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May 01, 2013

A Posh Retreat in Cartagena

By Alia Akkam | Hotels

A Posh Retreat in Cartagena
Moris Moreno

Casa San Agustin sits in the Old City of Cartagena, Colombia, where colonial history thrives in colorful, balcony-strewn buildings overlooking narrow streets and lively plazas packed with rum-sipping locals. Boutique hotels populate this charming city on the Caribbean coast, but 30-room Casa San Agustin, which opened last November and includes six commodious suites, stands out for its authenticity and contemporary elegance.

Set in a trio of 17th-century whitewashed buildings, Casa San Agustin embraces Colombian culture—past and present—at every turn, from a ceramic urn perched regally on a stone staircase to a reverence for natural materials like jute. Cartagena’s history is most prominently felt at the intimate L-shaped swimming pool, marked by the striking, well-worn remains of an original aqueduct.

Days are searingly hot here, so an afternoon siesta is welcome. Guests head for the rooftop solarium or the library, where restored frescoes, gooseberry-infused water and an honor bar await. Those worn out from exploring circa-1500s cathedrals and eating bountiful lunches of shrimp ceviche—don’t miss the homespun version at La Cocina de Pepina (Callejón Vargas 9A-06) in the funky Getsemaní neighborhood—will relish the four-poster bed in the earth-toned guestrooms. High ceilings feature old wooden beams; the spacious bathrooms include hand-painted glazed tiles and Ortigia Sicilia toiletries.

Restaurants cram the city’s streets—and they should be savored—but a night in-house at Alma is a must. Helmed by chef Héctor Aguilar Valle, who previously worked in Lima, it showcases internationally influenced South American dishes like octopus carpaccio heightened by olive tapenade and lobster risotto topped with slow-braised-oxtail marmalade. There’s no better way to end the evening than with a drink in the courtyard surrounded by lush greenery—other than finding a post-turndown square of sweet tamarind paste sitting on your nightstand. Rooms start at $450; Calle de la Universidad No. 36-44; 855-272-1122; hotelcasasanagustin.com.