Hotel Review: Allure Chocolat by Karisma Hotels & Resorts

My sister and I had no clue what to expect when we hurriedly booked Allure Chocolat by Karisma Hotels & Resorts only four days before we landed in Cartagena. The pictures looked great on Expedia and we’d cross-checked them against traveler’s photos and reviews on TripAdvisor. But as you and I know, that didn’t mean the reality would be what we envisioned. Allure Cocolat by Karisma Hotels & Resorts

However, once we got there, we thanked our lucky stars that things had aligned perfectly. This 34-room boutique city hotel is a gem. Conveniently located less than a 5-minute walk to the Walled City, we began to get a sense of what made this place special from the moment we stepped off the curb and into its modern-looking lobby. (Other than its 24-hour front desk assistance and blissfully quick 15-minute drive from Rafael Nuñez Airport, that is.)

Lobby of Allure Chocolat, Cartagena

The staff:

As soon as we exited our cab, we were met by Alfonso, a courteous and helpful bellman who helped us with our luggage. He welcomed us warmly, with a genuine smile that lit up his entire face. Front desk check-in at Allure Chocolat by Karisma Hotels & Resorts

Our first treat was the offer of cold towels to wipe our faces and a refreshing glass of fruit-infused water to cool us down. Fruit flavored water at Hotel Chocolat

Right on clockwork, Natalie, the pretty and petite front desk agent who had the looks and vivacious personality that could easily make her a telenovela star, checked us in.

Her fluency in English and lack of a heavily-accented lilt impressed me, even more so after I later learnt she’d never – to that point – left the country. When I asked her about it, she told me she had studied English for a few years in school but had fine-tuned her communication skills by listening to Billboard songs and watching Hollywood movies. I was floored.

At different points during our stay, we also met and interacted with Giovanni and Fabian at the front desk. Daily breakfasts were made merrier by our server Jorge’s infectious personality and efficient service; a pleasant start to our mornings. Truth be told, his perkiness alone could single-handedly put the coffee industry out of business! Deanna, a waitress who was also very nice but a bit more reserved, was a soothing balm at dinner.

The amenities:

The rooms are small but contemporary and chic, and they feature either city or waterfront views. What’s more, the pillow top beds are super comfy and each room is outfitted with well-placed amenities that cater to guests’ needs. Hotel room at Allure Chocoat

One particularly delightful part of the check-in process included selecting a scent for my room.  They call it an Aromatherapy & Pillow Menu.  Guests can choose from four fragrances: Homely Forest, Fresh Countryside, Sutil Romance and I believe one called Calmness Parache. (Side note: It’s kinda hard to read my hasty scrawl notes after a week, let alone a few months. Thank goodness I don’t do this for a living because this review is way past due.) Aromatherapy choices at Allure Chocolat

The aroma you pick is used in the room each night when the housekeeper provides turn-down service, complete with chocolates on your pillow. A great way to indulge the senses!  Add free local calls; complimentary and reliable Wi-Fi; a nicely stocked mini-bar that includes Jose Cuervo rum and Absolut Vodka; iPod docking stations; robes; slippers and a rain head shower in the bathroom to that, and you’ve got a winner in my book.

Bathroom at Allure Chocolat

Mini Bar choices at Allure Chocolat

Snack tray at Allure Chocolat

There is also a great rooftop infinity pool with spectacular views of the city and waterfront. I heard great things about the mojitos served at that bar.Rooftop infinity pool at Allure Chocolat, Cartagena


Red Knife, the onsite full-service restaurant, is a dream. Guided by a farm-fresh philosophy, it offers culinary delights that are sure to meet the stringent standards of even the most discerning palates.

Red Knife restaurant, Hotel ChocolatThe décor and ambiance have an upscale-steakhouse feel that is inviting, but if you’re not a steak lover, don’t panic, poultry and seafood options are also featured on the menu. Shrimp dish at Red Kinfe Restaurant, Cartagena

And wine aficionados will love their impressive selection of Chilean, Argentine, Mexican and Californian bottles. Specialty liquors and a neat menu of cocktails also are available.

sectino of Red Knife restaurant at Allure Chocolat, Cartagena

The breakfast buffet (included in the room rate) is available from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Each morning we had our choice of various breads, jams, cheeses, cold cuts, cereals, coffee – and for non caffeine people like me, tea or hot chocolate. Breakfats buffet at Allure Chocolat

Fresh juices, served in mini bottles were an added touch. Egg-lovers have no fear, you can have your morning favorites done to order.  Everything I had was delicious. I especially appreciated the fact that the chef honored my request for one egg for breakfast because I hate it when I get two or three in an omelet that inevitably goes to waste.  Dinner starts at 6 p.m.  Made to order breakfast at Red Knife, Allure Chocolat

I never ate at Zas, the other dining alternative next to the rooftop pool, but it was usually packed – especially at sunset.


