it all worked out well. The pools were on the 11th and 18th floors, and both came with sun terraces though these only amounted to 3 sun loungers on each and either one or two plastic tables and chairs. It is a reflection of (a) our ability to get up early and (b) the locals' odd aversion to swimming that we always managed to get 2 of the 3 loungers on offer, whichever pool we were beside. Most mornings we also had our chosen pool to ourselves as well, though at the weekend they got a little more crowded. The pools had great views of the sea and the city, and though there was a building site next door, we soon zoned it out. Both pools were oddly shaped and neither got very deep - little old me could stand up all over both - but they were well designed with lots of spaces to lie so you could sunbathe while also staying cool by resting in an inch or two of water.
The hotel has a sort of terrace bar with live music at the weekends, and the lobby is big and air conditioned, but like most Colombian hotels it didn't run to much in the way of tourist information. There were two lifts which seemed quite quick and served the hotel's 20-something residential floors. The wifi was ok but only worked in our room if you sat near the door - perhaps because it was SUCH a big room that being on the other side, lying on the bed, took you out of signal range. Still, we managed to log on night and day as we wanted, and it was quite fast.
~~ Surroundings ~~
The hotel is beachfront, but doesn't own any of the beachfront if you see what I mean: the area in front of our hotel (and all others for that matter) was covered with odd shelters that were erected each morning and charged for by whoever was running that patch. No loungers were available. The beach was clean and the water warm, but going there was a hassle for two reasons. Firstly, because you get bothered every few minutes by someone wanting to sell you something or massage you or braid your hair or just generally ask for money. It makes relaxing on the beach less of an option, so in the end we would go down with towels only, leaving the key at reception and not taking any money, and have a swim but then come back to the hotel pool to relax. Secondly, because the security guard at the hotel (not to be confused with the doorman, bellboy or receptionist) was obsessed with keeping dirty sandy people out of the nice clean hotel. I could see his point, but I objected to being told, quite abruptly, to walk up the driveway to the car park, shower by the side of the path (which, by the way, was not for pedestrians, just cars) and then enter the hotel through the dark and potentially dangerous upper level car park to catch the lift up to our floor.
The hotel is well located about halfway along the promenade making it close to all shops and restaurants in Bocagrande. There were two supermarkets within a 3 block walk, the basic Asda-esque Olympica, and the much lovelier Carulla, which is nothing if not a Colombian take on Waitrose. We were also close to two coffee shops, McDonalds and Crepes y Waffles, and lots of individual restaurants. Most were overpriced but then Cartagena is the most expensive place in Colombia, and we still managed to eat out, albeit reading menus carefully first to check we weren't paying twice as much as we had to for our pizza or pasta.
You can get busses from here into the old town. You could even walk, but you'd be doing it in either the oppressive heat (even at 9am it's scorching) or the pitch black (night comes by 6.30pm, and only then does it begin to cool off). Most people travel by taxi, but you'd be adding $12,000 to your expenditure, even before you find somewhere to eat. For $12,000 you can get a crepe in my favourite place (which doesn't hike its prices substantially for its resort restaurants) so although we're only talking about £4, it's still in my mind £4 that could be better spent elsewhere. For this reason, we didn't return to the old town once we'd changed hotels, and instead invested our time and energy in the very important activity of doing nothing.
~~ The Bottom Line ~~
We booked through Opodo as they had the best rate for our dates, and paid £65 per night for a room for 2 and buffet breakfasts. There were no extra fees or taxes, and booking through Quidco I also got cashback of a bit over £13 - not to be sniffed at. For such a well located 4 star hotel I thought this was a great price and we really enjoyed the stay, including extended siestas lounging around our plush room, so it seemed like excellent value for money.