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Global Airbnb Design Diaries: Cartagena, a Perfect Blend of Past and Present

Travel with us worldwide as we give the do's and don'ts of designing vacation rental homes and Airbnb's in our Global Airbnb Design Dairies series.

Cartagena, Colombia

Hey there! If you're new here, you might not know that we're total travel junkies and design geeks. We are passionate about great design and beautiful destinations, and in this series, we share our latest stays around the world. We break down the hits and misses of Airbnb stays, vacation homes, and short-term rentals, looking at space layout, aesthetics, and overall guest experience so you can implement them in your property. Whether you're thinking about getting into your first investment property in the short-term rental game or already have a place and need some fresh ideas on a great budget, you've come to the right spot!

This week, we share with you our very latest stay in Cartagena, on Colombia's northern Caribbean coast, which proved to be a traveler's dream come true. Imagine stunning beaches with crystal-clear waters, streets full of colorful colonial buildings, and lush green scenery all around. This area has it all! The historic old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, adding a touch of magic to your visit. Whether chilling on the beach or wandering through lively streets, Cartagena always delivers. No wonder people can't wait to come back!

Cartagena Airbnb Overview

Location: Cartagena, Colombia

Size: 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment

Price: Approx 110 USD/night

Our design rating: 8/10

We stayed in a condo complex about 15 minutes from downtown. We wanted somewhere quiet and remote but still close to the cool spots in town. First impressions matter, and this place blew us away from the start. The marble reception, indoor greenery, and trendy furniture set a perfect vacation mood with a touch of luxury. Guests hope the vibe will carry over into the unit when staying in a place like this. This one kind of did, but let's dive into the details to understand why it wasn't quite there yet.

First Up: The Hits

It all starts with that first look, so pay attention to the entry!

The very first space guests experience when entering a rental is crucial. It needs to have enough room for shoes, coats, and a spot to stash keys right when you walk in. This condo got it right. They had storage sorted, plus a cool framed piece with the WiFi password, tips for using the building's amenities, and even some local favorites with phone numbers and social media handles. It was super handy, and we were all about it!

A condo-sized functional space layout with room to breathe

The rooms were pretty spacious, and the furniture was arranged to feel open and easy to move around while still providing plenty of seating for relaxing. Each bedroom had a queen bed with an extra mattress hidden underneath, plus plenty of closet space for everyone's belongings and extra supplies like bedding and towels. Being by the lake or beach, as a host, you always need to make good use of every closet nook for items like foldable chairs, carts, and toys for kids to play with outside. These should be all tucked away but easy to grab when needed. Also, showcase those 5-star views! Having blinds that guests can adjust for their light and privacy preferences is a great, simple, and minimal alternative to traditional window dressings.

The boutique hotel experience on a budget

One thing we all noticed right away was how clean and organized everything was. The smooth, light-colored flooring made it easy to sweep and clean up spills, and the quartz countertops in both the kitchen and bathrooms were a breeze to maintain. When choosing finishes for your place, you don't have to go high-end, but always think about how easy they are to take care of. Light colors make rooms feel bigger and more upscale, while darker tones create a cozy and unique vibe.

You can tell the hosts paid lots of attention to the high quality of the items that matter most for a guest's experience: linens, bedding, and towels. These are great examples of where you want to invest your money, as they can greatly elevate the guest experience and result in excellent reviews!

The Misses: Areas for Improvement

The elevated and unique look

We were hoping the gorgeous style and fancy vibes from the complex's reception and amenities would carry over inside the property, but they didn't quite make it. The overall decor, color scheme, and vibe felt kind of plain, not very original, and a bit rushed and basic. If you plan and carefully choose your decor and furniture ahead of time, you can still achieve a classy and upscale look on a budget! Just steer clear of decorating on a whim, or you might end up with a mishmash of styles and colors. If your place is near the water and you want to capture that coastal vibe, forget about fish art, coral pillows, and shell collections. Instead, go for natural textures and colors that bring in that beachy feel—think driftwood, wicker, stones, soft tones, and simple artwork that doesn't take away from the beautiful landscape views but highlights the history and architecture of the location. Stores like Etsy or local shops are great for finding these!


A tired kitchen

We liked that the kitchen had lots of cooking tools, basic spices, and some small appliances, but some everyday gadgets were showing their age! The knives were dull, the sandwich grill was worn out, and there wasn't even a kettle provided, so we had to boil water the old-fashioned way. It's a good idea to keep an eye on your kitchen tools and replace them when they start to wear out! A water kettle is just a basic necessity ;)

Pro-tip: Instead of fussing with small appliances you always have to clean and replace, consider getting a sink water dispenser with hot and cold options, and an air fryer that covers all your guests' cooking needs!


Don’t forget the basics

The bathroom is one of the most important spots in your place. Guests come here to relax and pamper themselves, and you can either make it a great experience or a frustrating one by overlooking simple design details. Make sure to have towel hooks near the shower, a tray or cups for toothbrushes, and a spot for shampoos and soaps inside the shower. No one likes having to put their stuff on the counter, the floor, or hang it far away by the door. Go for nice-looking, easy-to-clean storage accessories. We personally love Umbra—they’ve got stylish and affordable options.


The takeaway

We loved the tasty Caribbean food, the lively sounds of Latin music, and the unique vibrant architecture and colors of the old city and the ocean—these were the standout highlights of the trip! If one of the attractions of your property is its surroundings—whether it's nature, architecture, or both—always use this as the main inspiration for your interiors. Your property is often the first place guests experience, giving them a taste of their vacation, so get creative with your decor.

Incorporate decor elements like photography of historic spots, textures, and colors inspired by nature, unique handcrafted pieces, and for an extra touch, consider adding Instagram-worthy murals or temporary wallpaper that reflect the local culture, music, and architecture. Always ensure you cover the basics for a great guest experience and offer something memorable that will earn you rave reviews!


If you're already in the short-term rental (STR) market, we recommend reading our past articles on Elevating Your Airbnb to Become a Super Host or Designing an Airbnb Plus Property. For more Design Diaries stories in other cities, go to Embracing the Essence of New Zealand and A Quick Peek Into Croatia.

Remember, we're here to help you bring your space to life. If you need an extra hand, schedule your free intro call with us here. We offer multiple online interior design package options and we're available worldwide!


The White Dahlia & STR Design Team



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