Allure Chocolat’s location puts you within walking distance of numerous bars, restaurants, shops and cafes. It is also across the street from the convention center; a nice plus for business travelers.

The Museo de Arte Moderno is nearby and the highly cited San Felipe de Barajas Castle is a mere 20-minute walk away. Excursions and party buses will pick you up and drop you off from the Walled City, which in itself is a walkable treat. Don’t travel to Cartagena and deny yourself the pleasure of exploring those narrow, yet oh so culturally and historically expansive streets!


This property is good value for money. My sister and I paid COP1,753,053 (USD555+) for our initial three-night stay, and we returned for an additional night after our trip to Medellin. I would definitely go back – again and again,

Editor’s Note:

The only odd thing I encountered during my stay was the lack of regular-sized wash rags in the bathroom. To be clear, there was a pair on arrival but those two were not replaced after the first housekeeping visit, whereas face towels and bath towels were in adequate supply. When I asked the cleaning staff about it (in my rudimentary Spanish), I got the impression that the disconnect could have been due to a cultural difference. The wash rags that we use for bathing in the Caribbean and North America seem to be only used there as cold cloths for wiping the face.

Hotel Chocolat is part of Karisma Hotels & Resorts, an award-winning luxury hotel collection that owns and manages properties in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Cartagena’s legend of Santa Clara

T E N steps.

10 narrow yet sturdy steps protected by a barred gate that goes up to waist level and an area bordered by rectangular-shaped glass. That is all that separates a sunny and vibrant present from a mysterious and brooding past in the small coastal town of Cartagena.  The past is defined by the legend of Santa Clara and the palpable present is proliferated with stylish bar patrons sipping boozy cocktails just above an empty tomb.  

The entrance to famous crypt inside the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.
The entrance to famous crypt inside the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.

Persons acted as if this UNESCO-protected burial site was just another fixture in the very well-appointed room. For me, three words came to mind. Mind-blowing. Weird. Creepy.

The unexpected juxtaposition of a crypt under a bar made my heart race a little and my flesh break out in goosebumps as I cautiously descended the stairs to see into the vault. Given my propensity for travel mishaps, I decided then and there that  it was decidedly not the time to inadvertently trip and enter flat on my face or butt.

Lone book inside the crypt. Tell me, would you sign it?
Lone book inside the crypt. Tell me, would you sign it?

Yes, you are piecing the puzzle together correctly! There is a crypt that doubles as an exhibition piece within a high-end Sofitel luxury hotel in Colombia. I have never seen anything like it on any of my travels before. When you visit Cartagena, go have a drink in their Bar El Torro or just pop inside like I did for a quick look around. The locals or your tour guide will gladly share the fanciful story of the girl that was buried there.

There are writings on the wall from previous centuries
There are writings on the wall from previous centuries

The legend, as written by Colombian Nobel-prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, is about a 12-year-old child called Servia who had long, unbridled copper hair. Born with her umbilical cord around her neck, her entrance into the world wasn’t easy and she went through life plagued with difficulty. Servia grew up with slaves, then later contracted rabies after being bitten by a disease-filled dog. In an effort to heal her, she was sent to the convent of Santa Clara to be taken care of by nuns, who, in their well-intended but misguided efforts  at finding suitable remedies finally resorted to exorcism, which is believed led to her death. 

Uuniforms ostaff members of El Bar El Torro
Doesn’t he look like he has no arms in this shot? Even the uniforms of the staff members are a little spooky!

Before her passing, it is said that a priest befriended her and used to sneak out of a leper’s hospital regularly to see her.  When they met, legend has it that they ate and recited poetry together, although they were never sexually involved. Oddly, when Servia died Father Cayetano wasn’t around. The story ends with the incredible notion that her red hair continued to grow after her death.

All this BEFORE you even take one drink!

