Just returned from a week at the Occidental (March 13 to 20, 2014) - hotel is small (three buildings - 192 rooms total - it was a quiet, relaxing trip - the staff were great - always smiling and helpful.
I did not want a lot of loud, cheesy "entertainment" and they didn't have any so that was great - one evening there was a small group singing Spanish songs, I enjoyed that - the audience was small though, about 20, as the hotel was only about a third full or less, by my estimation (although they told me they were full when I asked about changing rooms when I had a number of problems with mine - I later learned that two couples had managed to get free upgrades to the upper floors so they had a view of the sea) - I think they had something else a couple of other nights but I didn't go....I had to wait an hour for my room be ready after I checked in - then I had to get maintenance in as there were a number of problems with my room, balcony door didn't lock, a cupboard door was off its hinges, scraped on the floor, the sliding glass shower door was off its track and the shower water was cold...it took several visits but eventually all problems were fixed. Bed is a bit hard as mattress is on a concrete base - had a small gecko in my room, hiding behind art, then in cupboard by mini fridge, but there is a gap under the room door so thought he would come back if I managed to get him out so didn't try.
At the orientation the next morning they told us about a free 20 minute facial massage at the spa, a one hour 50 minute escorted walk along the beach to a nearby fishing village and that if we wanted bottled water we would have to buy it from the hotel. I went to the spa and they said the treatment was 10 minutes, I was the only person who showed up for the walk so it was only 40 minutes (and yes it was escorted by Ally, but as she didn't speak much English and I don't speak Spanish, it wasn't much of a "tour") and they give you water in two x one litre bottles in the mini fridge in your room every day - (along with two cans of beer, two cokes and two other cola drinks - I just used the beer and water).
The hotel does not have a store - but a lady sets up a stall of handmade (expensive) bags every day - but if you need toiletries etc they have nothing....they also cannot change money as they don't have a license and when I asked if the front desk would break a 20 peso bill so I would have small bills for tips, they said they could not and have no money - but I asked a different person at reception another day and he broke two 20s for me.
The fresh fruit at breakfast was great and I had a custom omelette every morning - coffee was great - they do cappuccinos at the bar near the noisy pool (the only place to get a drink at night, the other bar is at the quiet pool, but it closes at 5) - the buffet is the only place for lunch (the Grill next door is open during the day but only has hot dogs and hamburgers and very greasy deep fried chips) - you have to book into the Nativo restaurant, they do food from a different country each night - I had cannelloni on Italian night and pad thai on Asian night but the rest of the time there was nothing vegetarian on the menu - so I ate next door at the open air Italian restaurant, which had the same menu every night - so I alternated between pizza and cannelloni and got salad from the buffet. The wine at Nativo and the Italian place was good, but you could taste the difference in the wine served if you went to the buffet.
I took the free shuttle bus (you have to book it in advance to and from town, space is very limited) to the old walled city for a couple of hours - did that twice during the day and once in the evening - also had a massage from Teresa on the beach by the hotel...she is not there every day - I paid 40,000 pesos (about $22 Canadian) - very nice to hear the waves, pleasant, but not a trained massage therapist, but still enjoyed it. I also took an aqua aerobics class one morning in the noisy pool. I took the city tour for 45.00 US - they take you to the old walled city and the new city, also to two emerald stores...we got back 90 minutes late, so missed lunch and had some of the greasy chips and a beer....was also too late to book the Nativo restaurant...so if you take this tour, book the restaurant in the morning before you leave.
I wasn't going to do the tour to the Volcano - it is offered every day - you pay the guide 22.00 US cash - others went though and enjoyed it so much I signed up - the small bus was almost full when it arrived to pick me up - just one seat left for me. About a 30 minute drive, wear your swimsuit you don't care about under your clothes - take a towel you will need 3,000 pesos in small bills for 4 people each - the massage guy in the mud, the guy who washes your shoes, the lady who washes the mud off you and the photographer. They will say these services are by choice but really, they pounce on you so just go for it, it\s part of the experience - you climb up uneven stairs then wait to climb down a rustic ladder into the mud - it is deep but you are completely suspended and a guy grabs you and you lie back and he does a quick massage then pushes you away and you go upright, just hang onto some wood either at the stairs or the wall, as the next person is in and laying down - I was surprised that no one was leaving, but more people were being told to enter....the guy you give your camera to takes about a dozen pics of you - he asks you to point out your camera (he was holding about 15 or so at a time) as you enter and then keeps changing cameras taking lots of pics, you look up and yell "photo, photo" and I yelled "Samsung" and when you have had enough, make your way to the exit stairs - hang onto wood on the walls as it is easy to lose your balance and topple over - it is very hard to climb out - the mud is very slippery - brace your shin on the stairs and go slowly - the guy at the top removes some of the mud and you walk down the steps to the ground - bit uncomfortable as you are barefoot on dried mud stones....you put your sandals on and the guy escorts you to the lagoon - he washes your sandals as a woman grabs you to wash the mud off you - she will grab at your bathing suit, I took the top down but did not remove the whole suit....then you put your sandals on and go and get changed (we left our clothes in our bags on a table in a hut and the guide locked all valuables in a locker - I had put my room key and cash in a plastic bag and tied it - i left my rings, watch and earrings at the hotel in my room safe) - the guide gave us each a slice of watermelon and then everyone came for their tips - I had 2,000 bills and the woman who washed me did not have change....so I gave her 4,000, the guy who did my shoes gave me 1,000 change so I paid the massage guy 3,000 but had to give 4,000 to the photographer as when I asked if he had change he ignored me....but it's so little (2,000 pesos is $1US).
The weather was great, 31/32 every day, no rain - windy and I got a heat rash on my arms but it's going down now that I'm back in cold Toronto.
Take mediation with you in case the food/water doesn't agree with you - quite a few people got sick, one guy had to call the doctor - he was put on IV and probably given some meds too, this was the night before we left, and there was no charge!!!! there is nowhere to buy anything unless you go into town - even at the airport - there was only a gift store and small duty free, 2 coffee/sandwich places, no drug store so don't bank on picking up meds at the airport for the trip home.
At the airport when I checked in, I asked if it was ok to lock my checked bag and he said yes but then anyone who had locked their luggage was called over and had to unlock it for the police to go through the entire bag....but the good thing about that was that my bag was one of the last on the plane so it was one of the first to come off in Toronto.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Occidental Grand Cartagena Resort***** hotel's objective is to provide luxury, all-inclusive services on the seafront on the beautiful beaches of Manzanillo Bay. It is close to the cosmopolitan city of Cartagena de Indias. It has a contemporary design and a very calm ambience, and our guests' first impression is of an idyllic resort to relax and unwind in. Have a dip in the pool, stroll around the beautiful lush gardens or enjoy the 24-hour drink and snack service. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Occidental Grand Cartagena Hotel Cartagena