Amarla: a tranquil haven in Cartagena's old town

 (Phoebe Montague)
(Phoebe Montague)

Beautiful Cartagena de Indias is described as the jewel of the Caribbean sea. The city has a well-deserved reputation for great food, music and crystal-clear waters which make it a must-see for any visitors to Colombia.

And for anyone seeking a bit of rest and relaxation, Amarla is the place to go. A tiny boutique hotel (it has just six rooms) par excellence, it combines affordability with luxury in a way that has made it a favourite for travellers, new and returning.


As far as location goes, Amarla can’t be beaten: tucked into the maze of winding old streets in Cartagena’s centre, it’s mere steps away from some of the city’s biggest tourist attractions (including the iconic Torre del Reloj city gates), and yet you wouldn’t be able to tell from how quiet it is inside.

More importantly, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from some of the city’s best food and drink: the award-winning restaurants Celele, Candé and Alma are less than a fifteen minute walk away, while trendy bar Alquimico (itself a go-to for its rather bonkers cocktail offerings) is two minutes walk. In other words, there’s no excuse for not making the most of what the city has to offer while you stay at Amarla.


 (Phoebe Montague)
(Phoebe Montague)

Like most of the buildings in Cartagena’s city centre, the hotel is located inside a gorgeous townhouse which dates back to the 1700s — and it still retains plenty of its old-timey charm.

Stepping inside, the first sound that greets you is the trickling of water from the numerous water features dotted around the open-plan atrium. The space is strewn with sofas, the work of local artists and the centre is dominated by two huge native trees that stretch up through the open central space to the top floor.

It’s a paradise of white-washed walls and peaceful, open spaces made for relaxing in, which makes it a welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle outside.

Upstairs, the chic design continues: Amarla’s motto is very much quiet luxury, which means silk robes hanging in the bathroom, beds so plush you sink into them and ever-attentive staff who are as willing to hang up all the clothes left strewn on the floor (which happened to me, embarrassingly) as they are to provide advice on what to do in the city.


 (Phoebe Montague)
(Phoebe Montague)

This being an old building, there isn’t a lot of space for amenities like a gym or spa — more’s the pity. Though in-room massages can be organised for guests. Then again, maybe it’s just an excuse to kick back and relax on the beautiful rooftop.

After a long, sweaty day of sightseeing, the perfect antidote to the heat is a dip in the pool. It’s surrounded by views of the city, as well as numerous deckchairs and shady nooks to kick back in and read your holiday book. Plus, there’s an upstairs bar; what’s not to like?

And if you’re keen on diving headfirst into Colombian culture, Amarla has you covered — the hotel offers salsa dancing lessons, rum tasting and cooking classes among other things (anybody for a cigar-rolling session?) which can be booked via the main desk.

Food & drink

 (Phoebe Montague)
(Phoebe Montague)

If you’re a coffee lover, be sure to try the hotel’s brew which makes the most of Colombia’s vibrant coffee scene. Ask for the pour-over; it’s how the locals drink it – or, even better, sign up for an in-house coffee tasting session.

The breakfast is a feast for the eyes: mounds of sliced local fruits served with chia seeds, local food including arepas (fried corn flatbreads), with eggs and spicy salsa, and the standard brunch options — avocado grows naturally here, which made my regular morning order of avo on toast considerably less guilt-inducing. And yes, it really does taste better.

The hotel also offers lunch and dinner — most of which lean heavily on Colombian cooking, with plenty of rice, plantain fritters and freshly cooked fish thrown into the mix.

And for those who fancy a night in, there’s also the opportunity to book a romantic meal for two and dine on the hotel’s picturesque rooftop, surrounded by the bustling cityscape and the shimmering pool. Life could be worse.


 (Phoebe Montague)
(Phoebe Montague)

What are you waiting for? Get out there and explore! As one of the most vibrant cities in Colombia, Cartagena flaunts its beauty unapologetically. A wander around the old city centre and the adjoining Getsemani neighboorhood are a must — simply to soak in the old buildings and gorgeous colours.

The staff at Amarla provided us with a full list of recommended restaurants, bars and shopping locations upon arrival, with promises to book whichever ones took our fancy for the night. For foodies, the city is a culinary hotspot. Celele ( and Candé (, located just down the road, serve up sophisticated, high-concept takes on Colombian cuisine.

It’s also well worth making a trip to visit La Cevichería (, popularised by Anthony Bourdain in his TV show No Reservations. The octopus in peanut sauce is a must. And La Cocina de Pepina is a no-fuss local favourite which serves up classics like prawn rice, served with local fruit juices and viche, a Colombian liquor.

If you’re hankering to go further afield, Cartagena is located on the Caribbean Sea, and a day trip out to the Rosario islands are a must. Leaving from the city’s bustling port, it’s an hour-long trip by speedboat to one of several remote hotels, where you can go snorkelling, diving, or just kick back on on a gorgeous beach before heading back in the evening (expect to pay around £90 per person for this).

Best for

 (Phoebe Montague)
(Phoebe Montague)

Though Amarla’s Panama branch is adults-only, the same doesn’t apply for Cartagena; and we did see a family of four enjoying the upstairs pool during our stay. That said, the limited size of the rooms means it might be a bit of a squeeze for more than two people.

The hotel is perfect for people seeking downtime from the hustle and bustle — or at least a tranquil place to return to after a busy day sightseeing.

Which room?

With only six rooms under its roof (the house’s age also means that said rooms are quite small), competition for the best ones are fierce – the hotel is regularly booked out months in advance.

But if you can: plump for one of the bigger rooms. Top of the pile is the Parakeet, which is a split-level room tucked away in the hotel’s rafters. There’s a mezzanine level with a king-size bed, as well as a snug library space with sofas, books galore and a TV, perfect for kicking back after a long day of sightseeing.


Rooms start from £130 a night;