Exterior shot of the Hotel Sofitel near the Bar entrance
Exterior shot of the Hotel Sofitel near the Bar entrance

It’s no wonder the hotel attracts pampered guests and speculative and curious visitors from all around the globe.


Check back soon for more posts about my trip to Colombia.

Three places to eat in Toronto. Try one!

Wrvst Beer house in Toronto, Canada

One of the first questions I asked when I started building an itinerary for my trip to Toronto was, “what food is the city known for?” I suspect you think about details like that too, right? Because really, what is a visit to Philadelphia without tasting their famous Philly Cheesesteak or a trip to New Orleans without slurping from a steaming bowl of any combination of their tummy-pleasing Cajun-Creole gumbo?Tim Hortons Restaurant, Toronto

So imagine my initial surprise when I learnt Toronto didn’t have a distinctive dish! But when I read that at least half of Toronto’s residents were born outside of Canada, its eclectic food scene made perfect sense. Similar to other ethnically diverse cities like New York and London, a tourist could eat out every night for his/her entire vacation and not repeat cuisines. There’s Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Caribbean, Italian, Portuguese, Indian, Greek, Hungarian food establishments and more available  – in a range of settings that run the gamut from casual to upscale.

With only 36 hours in the city and good home-cooked meals courtesy of friends in the mix, I didn’t have to dine out much but when I did, I had a great time. Below are my takeaway notes from three totally different food experiences.

Wvrst (pronounced verst) Wrvst Beer house in Toronto, Canada

Location: 609 King Street West

Cuisine: A very simple but winning formula of beer, sausages, fries and dips. The cool factor to this place is that the sausages are far from ordinary. I saw venison, wild boar, elk, rabbit, and kangaroo among other unusual options on the menu. Wide array of sausage options at Wvrst, Beer hall, Toronto, Canada

The meals are served with fried, either done Belgian-style or Dirty (a combination of pepper jalapenos & sautéed onions topped with their special sauces).  Accompanying beverages can be selected from their specialty collection of craft beers and ciders served from 24 rotating taps. Sasauge and fries at WVRST, Tornoto, Canada

Ambiance: Quirky, fun and casual. There are communal tables that allow you to meet and easily mingle with other people and the wait staff are friendly and hip. Be sure to say hi to Chris. He’s the guy who was kind enough to pose for the picture above.Dining area at Wvrst Beer Hall, Tornoto, Canada

Price range: $7 for vegan items, $8 for traditional sausage varieties and $9 for the specialty game version

360 Restaurant

360 Restaurant at CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

Location: 301 Front St W, CN Tower

Cuisine: Regional Canadian fare. The menu stirs up your gastric juices with appetizers like house smoked Atlantic Salmon with caper berries and pumpernichel.

The colorful and tasty smoked salmon appetizer at 360 Resturant, CN Tower, Canada

It then goes on to tempt you further with main courses such as salmon and scallops served with oyster mushrooms and new potatoes; pork tenderloin served with apple pudding and root vegetables; slow braised veal accompanied by charred corn polenta;  prime rib and bread pudding; and rabbit and pancetta. salmon and scallops at 360 Restaurant, CN Tower, Toronto

And oh, my goodness – the desserts! You can choose from the sinfully delicious apple toffee pudding, white chocolate and Beamsville cherries, spiced pumpkin cheesecake, warm Canadian butter tart, a dark chocolate tower and other calorie-rich options. Pumpkin Tart at 360 Resturant, CN tower, Tornoto

Ambiance: Fine-dining and classy. It’s definitely a place where you’ll need to make reservations! The restaurant is 351 meters above ground and it rotates 360 degrees every 72 minutes so you get stunning views of the city. The bathroom area doesn’t rotate so if you have to get up to go, note your seating area carefully. The sections are marked.View from 360 Resturant, CN Tower Toronto

The restaurant also features a 9,000 bottle (maximum storage capacity) award-winning wine cellar with a selection of more than 550 international and Canadian blends.  Wine cellar at 360 Restaurant, CN Tower, Toronto

My waiter, Eric, said he had been on staff there for 30 years. The best word I could find to describe him is unflappable because inevitably, he’s seen it all. 

Price range: A two-course dinner starts at $65; for three-courses it begins at $79. Wine and drinks are additional.

