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Review: Ermita Cartagena, Marriott Tribute Portfolio

Length of Stay
5 nights
Room Type
King Room
Elite Status
Marriott Titanium
Date
March 2022
Rating

To cap off my trip to Colombia, I spent a very long weekend in the vibrant coastal city of Cartagena. I stayed at Ermita Cartagena, a Tribute Portfolio hotel with the Marriott Bonvoy program.

Ermita served as a home base for me and a few friends who happened to be visiting at the same time. Ricky also dropped by, stationed not too far at the Hyatt Regency Cartagena. Together, we used Ermita as a space to enjoy food and drinks, and as a jumping-off point for other activities and sightseeing.

In This Post

Ermita Cartagena – Booking

I planned to spend three nights in Cartagena. I booked a stay at Ermita for about CA$115 per night, taking advantage of the double Elite Qualifying Nights promotion.

I decided to extend my stay by two nights to see more of the city and to accommodate the whirlwind of friends I was crossing paths with. Last-minute cash rates were CA$285 – very costly as occupancy seemed high – so I opted to book with points instead.

A Category 4 property at the time, I was able to snag two nights for the standard rate of 25,000 Bonvoy points per night, a value of 1.14 cents per point – a very solid redemption when spontaneity comes calling. Going forward, award bookings for the hotel remain in the range of 20,000–30,000 points per night.

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Ermita Cartagena – Location

The hotel is located just outside the walled city. It’s about a 10-minute walk to the nearest entrance in either direction.

More Cartagena Hotels

Most of the city’s attractions are within the historic centre. Short of choosing accommodation within the walls (of which there are many, including a Hilton Curio Collection, a Hyatt Small Luxury Hotel, and a Sofitel), the location is about as good as it gets for sightseeing on foot.

Ermita is to the northeast of the walled city, across the road from an unobstructed but unremarkable beach. This road, a convenient route to the airport, isn’t as developed or geared towards tourists as some other areas adjacent to the walled city. There’s more built-up party energy in Bocagrande, and more street art and café culture in Getsemani.

Ermita Cartagena – Check-in

The property is a uniquely charming boutique hotel. The main building is a former colonial mansion, with striking white tones inside and out.

Ermita Cartagena – Exterior

The building is laid out to make use of the original architecture, with the lobby encompassing the foyer and the main hall.

The foyer is centred around a vase and chandelier, with seating and tables while you wait for your ride. Carved mermaids adorn the walls, as you’ll find the coastal city slightly leans into nautical themes all over the place.

Ermita Cartagena – Lobby

Beyond the archway flanked by colonial trellises, the front desk is to the left, with seating to the right for while you wait to check in or out.

The front desk staff wear classy white uniforms to match the building. Their professional outfits and conduct are augmented by their exceptionally friendly demeanour. With the hotel squarely catering to tourists, the front desk staff here are arguably the best English speakers of any I encountered in Colombia.

With my Titanium Elite status, I was offered a bar credit as a welcome benefit, which was good for a domestic beer or glass of wine. Not much, but always a nice perk.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room

The hotel’s guest rooms are in an adjacent building, constructed more recently and without any distinct exterior architectural elements. In the hallways and inside the rooms, however, there are design cues galore taken from the main building’s colonial style.

The room numbers are backlit, making use of negative space in a simple but stylish pattern.

Ermita Cartagena – Hallway to guest rooms

With no luck suite-talking, I was in Room 101 for the first two nights of my stay, and got upgraded to an ocean view from Room 324 when I extended. By and large, the two spaces are virtually identical.

The view from Room 101 is little more than a service corridor, but it was a fine trade-off for the convenience of proximity to the lobby and restaurants.

Room 324 has an ocean view in name only, a peekaboo side view which is hardly a view at all compared to a head-on oceanfront vista. However, the position of the room in the hallway is rather private – few other guests pass by, as the hotel’s shared spaces and facilities are located elsewhere.

You enter directly into the main part of the room, with a standard configuration of a king bed to the left, with a pair of nightstands.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room

Above the headboard, the muted floral wallpaper is adorned with prints of black-and-white sketches of the colonial mansion’s original features and architecture.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room

Across from the bed, there’s a wall-mounted TV. Beneath the TV, there’s a desk with a stylish chair that was more inviting to colonial-era handwriting work than it was for modern computer work.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room

At the desk, there’s also a snack station and a mini-fridge. Both had a modest mix of local items and brands that would be familiar to international tourists.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room snacks
Ermita Cartagena – King Room fridge

For lounge seating, there’s a chaise on one side of the bed, and a cushioned bench beside the desk.

