After many years of being known as one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to their Narcos and extremist groups, Colombia is now coming out the other side and becoming one of the hottest up and coming travel destinations. I recently spent a month in Colombia and Panama and found these countries to be safe, exciting, interesting and great fun.
Both countries have also kept up to speed with travel trends and have some fantastic boutique hotels. Here were my top 5 from my time in Colombia and Panama:
1. The Orchids Hotel, Bogota, Colombia
I nearly didn’t go to Bogota but I am so glad that I did! It is a fascinating and exciting city. It is also the home of the absolutely charming Orchids Hotel. The Orchids Hotel has only 8 rooms and it is like staying in someone’s beautifully decorated home. The only exception to this is that it has an actual glass elevator!
The service levels were fantastic. I had a very early start the next morning (4am!) and the concierge suggested that they provide me with a take away breakfast – which was fantastic. The Orchids also has a well-known restaurant that is booked up far in advance. However, guests can access a shortened room service menu which was excellent.
The rooms are stunning – a giant very comfortable bed, high thread count sheets, massive shower, lovely toiletries – and a good size. The location is incredibly convenient for exploring Bogota – literally only one block from the Botero Museum.
2. The Charlee Hotel, Medellin, Colombia
This is perhaps Medellin’s most luxe boutique hotel. It is has a great location in the heart of the El Poblado region – it is literally on the very popular Parque Lleras plaza and many of the best restaurants in the area are about a 10-minute walk away.
The unusual and stunning rooms feature both outdoor and indoor living and are big – a couple even have their own large Jacuzzis.
Most impressive is the huge gym and rooftop pool! The Ultra Wellness Centre is over two levels and has all the latest equipment as well as classes. It also features great views over Medellin as well as a steam room and a jacuzzi. However, the big highlight is the stunning rooftop pool – well named as the Envy roof top. This also becomes a popular bar in the evening.
3. The Alfiz Hotel, Cartagena, Colombia
The Alifiz Hotel is a 17th-century house tucked away in the old streets of Cartagena. There is literally a small sign and a bell with a small door that you almost climb through! Once inside you descend into a stunning oasis from the heat and pace of Cartagena into this 8 room boutique hotel.
The service level was fantastic. I arrived without a map and with some ideas of tours I wanted to do. The concierge sat with me and provided a map and an overview of the city. He pointed out key streets of interest for things like street art and also helped me contact a local tour company and make a booking.
My room was stunning – and importantly had wonderfully strong air conditioning and a ceiling fan! It is hot in Cartagena. The open room featured a massive square tub/shower. Each room is unique and has its own special name and story. I stayed in the Conquest Room which is decorated in honor of Pedro de Herdia, who founded the city of Cartagena in 1533. The King sized bed was very comfortable and the sheets were of excellent quality and the towels were nice and plush – and importantly there were several!
The hotel is riad style with an inside courtyard. Breakfast is served in the courtyard. This was a lovely 3-course treat – fresh pastries, fresh fruit, and eggs.
The front rooms serve as a library and reading room and there is also a small pool/jacuzzi on the top floor if you can navigate the steep and windy stairs!
4. The American Trade Hotel, Panama City, Panama
When you walk into the American Trade Hotel in Panama City you absolutely feel that you could see Ernest Hemingway sitting at the bar enjoying a cigar! It has a classic and simple style – gorgeous tiles, high ceilings, ceiling fans – that feels like it is from another era.
The hotel has a brilliant location right in the heart of the old town – Casco Viejo. It is possible to walk anywhere in the old town from the hotel and also possible to walk to the nearby fish market.
This style carries through to the large and stunning rooms. The ceilings in the room are also very high with ceiling fans. My favourite moment was when I realised the sheets were Frette – my favourite linen brand! The large bed was extremely comfortable and the room spacious. The bathroom also had a very high shower and featured another favourite brand of mine – Aesop toiletries.
The hotel has a gym and a small pool. The ground floor has a bar and a full restaurant. I had breakfast there which was ok but not as good as I would have expected.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about the hotel was the lobby. It was always buzzing and full of interesting looking people who looked like they were doing interesting things! You really felt like you were where things were going on in Panama City!
Finally, the hotel can also assist with your travel plans. They organised a car for me to go to Miraflores at the Panama Canal as well as the new Frank Gehry designed Bio Diversity Museum – both worth a visit.
5. The Art Hotel, Medellin, Colombia
This could be one of the coolest hotels I have ever stayed in! Their name is rather literal as there is art everywhere. The hotel is rather heavy on concrete and that plus the layout does mean that you sometimes feel like you are in a very stylish prison but in a positive way!
The rooms aren’t huge but they are big enough and the beds were comfortable with an acceptable thread count.
The highlight of the stay for me was the 6th floor. There is a fantastic outdoor bar up here where you can relax/work at any time of day. Breakfast is also held up here and was fantastic. On my first morning, the waitress managed to show me how to toast and then put butter and sugar on their special bread despite her lack of english and my lack of spanish! This was a delicious treat!
The location is fantastic. The Art Hotel is in the heart of El Poblado and a short walk to the key streets with loads of restaurants and bars. It is also only about a 15 minute walk to the El Poblado metro station.
One of the common elements of all of these hotels was the reasonable prices. In other cities, these hotels would be able to charge double or triple their standard rates. I highly recommend heading to Colombia and Panama as quickly as possible to take advantage of these great value boutique hotels!
Amanda OBrien is Owner of The Boutique Adventurer.