Tunup Islands Caribbean Foods Tunup Islands Caribbean Foods

Location: 1542 Jane St

Cuisine: This corner shop advertises itself as a Caribbean restaurant but the menu items are mostly Jamaican. It’s perfect for members of the Caribbean diaspora who are hankering for a little taste of home. Think jerked chicken, festival, rice and peas, oxtail, red peas soup, ackee and saltfish, ground provisions, and other specialties reminiscent of sunnier climates.. Ackee and saltfish, festival and boiled banana with red peas soup and a Ting

Ambiance: Functional. It’s a fast food joint with counter service and a few closely stacked tables.  Ask for the main man Percival and chat with him a bit. He may just hook you up with a little extra on your plate.

Price range: The average meal is $7-10 and at certain times of the day, they have lunch specials.

Note: All prices quoted are in Canadian dollars.

Dressing to survive sub-zero temperatures

Let me say this up front. If you want to remain fashionable in sub-zero temperatures then this post will not appeal to you. The plain truth is, vanity jumps headfirst out the window when you are worried about frostbite and hypothermia.  I’m not gonna lie, I am a warm-weather lover at heart, but I’ve survived arctic weather conditions in Minnesota, Milwaukee, London and Toronto by planning ahead and using sheer will power. Not once in that time did I see any sane-looking GQ models or Vogue fashionistas strutting around. (Kindly note the use of the adjective: sane. LOL)

Snow, snow, snow

That’s why dressing wisely for a cold-weather vacation matters. Don’t take the process lightly! It involves careful planning and targeted shopping to get it right. The ultimate sweet spot is if you have a friend in your size range who can lend you the major things you’ll need. Thankfully, I did on my last trip to Canada. My fall/winter gear was so not equipped to usher me into the realm of minus degrees!

Tip # 1: Layer your torso

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll only need to dress warmly for extreme sports like sledding, snowboarding or cross country skiing. When it’s cold outside, you WILL need to bundle up, even for a 15 minute dash or walk outside.

Start with a base layer next to your skin, I recommend tights or long johns. For the greatest warmth, use items that are made from fabrics like polyester, flannel or other blends that dry quickly. Ditch anything made from cotton because it soaks up sweat and moisture, and that  conducts heat away from the body.

When in doubt, go with fleece. It's warm and not too pricey.
When in doubt, go with fleece. It’s warm and not too pricey.

Make the second layer a long-sleeved shirt, sweater or vest and comfy pants, preferably in cozy fabrics like fleece, cashmere or wool.  The outer layer should be a jacket or parka stuffed with down or very warm synthetic fibers, with a fur-lined hood. Get one that is knee-length so it will shield your legs from the biting wind, and zip it all the way up to the neck to protect your chest. To top things off, you can add some pizazz with a colored scarf that also protects your face and neck.

Multi-colored winter scarves
Multi-colored winter scarves

Tip #2: Cover your head and ears

There are different schools of thought on this but in my world, even if my chest and legs are well insulated, I need to cover my head and ears to keep warm. Choose head gear made from fabrics that will trap heat and keep you dry. I opt for tams (beanies) over hats because they are softer on my brow and I can slide them over my ears with ease.

Pick you style and color
Pick your style and color

A fleece headband is another alternative.

Tip #3: Protect your hands and feet

Go for gloves with liners or insulated mittens on your hands and woolen socks on your feet.  True cold-weather experts say mittens are actually better than gloves because they keep your fingers together, which makes it easier to retain warmth.

You've gotta add some swag sometime!
You’ve gotta add some swag sometime!

On my Toronto trip, I also learnt first-hand about the miracle-working power of hand and toe warmers. They are very handy items to have when the wind chill picks up. The ones I used were sold in small flat packages and they lasted up to 7 hours, per use.

Look for the Grabber brand of toe warmers and stick them over your socks in the area below your toes.
Look for the Grabber brand of toe warmers and stick them over your socks in the area below your toes.

Tip #4: Finish the ensemble with the right boots

For serious weather, you will need lined boots with heavy-duty treads on the bottom. Try to acquire ones that are waterproof as well because the moisture from continuous contact with the snow will seep inside quickly. Read my lips, “leather boots, though far more sexy, definitely won’t do the trick.”

Always look for lined boats, that extra insulation makes all the difference in the world.
Always look for lined boats, that extra insulation makes all the difference in the world.

Those are my tips. Feel free to share some of yours!