“ Rating: 5 star / Location: Carrera 100B #11A-99, Cali Colombia / Tel: 1-800-395-7046 „
I couldn't decide where to stay in Cali - in a hostel or in a nice hotel. Clearly the nice hotel won. But as I booked it I was sure it would offer value for money, despite its higher price tag. The Radisson is one of the fanciest hotels in Cali, but costs only the same as a Travelodge would at home. So, thinking in terms of pounds not pesos, I booked and looked forward to my trip.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The Radisson is in the south of the city. The airport is in the north. I chose to get the shuttle from the airport to the transport terminal, and then a bus from there. The hotel does offer a complimentary shuttle service but it is not very often, and the times were totally inconvenient for me. Still, the whole trip cost just 5500 pesos (under £2) door to door so I couldn't complain.
The hotel is in a bit of an odd neighbourhood, near the university and across from the massive Unicentro mall. It is 'the best hotel in this part of Cali' according to one of my taxi drivers, but from what I could tell it was also the ONLY hotel in this part of Cali. Still, it is a reasonably convenient location. There is a Carrulla supermarket right next door and the Mio public transport system stops just round the corner, taking you to most places in the city for only 1500 pesos a ride.
I arrived at about 7pm because I'd stopped at the mall for dinner first. The hotel makes a good first impression with staff leaping to help you. I handed in my passport (here's a tip: foreigners don't have to pay city tax, but I wasn't sure if that would include me since I am legally resident here, so I deliberately took my taxi to hand over instead of my local Cedula or ID card). Check in was quick but I was surprised I wasn't charged for the room at this point. I'd booked on Booking.com who don't take any kind of deposit, but I guess this is the kind of hotel where they expect you to charge lots of things to your room during the stay. I was given the key and some information about breakfast and then a bell hop grabbed my small weekend bag and carried it up to the room for me.
The room was lush and I was very happy with it. The hotel has various room types and I was in the cheapest but it was huge (bigger than my apartment in Bogota!) with lots of zones. I had a massive comfy bed that was neither too firm nor too soft. It didn't have one of those icky bedspreads on top (I always think their colourful patterns hide a multitude of sins) just sparkling white bedding. Although nearish to one wall you could easily get out at both sides. There were two bedside tables and two bedside lamps which was just as well as the room had no overhead light and could be quite dark unless you switched on all the small ones.
Opposite the bed was a unit with drawers and the TV. I was slightly irritated to find the remote wasn't really working - I think the batteries were going - so I had to use the buttons on the TV instead. With over 100 channels I would have quite liked a TV guide of sorts, but I muddled through. The unit also housed one of the two mini bars: this was the one for non-refrigerated foods including chocolate, crisps and a totally random tin of sardines with some crackers.
Beside the unit was the writing area with a large desk, another light, and another phone (the first was on one of the bedside tables, next to a digital alarm clock). There was a network cable but I'm not sure why because the hotel had Wifi throughout. Or rather, it claimed to. I was NOT impressed to find the signal so weak in my room. The only place I could get online was sitting on the floor of the entrance corridor. So that's what I did. If I'd been staying any longer I would certainly have complained about this, not least because the hotel was clearly far from full, so I'm sure other rooms, with a better signal, could have been available. The network is totally unsecured and no password is needed to log on.
Back in the main room, I also had a large window with 3 levels of curtains (black out, net and proper thick things) though the view of the neighbouring building's roof left a lot to be desired. I had a supremely comfy red two seater sofa, and an equally nice green rocking chair/arm chair hybrid. I think they were going for a Christmas theme. In the corner was yet another small lamp.
The room had a large wardrobe though it contained only 5 coat hangers. It also housed the small in room safe. Round the corner I had a sort of dressing area with sink and mirror, and through a door the proper bathroom with bath, shower and toilet. I always think it's weird when they separate these, but I guess it could be useful for two guests. One of my reasons for staying in nice hotels is always for the freebies and I was not disappointed here. The mini toiletries were shampoo, body lotion and bars of soap, plus a shower cap and a shoe shine. They were own brand (or rather Radisson brand) but they were nicer than most and even without conditioner, the shampoo left my hair manageable. Their current stock is citrus themed and I caught wafts for the rest of the day after soaping, shampooing and moisturising myself to citrus heaven.
This dressing area also had the second mini bar - a fridge with soft and alcoholic drinks. I know you expect them to be expensive, but considering the signs all over the room and hotel in general, saying "It's on us...we've lowered the prices on the mini bar!" I would not have expected them to be selling a bottle of water for 15000 pesos....or about £5.
The shower was not that easy to use. You couldn't contain the pressure (it was either on or off) but the spray was nice. However it took ages for the hot water to get there, something I would not have expected in a 5 star hotel, even in South America. There were also not that many towels. I had two bath towels (but then this was a room designed for two) and a hand towel next to the sink, but nothing else (though I could have pinched extras from the gym, I quickly realised).
Overall I was happy with the room. It was well maintained and comfortable although a little loud on the first night (I figured I'd call down to reception if they didn't shush by 10.30pm, but I was fast asleep by then).
MAKING ROOM FOR BREAKFAST
Another reason for choosing this hotel was the fitness facilities - a gym and pool. Cali is supposed to be hot, so I was looking forward to swimming outside, but it rained most of the time I was there so I almost didn't get the chance. I did, however, go to the gym both mornings before breakfast. 'Gym' is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. 'Fitness room' might be a better moniker for a place with two treadmills, a cross trainer, two spinning bikes and a few free weights. But, it was adequate and I always had the place to myself. There is a water cooler in this room which anyone can use - if you know where to look. Towels are also provided but these are massive bath towels, not really much good for hanging over a treadmill. From what I could tell, the gym was always open. You can access it from the steps near the pool, or inside from the special spa lift.
