Few places in the world have the charm, history and quaintness of Cartagena. With 12 miles of beaches and warm waters year-round, plus 7 miles of colonial walls with forts and other historic properties that can convert into event spaces, this city is an up-and-coming locale for the MICE market. Forget what you think you know of the city—especially the long history of drug cartels and violence. In modern Cartagena, the future and the historic past are forging to mold the destination into a charismatic metropolis.
Cartagena is strategically located between the Americas, and its equal distance from both makes it easily accessible for international attendees. Rafael Nunez International Airport is within city limits and only 10 minutes from its historical center. The airport receives nearly 300 direct domestic flights per week, with direct connectivity from Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New York City and Panama.
Walking the magical walled city, a construction that took 194 years, takes you back to a time of Spanish colonial architecture with quaint shops, narrow streets, flower-bedecked balconies and stunning churches. The city is dotted with many squares and public spaces, which can be used for events. Getting lost in the area’s allure is quite easy with shopping, gastronomic and cultural opportunities.
Anyone who knows and cherishes the works of author Gabriel Garcia (aka Gabo) Marquez will relish this three-hour walking tour, which comes highly recommended by Gema Tours, a local DMC. For an interactive sightseeing experience, book a three-hour jewelry-making tour, to which teambuilding components can be added and participants get to take away a gorgeous handmade piece of jewelry.
Also consider Rumba en Chiva, an evening tour aboard the famous colorful buses called chivas. Participants will enjoy live music, imbibe local rum and sample authentic fried snacks before finishing the tour at a bar, where they can hop off to explore the nightlife scene.
The city has a range of big-brand properties as well as boutique hotels converted from former convents, cloisters and colonial palaces.
The newly constructed Hyatt Regency Cartagena is situated in the Bocagrande District and has 261 guest rooms, including 28 suites, and 13,000 square feet of space among six venues. With a signature restaurant and a lap pool overlooking the ocean, this property works well for midsize meetings or conferences.
Nestled in the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa is a five-star property situated along the Caribbean coast. This luxury property has two wings—one built in the 17th century and the other in the 20th—with a total of 88 guest rooms.
Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena blends French luxury with colonial architecture. The property has 123 guest rooms including 20 suites, coupled with six meeting rooms with capacity for up to 300 people in the auditorium.
For off-site functions for up to 250 people, Teatro Adolfo Mejia is an eclectic venue perfect for concerts and opening general sessions with its marble staircase, fresco ceilings and stunning red drape.
Plaza de la Aduana is the largest plaza in Cartagena, with the ability to hold 1,500 for a standing reception. With the city wall as the backdrop and steeples from historic churches looming overhead, this space has an authentic charm.
Deborah Elias, CSEP, CMP, is an award-winning event coordinator specializing in unique client experiences in the MICE market. As president of Elias Events, she’s planned events from Canada to Dubai.