I arrived to Cartagena de Indias on my birthday. It was Sunday morning, exactly 17 days ago. At 8am, I checked into Casa Boutique Veranera, an adorable five-room hotel built around a leafy inner patio in the San Diego quarter of the old town. The day started with a delicious Cartagenero breakfast: fried arepas with egg and a plate of fruit, accompanied with freshly squeezed juice and delicious Colombian coffee. Exhausted from the intense run around Medellín for four days, I then decided to take a siesta. And what a sweet nap it was.
After a stroll around the wistfully beautiful old town, I returned to Casa Veranera for another siesta. I was determined to take it easy on my birthday! My room – cozy, cheerful and well-equipped – opened up onto a rooftop terrace. So the second siesta of the day found me lounging on the terrace of Casa Veranera for another two hours, feeling the breeze coming off the sea and watching the sun light fade, slowly.
I did go out for a solo birthday dinner that night but, looking back, would have been perfectly happy to stay at the hotel. Casa Veranera felt more like a vacation home of a friend who’s taking good care of you. The lovely staff – Marilyn, Jose, and Katrina – go out of their way to make you feel at home. And they succeed.
Rooms start at $165/night and go up to $195/night, including breakfast. There’s a spacious suite ($285/night) on the second floor.
The next morning I checked into the recently opened Tcherassi Hotel. Unveiled in October 2009, the property was developed by owner Silvia Tcherassi, Colombian-born Miami-based fashion designer who is acclaimed for her creative, innovative and eclectic collections. From the moment I walked into the airy atrium of the meticulously restored 250-year-old colonial mansion, I was swept away. Perhaps it was the vertical garden with over 2000 local plants, or the four pools, or the rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the old town and the sea, or the serene all-white decor… It felt like walking into a stylish fairy tale.
And all that before I even saw my room for the night. When the doors opened and I entered Ziberline (each of the seven rooms and suites is named after the elegant fabrics used in Silvia Tcherassi’s collections), I thought: I am not leaving these four walls the whole entire day! I was in love. In love with the 30-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, wooden beams… Totally enchanted with the open-style bathroom featuring a stand-up rain shower and a bathtub… And when I stepped out onto my very own balcony facing the narrow street of the old town, I thought how perfect it would be to install myself there for days and days, writing away. Maybe I could even channel the spirit of magical realist literature that I so loved.
Sadly, time was short. I was to stay for only one day. I did manage to enjoy an invigorating bamboo massage at the Tcherassi Spa and the chirp of tiny frogs that start singing their tropical song come night. At first I thought this nature sound, so intense, was surely piped in. When I learned it was the song of the frogs that live in the vertical garden, I loved it even more.
The dinner at the chic Italian restaurant, Vera, was a multicourse feast that my taste buds still fondly recall. I’ll admit that Italian isn’t my normal choice of cuisine but this was something else. Not only were the flavors distinct and adventurous but each course was carefully and lovingly explained by chef Daniel Castaño, the Colombian-born disciple of Mario Batali who moved from New York to Cartagena for the hotel opening. When I returned to the room at 1am, I drew a bath, despite an early flight awaiting me the next morning. And then waited on the balcony, watching the moonlit street below…
Room rates start at $295/night and go up to $895 for the suite.
Disclaimer: My stay at both of the above was hosted by the hotels themselves. The photos were provided by the properties.