As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started putting more emphasis on vacations that actually feel like a vacation, as opposed to ones that are action-packed but exhausting. That’s why I was excited to spend a long weekend in Santa Marta simply resting and relaxing at the Irotama Resort. The stay did not disappoint.
Rooms, rates, and amenities
The Irotama is actually a series of hotels that include the Irotama Del Sol, Irotama Del Mar, Irotama De Lago, Irotama XXI, and Irotama Reservado. Each of these offer accommodations at different price points that range from basic and luxury beach bungalows to suites with a private balcony overlooking the ocean. Interestingly, not all hotels or room types are available on third party websites like hotels.com, which gives you somewhat less control over what you’re booking. In order to get a specific type of room and tower, you should book directly through the Irotama website or call them for more information. For what it’s worth, Reservado had fabulous rooms and the beach bungalows were just okay, even though they’re closer to many of the restaurants and activities.
The best part about Irotama is that when you’re a guest, you have access to all the properties. So if there are too many families at the Gran Piscina (Grand Pool) of the main resort for your liking, you can spend your day at the fabulous infinity pool of the Irotama Reservado. With the plastic wristband you have on for the duration of your stay, you can access any part of the resort including restaurants, saunas, and pools (of which there are four). In addition to these lounge areas, the resort has several gyms and fitness classes, including dance and spinning directly on the beach – though I have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to go spinning in 100-degree weather, but have at it, I guess.
Dining and drinking at Irotama Resort
There are two meal plans at the Irotama, an all-inclusive plan and a breakfast-only plan. Depending on your intention to eat out elsewhere in Santa Marta, all-inclusive may not be worthwhile. It’s probably close to twice as expensive to eat at the resort than it is to eat at one of the highest rated restaurants in Santa Marta, but all considered, the cost is still relatively low. For instance, a meal out for four people might be around $35 versus $70 at the resort. Regardless of which meal plan you opt for, you can pretty much charge everything to your room so you don’t have to carry around a wallet. Though it helps to have some cash for tipping.
The resort has eight restaurants, one of which (Coco’s) has their incredible breakfast buffet. The other restaurant open for breakfast (Tipico Luruaco) is a la carte and also good if you prefer to eat directly on the beach. If you’re worried about getting sick of eating the same food over and over, you can rest easy as there are plenty of food options including Italian on the property. You can also get small plates round-the-clock as room service.
Culture and entertainment
One of the downsides of staying at an all-inclusive hotel without much intention to venture out is that your capacity to learn anything about the place you’re visiting is severely diminished. Most all-inclusives, especially in countries like Colombia, are severely sheltered from the rest of the real world. But one of the most pleasantly surprising things about the Irotama Resort is that it caters primarily to Colombian travelers. Not unlike a cruise, nighty entertainment features local dance, comedy, and music. If you’re a foreigner, this is a great opportunity to enjoy authentic entertainment with locals.
The only downside is that it’s only in Spanish. But if you happen to speak Spanish, you’ll learn a whole lot from the funny MCs about the different cultures and types of Colombians that find themselves vacationing at the resort. Colombians are nothing if not good humored and keen to rib on each other for their regional idiosyncrasies. If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still drink and dance on the beach and enjoy the local flavor. All the entertainment shows are child-friendly, and in some cases, they’re asked to take part in the show.
The Santa Marta Beach
Of course, the main benefit of staying at the Irotama is your access to the beach. Even if you don’t have direct beach access from your room, the long stretch of beach is just a few feet away. Something you should probably know about the beach is that it’s a few kilometers away from a huge coal plant, and you’ll see large ships coming in and out of the plant to transport coal. This is also why the sand is shiny and black. I’m not sure about the long-term health effects of this exposure, but if that’s what kills me in 30 years, it was totally worth it. The beach is comfortable with plenty of natural shade. As a guest of the resort, you can also use the loungers and umbrellas, and even ask someone to set it up for you.
The beach is semi-private in that most of the people on it are guests of Irotama or one of the other nearby resorts. However, locals that are not guests of a resort can still use it, which means you’ll occasionally encounter people selling stuff or offering massages or hair braiding, which is par for the course for a beach town like this. A simple polite no will suffice. All things considered, the beach harassment is a lot less intense than it is in other places in the Caribbean or Asia. But if it bothers you, you can simply go hang out at one of Irotama’s private pools and have yourself a pina colada (thank me later).