Eric Rodriguez

Eric Rodriguez — Vice President of Product Development, Sunwing Travel Group

Eric Rodriguez

Eric Rodriguez — Vice President of Product Development, Sunwing Travel Group

The beach destination of Cartagena, Colombia is getting a lot of attention these days. Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of Product Development, Sunwing Travel Group talks about the next ‘it’ spot for sun-seekers and what makes the “town within a fortress”, complete with great beaches, such an unforgettable getaway.

1. Sunwing Vacations will begin nonstop flights out of Toronto to Cartagena on Jan. 7, with hotel packages available. What prompted the move?

Rodriguez: As a tour operator, we’re constantly on the look out for new vacation options for our clientele. We’ve seen a rise in popularity amongst other more ‘off the beaten track’ destinations that we have introduced recently, such as Panama and La Ceiba. So we felt that Cartagena, Colombia would be the perfect addition to this emerging product range.

An evolving destination, there are considerable hotel and overall infrastructure developments underway so we felt the time was right to explore it. For me, it’s one of the most complete destinations we offer in terms of the difference vacation experiences available ranging from jungle adventures to heritage discoveries.

Columbia 02

2. Cartagena is becoming a go-to emerging destination for Canadian sun-seekers. What can vacationers look forward to in the destination?

Rodriguez: What makes Cartagena so special is that mix of culture and beach relaxation. Often, historical centres are located far from tourist resorts so you can only appreciate them once as part of your vacation. Here the old town is just a 10-minute shuttle ride from your hotel so you can explore as much as you like.

Recognized by UNESCO, old Cartagena is essentially a town within a fortress; it’s breathtaking. You can wander the streets and discover former Spanish colonial mansions and ornate churches together with sampling authentic regional cuisine in one of the many family-run restaurants.

Cartagena can also be a springboard for some captivating excursions. There’s excellent snorkelling and diving in the Rosario archipelago, a protected national park that’s just a short boat ride from the city. Another popular trip is the El Totumo volcano. Or for a true jungle adventure, head to Tayrona National Park where you might spot quetzals and howler monkeys.

3. Can you talk a bit about the Cartagena hotels on offer with Sunwing’s program?

Rodriguez: We launched our program with two hotels that allow our customers to enjoy a complete resort experience yet also offer a regular shuttle service back into the old town.

Set on a long sweeping beachfront, the Las Americas Resort and Spa has a colonial-style village lay out. A good choice for families, there’s a nine-pool complex, playground and water park. Couples are sure to appreciate the choice of restaurants, one of which is owned by the Michelin-starred Spanish chef Ramon Frexia.

The Occidental Grand Cartagena has a more modern, compact feel. There’s a great beachfront where complimentary non-motorized watersports are on offer plus a pool and fitness complex. We’re currently adding a few more hotels to our collection too, including the Hotel Caribe, which is a five-star property in one of the city’s historic buildings within walking distance of the old town

4. What are three important things about Cartagena (and Colombia) that agents should be telling their clients?

Rodriguez: Firstly, there are often misconceptions about security when it comes to Cartagena. In reality, this is not the case. It is an extremely welcoming destination to visit. The people are very friendly and English is widely spoken. I have explored the old centre on foot without a problem. However for those that prefer escorted tours, our destination management company, NexusTours, has a good range of possible excursions together with local representatives in our resorts who can also offer more advice on how best to explore.

Secondly, the quality of accommodation and service levels are high. It has more of a European feel over, say, a classic Latin American ambience. The cuisine in particular makes the destination stand out.

Thirdly, while there are plenty of options to go sunbathing, Cartagena offers much more. It’s hard to think of another destination with so much variety over such a short distance.

Columbia 01

5. What sort of lead-in prices is Sunwing offering?

Rodriguez: A week at the Las Americas Resort and Spa or the Occidental Grand Cartagena is available from $895 plus $390 taxes per person based on double occupancy, on an all-inclusive basis, on either Jan. 7 or 14, 2015. Return flights from Toronto are also included.