The colour scheme was, for lack of a better phrase, beach-suave: lots of white and tan wood, with blue fabric and tile accents. Various surfaces, including the cupboard doors and drawer panelling, uniformly featured a thatched wicker covering as a finishing touch.

The bathroom is to the right of the room, with a large circular mirror above the sink.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room entry

Making efficient use of space, the room’s closet is tucked against the bathroom wall, housing an ironing board and a safe.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room closet

The toilet and shower are divided from the sink by a sliding glass door. Geometric patterns reminiscent of the colonial aesthetic adorn the tile and glass. The flow from shower head was soft but effective.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room bathroom

Bathroom amenities were pretty standard, with a level of refinement suitable for a Tribute Portfolio property.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room bathroom amenities

Additionally, I was provided with a simple amenity kit laid out on the nightstand upon my arrival, consisting of COVID-19 essentials like a mask and sanitary wipes, as well as earplugs.

Ermita Cartagena – King Room health & safety amenities

Finally, the air conditioning was spot-on, eliminating the rampant coastal humidity without turning the room into an icebox.

Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast

The hotel’s main restaurant is open for breakfast daily from 6:30am to 10:30am. Breakfast is included in all room rates at Ermita, regardless of your elite status.

You can order à la carte, or opt for the buffet. You can order off the menu and also snack on the buffet without any trouble. Restaurant staff come around to take orders for à la carte dining and coffee, and the buffet is self-serve.

The à la carte menu features Middle Eastern dishes, inspired by the evening Lebanese menu. On my first morning, I ordered a shakshuka, anticipating poached eggs in a saucy tomato skillet. Instead, I got something more akin to the opposite: diced tomatoes in a fluffy egg skillet. It was tasty in its own way, but it was a far cry from the deeply flavourful concept I was expecting.

Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast shakshuka

I stuck to the buffet for the rest of my stay, which was perfectly suitable. Overall, it was similar to other Colombian hotel breakfasts, with a smattering of little standout items.

There’s standard Colombian breakfast fare, including calentado, scrambled eggs, and a rotation of fried empanadas and tequeños.

Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast calentado
Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast scrambled eggs

Among the usual breads, the pastry selection featured yucca cheese bread and chocolate cake. Not to mention, the fresh chocolate croissants were the most snackable in the whole country.

Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast pastries and fruits

There’s a cereal and yogurt bar, with lactose-free alternatives. Orange juice is served daily, while the rotating juice of the day ranged from familiar fruits to Colombian specialties.

Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast cereal and juice

Speaking of fruit, the fruit station was the most compelling one I encountered. It had a wider selection of familiar fruits than other hotels, such as kiwi and berries. It also had the most extensive selection of Colombian fruits, such as dragonfruit, guava, and uchuva (gooseberry). Most mornings it was staffed by a woman in traditional Palenquero attire, suitably pairing the local culture and colourful dress with local, colourful fruits.

Ermita Cartagena – Breakfast fruit

Ermita Cartagena – Dining

The main restaurant is called Salón de Mecedores. The dining room spans the indoor restaurant space in the facilities building behind the main colonial mansion, plus the outdoor plaza in between the two structures.

Ermita Cartagena – Indoor dining room
Ermita Cartagena – Outdoor dining room
Ermita Cartagena – Outdoor dining room from above

During the day, the former breakfast space serves a seafood lunch menu. I ordered the atollado de mariscos, essentially a seafood risotto with shrimp, squid, mussels, and octopus. My friends tried various other dishes, including coconut shrimp, shrimp and rice, and cazuela paisa (a traditional seafood stew).

Ermita Cartagena – Atollado de mariscos
Ermita Cartagena – Arroz con camarones
Ermita Cartagena – Cazuela paisa

The seafood was tasty and decent value, but we indulged in much better fare around town. I wouldn’t go out of my way to make the hotel restaurant a priority.

The hotel’s featured restaurant is called Señora Ayda, serving a Lebanese menu for lunch and dinner until 10pm.

Señora Ayda is located on the ground floor of the colonial mansion, in the room to the right of the lobby as you enter. There’s a mix of chairs and bench seating, with a royal colour scheme that invokes Lebanese eggplant purple alongside the historical social status of the building’s original inhabitants.