Treatments are also available during the day but there was no info about the cost of these, and I didn't bother investigating.
The pool looked nice and I was sad I didn't get to try it on day one. It is a good size but is overlooked by the restaurant, so is not all that private. On my final morning though it rained heavily while I had breakfast, it cleared up a little so I decided to take the plunge. I'm not sure I'd call it a heated pool like they do, but it wasn't icy cold and was clean enough, with just a few leaves etc floating by. There is a large Jacuzzi attached but I couldn't get this to work so I went back into the pool for a few final lengths. The gym elevator was fab as it meant I could wrap up in a towel and go back to my room, without scaring anyone at reception. I still had to walk round the corner to my room when back on the 5th floor, but as during most of my stay there was no one about.
I went to the gym early both mornings to make room for breakfast. It's my favourite meal of the day, and when it's a buffet I can really go mad, so I thought this way I could reduce the damage a little. For a hotel of this size, the breakfast room is rather small and oddly arranged with lots of tables for 6 and not many for 2 (or 1). In fact, on my first morning most of the tables were covered with other people's left overs. Said people had left, but the staff had not cleared up after them. This left me with a bit of a dilemma - take up a table for 6, or surround myself with others' half-eaten remnants. Day 2 was better: plates had been cleared but most of the tables hadn't been redone, so boasted only half the cutlery settings you would expect.
As for the food, well it was like the Curate's egg....good in parts. The selection was quite large and well laid out but there was a distinct lack of labels which, considering what they were serving, was far from helpful. I couldn't recognise half the food on offer, and most of the time there was no one there to ask, so I had to stick to stuff I knew. The buffer was sort of Colombian-meets-European with a bit of American thrown in.
There were lots of types of cut up fruit but they were all sitting out and beginning to lose their sheen. There were a few cereals and milk, but the only yogurt was a fruity one. There was also something that looked like purple Jello, though I'm sure it wasn't. Next along was the bakery selection, that wouldn't have looked out of place in a doll's house. These things were simply tiny - verging on ridiculously small. The selection was good, it was just the size that was off putting. I tried most of them, from the dry donuts to the slices of fresh bread to the muffins (my chocolate chip one had 4 chocolate chips in....I counted). The croissants looked good but were a bit doughy, as if they'd been frozen or if they had been made fresh, it wasn't by a pastry chef. To go on these there was butter and a berry jam, nothing more.
The hot food looked interesting but I think it all contained meat - it was greasy empendadas and soup and a rice dish, plus one morning little kebab things with plastic tinned hotdogs on (or that's what they looked like). Over on the other side was a toaster but the crustless bread was sitting out so was quite dry. There was also a selection of cheeses and cold meats, but not salad stuff. Finally, there were two freshly made options: eggs made by a chef, and waffles made by you in their fancy times waffle iron. I had one of these on morning one and it was thick and fluffy, but I couldn't eat it all. To go on these you could have honey, coconut or dulce de leche - in fact I nabbed some of the latter on my second morning to spread on the croissants.
Drinks included a number of juices but the orange was full of sugar - even the concentrated stuff here is all nectar and not nice proper juice. There was no water available, but I could have asked for some I'm sure. Hot drinks were brought to your table.
The thing I found most odd about breakfast was the way there never seemed to be anyone working in the breakfast room - all the staff seemed to huddle in the kitchen at the back, and only scurry out to replace dishes on the buffet. They have a weird system for signing - you are given a blank receipt and just write your name and room number on. I didn't understand this at first so was rather put out when, rather than coming across the room to me, a member of staff just called out "Qualquier" to me, indicating I could sign any one I wanted.
When I arrived, a beauty pageant of sorts was in full swing on the ground floor. I got the impression that this hotel was often the venue for various events, from fashion shows to weddings. There was a stage built out by the pool, and though it had gone by the morning the pool area was a tip. I saw it at 7am on the way to the gym, at 7.45am on the way back to my room, and at 8.30am as I headed down for breakfast, and although there were a few people milling around, it didn't seem to get much cleaner during that time.
I asked for a map when I arrived and was given a peculiar one made of wipe-clean tablecloth material. There was no other tourist information in the hotel which was a shame, and the in room folder listed a few places to go, but without address details.
Every morning I was automatically left a newspaper - a popular Colombian broadsheet. On day two I returned to find what I thought was a chocolate on my pillow - alas it was just a 'coffee flavoured caramel chew'.
The hotel serves food all day, and they do 24 hour room service too. This seemed reasonably priced with a fair few vegetarian options but I preferred to eat at Unicentro where they had some of my favourite restaurants and a great food court too (plus a-ma-zing gelato).
When I checked out the bill was slightly higher than I expected. Booking.com quoted me in £ but then confirmed in $, and I was subsequently charged in Pesos. When I examined the bill later I found not only tax I thought was included, but also what appeared to be a (ok, minimal) charity donation. They're a big hotel and most people who stay there I'm sure wouldn't begrudge them, but it would be nice if they asked. (They're into donations here - often at the supermarket I'm asked if I would like to help children / animals / the homeless while I buy my groceries, but at least they ask).
I'm glad I stayed here because I wanted one nice, fancy Colombian hotel experience. I paid about £65 a night including the breakfast buffet which is definitely reasonable by international standards, but at the same time I've had pleasant experiences in places where I pay £15 a night. For a special treat (or if travelling on business) it was a nice place, but the amount of travelling I do at weekends here, I don't think I could justify always staying in a place like this. It was nice, but not THAT nice.