As a new feature in Finance Colombia, we will periodically review attractions, be they hotels, restaurants, or otherwise, relevant to the business traveler.
Today we review the hotel called Soy Local Insignia, located in the Getsemaní neighborhood of Cartagena. In contrast to the walled city which dates back to the 1500s, and the modern Bocagrande and Laguito tourist neighborhoods, Getsemaní was largely developed in the early 20th century. The neighborhood became run-down, but is now undergoing a revival and renovations are being undertaken everywhere. There are already some impressive luxury boutique hotels and fine dining options, but the area hasn’t lost it’s trendy vibe, and is still budget friendly. Importantly, Getsemaní is bordered on one side by the Cartagena Convention Center, making it a convenient option when attending events. Most hotels are no more than a few blocks away, making it very walkable—if you can stand the hot, sunny weather.
Soy Local Insignia is a small hotel located on Calle de la Media Luna (30th street) near Calle del Guerrero (Cra 10) in Getsemaní. It is very close, less than a 5 minute walk from the convention center, and near many small restaurants, shops, and corner markets. There was some confusion on where the hotel was located, and our original directions led us to a street around the corner. When we called the number on the Expedia site we used to book, it connected us to an affiliated hotel in Medellín! The Medellín people gave us the correct number, but they should consider correcting that in the appropriate booking sites.
The hotel is in a lovely renovated building, and the front desk staff, José at night and Kelly during the day were friendly and professional. Our 6 night stay to attend the annual ANDICOM IT convention worked out to $54.57 USD per night, including taxes.
We had good wifi in our room, good enough for streaming video. I measured 19Mbps download and 27Mbps upload speeds using Ookla. The in-room workspace was very small, but adequate for my laptop.
There is a nice rooftop lounge area with a small pool. Not big enough to swim laps in, but fine for cooling down in the hot weather.
We really wanted to like this hotel but ended up with too many problems that added up so much they couldn’t be ignored. The bed was comfortable enough, though the hotel only offers a basic sheet. Many prefer having a blanket or other bed covering, and it should at least be an option. Our room had no hot water. The hotel itself had hot water, other rooms had hot water, but it was broken in our room. Kelly offered to switch rooms to the front balcony room that faces a nightclub across the street and she warned us how noisy it would be. That room did have hot water, but there would be no quiet until after midnight.
The room had a see-through glass door, which is very strange and a little creepy. There is a blind that can be lowered when in the room, but when you are out of the room, everyone can see in your room, whatever belongings you have, etc. A transparent glass door on a hotel room is something I have never seen before.
Saturday night we had a power blackout. We could hear lots of partying still going on outside, so I don’t know if the whole neighborhood had blackout and everyone else had generators, or the power only went out in the hotel. It was out for about 2 hours. I already mentioned that we had no hot water in our room, Sunday we lost all water completely in our room twice. Once during the day and once again at night when we returned from dinner.
The hotel staff did a good job of cleaning the room, no problem at all there. However, the walls had some scuff marks and what looked like water damage.
Breakfast, served in the rooftop pool area, was a basic assortment of cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, and a good, hearty omelet; or you can have your eggs (seems like three) prepared differently, and accompanied by bread or tostones / patacones (fried plantains). During the week there was no problem. The gentleman responsible for serving breakfast was friendly. One odd thing is that the hotel has low calorie sweetener, but they keep it in the back somewhere and you have to ask them to go get it. They will dole it out to you 2 or 3 packets at a time. Sugar, powdered creamer, etc. are set out for the taking. Besides coffee they have a self serve orange juice machine and hot water.
During the week, I asked for cold water with ice and there was no issue. On the weekend, the gentleman was gone and the lady in charge insisted I had to buy bottled water at extra cost, even though that was not an issue during the week. They have an ice machine that doesn’t use bottled water. They give you free hot water. I just asked for ice and put the free hot water in it until it cooled off.
Worse, on Saturday, the same lady tried to tell my wife, registered at the hotel, that she was not entitled to breakfast! I had been in the room working and had to march out to the front desk to get them to straighten that out! A minor humiliation, but no excuse for that kind of treatment.
Soy Local Insignia has the basic ingredients to be an ideal little hotel for exploring the city or attending conferences at the convention center. Sadly, they need to install better systems and training, take care of the physical plant, and do some maintenance. Front desk staff is great, bring the rest of the team up to their level. Most of the missing things are not major investments, but small touches and improvements.
I would stay here again, but it would not be my first choice.
How to get there
Viva has low-cost domestic flights to and from Cartagena from Medellín, Bogotá, San Andrés, Cali and Pereira, Colombia, and international passengers can connect via Viva through Medellín or Bogotá with flights from Mexico City, Cancún, Orlando, Miami, and multiple cities in Perú served by Viva. More international destinations are forthcoming.
As of November 2021, Taxi service from the Cartagena airport to anywhere in the Getsemaní neighborhood is a flat rate $12,100 Pesos, regulated by law. Look for official signage at the airport which will indicate updates. Prices usually change every January. Uber and inDriver are also actively used in Cartagena. Be careful with both informal transportation and taxi service, though it is generally safe.
The US Embassy issued an alert earlier in November stating that “There has been increased criminal activity throughout Cartagena as Covid-19 restrictions have been reduced, and there have been several notable criminal events in the Chambacu neighborhood, the area to the East of Centro Comercial Caribe Plaza, and in Southern Cartagena.” These neighborhoods and areas are outside of the principal tourist areas of the historic walled city, Getsemaní and Bocagrande, and the alert is not referring to the high-end resort and hotel areas to the northeast of the city beyond the airport.