Ermita Cartagena – Señora Ayda restaurant

I didn’t eat at Señora Ayda, but my friends had a few meals there. They sampled a wide range of the menu, including the following:

  • Mezze, an assortment of Lebanese appetizers with a Colombian twist, enough food for two to share
  • Ceviche de pescado, no Middle Eastern influence but a classic seafood dish with lime and cilantro accents
  • Langostinos, sumac-flavoured shrimp served with squid ink risotto and pita
  • Pargo rojo, red snapper served with coconut rice, one of the tastiest dishes among all that we sampled in Cartagena

In-room dining is also available, with a mix of Lebanese, Colombian seafood, and Western cuisines.

Ermita Cartagena – Bar

Flanking the lobby to the left with a mostly symmetrical layout to Señora Ayda, La Biblioteca is the hotel’s main bar and lounge. The space is themed like a library, which I assume was the room’s original purpose.

Ermita Cartagena – La Biblioteca bar

There’s another bar, Oasis, on the roof of the mansion. The larger space has a variety of seating, inviting string lights for nighttime ambiance, and an expansive view of the wide-open Caribbean Sea.

Ermita Cartagena – Oasis rooftop bar

The bar service area has a bit of shade, but the lounge area is extremely exposed to the scalding sun.

Ermita Cartagena – Oasis rooftop bar

Unfortunately, the rooftop was closed for a private event on three of the six nights that my friends and I had overlapping stays, but we were still able to enjoy the space. Although the bar closes at 10pm, you can access the roof at any time. We often enjoyed some late-night drinks which we brought ourselves, with a strong but pleasant sea breeze to wash away the remnants of Cartagena’s long, humid days and nights.

Ermita Cartagena – Other Facilities

The original colonial mansion is the core of the hotel’s public space. From the restaurant courtyard behind the lobby, there’s a spiral staircase leading to the second floor, where there are private rooms for meetings and events.

Ermita Cartagena – Colonial staircase

This level also connects via elevated walkways to the second floor of the adjacent buildings containing the guest rooms.

Ermita Cartagena – Colonial architecture & walkways
Ermita Cartagena – Colonial architecture & walkways

Otherwise, the mansion isn’t big enough to house all of the hotel’s facilities. On the ground level, one of the secondary buildings has a small fitness centre behind the restaurant.

Ermita Cartagena – Fitness centre

On the third level of this building, you’ll find the rooftop pool. The pool can be accessed by elevator behind the restaurant, or from a walkway connected to Oasis.

Ermita Cartagena – Rooftop pool

There are a couple of cabanas with privacy curtains. Two rows of lounge chairs line the swimming area, one exposed to the sun on the pool deck, and the other under a shady awning with the chairs in a shallow part of the refreshing water.

Ermita Cartagena – Services

The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service. You can ride to a few predetermined destinations such as the walled city, Bocagrande, or the airport. Rides must be arranged in advance and are scheduled as needed.

Ermita also has a spa, where you can schedule a massage. I didn’t do one myself, but one of my friends enjoyed a relaxing release after a particularly big night out.

Before my return flight home, I needed a negative COVID-19 test, as per the Canadian regulations at the time. The hotel is partnered with a service that will come to the hotel and administer a medium-depth nasal swab in your room. It cost COP$130,000 for an antigen test, approximately CA$40. PCR tests are also available for a higher price.

It seems this service is quite popular with many hotels around the city. The medical professional administering the test was almost an hour late for our scheduled appointment.

I expected to receive same-day results directly from the lab via WhatsApp or email, but they didn’t come through until the following morning, after I’d already checked in for my flight. Luckily, the hotel front desk received same-day results that evening, which they were able to provide to me, averting a stressful situation.

(Alternatively, you can visit SIS Diagnosticos in Bocagrande for a COVID-19 test, with antigen tests priced at COP$100,000.)

As the property has no private lounge and breakfast is included for all guests, there’s no discernible benefit to having elite status at Ermita. Instead, at a friend’s suggestion, I asked to have my minibar charges covered (for a few bottles of water), which the staff were very happy to accommodate.

Conclusion

Pound for pound, Ermita Cartagena was my favourite hotel in Colombia. I appreciated the elevated standard of a Marriott Bonvoy property, with the distinct flavour of an independently-operated hotel.

The Tribute Portfolio brand is in the same boutique vein as the Luxury Collection and Autograph Collection, maybe a notch below the latter. I found the leeway for less rigid brand consistency allowed Ermita to shine for what sets it apart, rather than being, say, just another W. I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to try a Tribute Portfolio property.

Overall, I was very happy with the location, facilities, service, and value at Ermita Cartagena. However, without any elite benefits for Marriott Bonvoy members, I’d say it’s a toss-up between staying there, or at another hotel of similar quality and price located within the old city’s walls.

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