Hotel Las Islas – Baru, Colombia – Lots of Work to Do Here

Hotel Las Islas is located near the town of Baru, about 50 kms southwest of Cartagena.

It is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, and I believe the President of Colombia was on hand for the grand opening in 2018.

It is marketed as a luxury resort, and while there are many positive aspects to the property, I believe they have a lot of areas for improvement if they want to become a world class resort.

Lets start with getting there.  I had a hard time gathering information on how to even get to the property.  The email communication with the hotel was very poor (i.e. long response times and confusing information).  Finally, I had my credit card concierge help me figure it out (by the way, if you live in Canada, the concierge for the Visa Infinite card is outstanding; there is also a Visa Infinite Privilege Card, which is supposed to be a more prestigious card, but from my experience, the concierge services there are disorganized and useless – stick to the “regular” Infinite card concierge, I can’t say enough good things about them).

Even with the help of the concierge, it took a few times of back and forth before we finally understood the five options to get to the hotel (note that these are all from Cartagena):

  1. Helicopter (U$1,725 one way)
  2. Road (car)
  3.  Shared Boat (explained as short car ride then longer boat ride – U$80/pp)
  4. Shared Boat (explained as short boat ride then long car ride – U$30/pp + car U$50-U$250 depending on car type)
  5. Private boat (U$700-800)

To save you the trouble, and frustration, of figuring this out, basically, unless you want to go all out and spend on option #1 or #5, the best option is #3.  The confusion is with the car ride part.  Just ignore it.  Basically, you need to get to the La Bodeguita Dock #5 in Cartagena by 10:30AM to catch a boat that departs at 11AM to take you to the hotel.    The car ride just means you need to take a cab or Uber to the dock.  Its easy to get to.  Its basically between the old town and the Bocagrande.

Once you arrive at the dock, someone will be there to greet you and take your luggage.  You will then provide them your ID (passport) and fill out some forms.  At 11AM, the boat will leave for the hotel.  Easy.  The boat itself is very nice, and has big, comfortable, reclining seats.  The view on the way is beautiful.

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Very plush and comfortable seats for the approx 1 hr ride

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great views of the Bocagrande and Colombian naval ships on the way

Upon arrival, you will be greeted at the hotel dock and be asked to provide a credit card.  You will also be given a welcome towel and drink.

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hotel reception

The reception part could use improvement.  Since our rooms were not ready (you will arrive at noon but the rooms will not be ready until 3PM), you will be taken to the beach for lunch.  This is fine, but should of been explained at the start, maybe in a welcoming letter or email a week before arrival.  Also, the golf carts to take you to the beach are not pre-assigned so it will be first come first serve.

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Upon arrival at the beach, we had lunch.  The beach itself it nice.  White sand and blue water.  Some people may find it small.  The food was very good and it was a nice way to ease into the resort.  Is it the best beach ever?  No.  For that, check out my Amanpulo blog (because I had just been to Amanpulo two months prior to this trip, I was in a good position to compare the service, accommodations, beaches etc between these two resorts).

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During the time you are at the beach, you will not get any updates on the status of your room.  However, very shortly AFTER 3PM, someone came down with keys for everyone.  Again, this process was a bit disorganized with the person randomly going up to people asking for their name.  You will probably want to go right up to the person handing out keys rather than wait for them to find you.  Also, while your luggage will be sent to your room, and there for you upon arrival, getting to your room from the beach via cart was once again not assigned, and based on first come (or rather first ask) first serve.

There are basically two types of accommodation: tree top bungalow (which is like a tree house) or sea level bungalow.  I chose a sea level bungalow.

In general, I was happy with the accommodation.

Bathrooms were clean, but the finishings were already showing some signs of wear.  Products were from Hermes, and there were nice extras like bug spray (you will need it here).  The toilets were multifunction Japanese toilets (seat warming option for example).

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There was a lot of outdoor living space.  Our unit had three areas.  Off to the right was a porch overlooking the sea with a dining area and sun chairs.  Very nice.  You will see great sunsets here.   There is another patio near the front door which we did not use (there was no furniture).20190215_122542 - Copy

Lastly, in the middle, there was a door that opened up to the infinity pool.  The pool was a salt water pool.  It was great to be able to step right into the pool from the bed.  Two negatives about the pool:  1.  there are a lot of trees over the pool which will fill it with leaves and 2. for some reason, the water had drained about 1/6th of the way on the second day so we did not use it on day 2.

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In the unit itself, you will be able to open up most of the doors and feel harmony between indoor and outdoor living.  The only drawback is that insects will come inside.  We had ants in our bed a couple times (I do not blame the hotel; you are in the wilderness after all so its to be expected; the bed has mosquito nets and I recommend spraying the bed and the surroundings with insect repellent (provided); if you bring food to your unit, even if covered, it will attract ants, this happened to us when we put food on the desk).

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Units are well appointed with everything that hotels have and more.   You can tell they have tried to think of EVERYTHING one could possibly want, and put it into the unit from hammocks, to the video conferencing door bell, to mood lighting which changes color to floor fans, the effort is clearly there.

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nice touches like this in room hammock

Each unit has two bikes to get around the resort (at Amanpulo everyone got golf carts) though you can call to request someone pick you up in a golf cart.  A couple of times when we wanted to use the bikes, they had flat tires.  You need to call someone who will fix it for you.  I found that in general, service was prompt at this resort.  The second night, our neighbor had a party and someone stole one bike :).  I would caution people that some of the trees at the resort have branches that are very low to the bike and walkways so you have to always watch your head.

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For dinner, there is a main dining room at the clubhouse which is gorgeous. The food was ok.  One night we had pork and pasta.  The second night we had lobster which was better (at Amanpulo, we had a chef at the villa and the food ranged from very good to outstanding).  There is a selection of local and Western dishes.

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I recommend you visit the clubhouse at night and in the day to get both views.  There is an amazing bar at the top of the clubhouse and a very nice library/lounge on the second floor.

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nice library/lounge on second floor of clubhouse
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nice bar/lounge on top floor of clubhouse

Breakfast is included with the rooms.  The selection is very good and the setting is gorgeous.

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If you are thinking of staying in a treehouse bungalow instead, I took some pictures so you can see what they are like.

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in the treehouses, there are little lounging areas at the bottom

For activities, we did the free night plankton tour.  You will take a boat to a near by island, and dunk your head in the water.  Movement causes the plankton to light up, and hence, the water will light up.  I would say this was not worth the effort to see, and can be skipped.

Service – here is what many people have a problem with if you read online reviews.  First, I will say the workers are very nice.  The main things people complain about:  #1 they do not speak much English.  This is not an issue for me.  When I am in a different country, I do not expect people to speak English; #2 they are not “service industry people”.  Let me explain.  The workers come from the nearby town of Baru.  The resort has created jobs for the people who live there who are very poor (although we came by boat, our next stop was Santa Marta so we left by car and drove trough the town).  Here is the town:

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As a result of employing people from the town, the service is not “resort” level.  Its not bad and no one is rude, and the resort was new at the time we visited.  I think after a few years, it will get better.  I myself had no issues with the service.  The people are clearly trying.  The effort is there.  You just cannot expect the level of service you might get at a place that has been a resort for many years.

All in all, we had a great time here.  Would I return?  No.  Partly because there are many other places to see.  Am I glad I went?  Yes.  Should you go?  Yes, once.  However, be warned that if you are the type of person that needs to get perfect service for every $ you spend, there are other places in the world that I would recommend you go to before this place.    For this type of resort and price level, I think there are others in the world that have been around longer, and have had a longer time to figure out details, to make your stay truly hassle free.

 

 

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