“ Address: Centro. Calle 34 / 11-15 La Matuna (Plazoleta Telecom) / Cartagena / Colombia „
Cartagena has two distinct areas, the historic centre and the beach resort of Bocagrande. We decided to make our one trip into two holidays by staying in both for a few nights, and started out here at the Hotel Stil. Though the city has tons of hotels, most of the ones you can book online on international reservation sites are the pricier ones. You can book hostels too, of course, but given the colossal heat of the Caribbean coast, we really wanted a few luxuries like an en suite shower and air con, so ended up picking from a more limited choice of budget hotels.
There were a few, mainly negative, reviews about the hotel, and I'm glad I ignored them as they were clearly written by those who are not Our Kind Of People. A number bashed the location, for example, but I thought it was excellent as you could walk into the centre within 10 minutes, and were surrounded by shops, banks and restaurants, most of which shut at a reasonable time leaving it quiet at night. This is in contrast to the very centre that seemed to keep going - noisily - all night long. We were also at the right end of town to visit the Fort, leaving us able to walk there and save the couple of pounds we would have to spend each way on a taxi. In Colombia, a couple of pounds is not to be sniffed at - and we got lunch for 2 one day with the money we 'saved' by walking to the Fort and back. The price difference for being those 10 strolling minutes away was immense too. While hotels in the centre were on a par with European cities - £100 or more per room per night, often on a no meals basis - here we paid £30 per night for our room, and got a buffet breakfast thrown in.
The hotel wasn't luxurious, but it was decent and the rooms were comfortable. We were on the top (10th) floor and had a great view of the Caribbean, even though the sea front was a few streets away. Our room had one double bed sensibly topped with just a thin sheet and equally thin fleece, but they'd tried to make it look nice with heavy embroidered cases on 2 of our 4 pillows. We didn't have much surface space, with a small bedside table at once side and a desk and chair at the other, but there were lots of shelves in the wardrobe in the corridor bit, and we had proper hangers, not those ones that cannot be removed from the rail. Though the rooms don't have personal safes, we were offered the option to leave any valuables in the big one behind reception.
The room came with a mini bar service...housed in a full size fridge. This was a great bonus as it meant we could store our own stuff in there too. The prices of their stock weren't that bad, but there were several big supermarkets within walking distance, so we bought water and snacks there. We also had a wall mounted TV which loomed towards us at a scary angle, but meant we could watch trash while lying down in bed which was novel. The standard (for here) cable package was included which meant several dozen channels in English including film ones, plus Sony, Fox and the WB, not just CNN.
The room didn't have windows you could open, and the glass was only single glazed from what we could tell, but we really weren't bothered by noise from the street, even when an impromptu political protest took shape outside the building next door. The air con worked wonderfully and was neither too noisy nor liable to drip a puddle onto the floor. Being green we switched it off when we were out, but the room soon cooled down again when we zapped it on on our return.
The bathroom was respectable and though the shower was cold water only, it wasn't really cold - more lukewarm, having passed through sun-warmed pipes along the way. It was great for twice daily coolings off and though not a power shower, it was more than the standard trickle found in many South American homes. The only toiletries provided were bar soaps which was fine as we were travelling with shampoo, but it seemed wasteful and unnecessary that they threw away our open soaps when they made up the room - we had one in the shower and one in the sink and they would easily have lasted several days. We only had one small towel each, and no bath mat, meaning the bathroom was the only bit that really indicated you were in a less developed country's idea of a 3 star hotel.
The rooms were kept clean and we had no visits from local wildlife (mossies, cockroaches) though I did get bitten quite a bit at the breakfast table, having foolishly decided it would be better not to apply toxic Deet before a session of eating with my hands (the option of washing off my paws not having occurred to me). We has a tiny gecko in our room one evening but the old adage was true, and I think he was more scared of us than we were of him.
Though there were some meeting rooms, the hotel didn't really have communal areas. There was one sofa and one arm chair in the lobby, but nothing else, and given the number of people coming and going you wouldn't have wanted to sit for any length of time and read down there, for example. The restaurant was up on the 1st floor and we went down for breakfast which started at 7am each morning. This didn't vary much but was, again, a good showing for a cheap hotel in this country. There were a few rolls / doughy croissants (they don't really do light and flaky here) plus sliced bread (albeit for eating cold - there was no toaster), and several cereals, as well as some unlabelled hot dishes of what appeared to be corn fritters, eggs and packet hot dog sausages or some variation of this. On the first day we had cheese too, but this didn't reappear on subsequent mornings, though there were a few jams in individual, flavour labelled portions. I wasn't a huge fan of the drinks- the 'juices' were sugary nectars- so I appreciated that they had jugs of water out too. The spread was quite basic but edible, even for non-egg-eating vegetarians.
I was more than happy with the service we received. We were able to check in before 12.30pm which was a bonus, and the one issue we had during our stay - when the wifi went down - was quickly resolved by them giving us the password for their protected, staff network for use in the lobby, and immediately sending someone up to fix our floor's. The internet was otherwise fast, reliable and free, and could be connected to while lying in bed which always helps. The hotel doesn't have a tour office but does advertise trips so we asked about going to the volcano. It took them a while to get us a price, and then it was almost double what we had expected, so we left it. Later on we got a better price from a small agency a few streets over.
The hotel had 2 dodgy lifts that weren't quite old Parisian cages but seemed equally temperamental and were a little slow - as most communal areas didn't have the same air con as our room, walking 10 flights, even down, wasn't an appealing option so we stood and waited.
Though I wouldn't have wanted to spend our whole week there, the Stil was a perfectly pleasant base for a few nights. The location was excellent and our room was spotless and showed signs of the renovation they claim was undertaken earlier this year. The breakfast was fine for a few nights and the price could not have been beaten. They don't have a pool or any outdoor space, but few hotels in the historic centre do, and I was much more concerned about having working air con in our room than a sun terrace.
I booked in May for our August stay, reserving through Hotels.com and getting Quidco cashback. Hotels.com quote Colombian hotel prices in dollars but don't take payment, and we were subsequently charged by the hotel in Pesos, but it was exactly the amount I had expected it to be, with no extra charges. It is cheaper for foreigners as you don't pay a certain tax, so I made sure I checked in with my passport and not my Cedula so they wouldn't think I was a legal Colombian resident (though, for another few days, I am).
The hotel has a website, which can be found here: