The first five-star hotel in Colombia and the first with a private bathroom and telephone in each room, and the first too with a semi-Olympic swimming pool, Hotel El Prado is one of the oldest and certainly the grandest of all hotels in the Caribbean region. With its huge terraces, wide open interior spaces and majestic gardens and hallways, Hotel El Prado is a phenomenal example of the neoclassical (republican) architecture so common during the 20’s of the last century.
Barranquilla’s most iconic hotel
Hotel El Prado was conceived and constructed in partnership with American financier Karl Parrish in the late 1920’s, specifically to provide lodging for the hundreds of foreign engineers needed in the construction of the new, high class neighborhoods of Prado, Bellavista, and Centro.
In an age devoid of air conditioning, the designers cleverly constructed the hotel (indeed, the entire neighborhood) at the point of highest elevation in the area (51m ASL), and its horseshoe shape and orientation were specifically intended to take advantage of the breezes coming off the river and ocean.
This was around the same time that Barranquilla experienced its first real taste of modernism, coinciding with the entrance of aviation, radio and the telegraph – all introduced to Colombia via Barranquilla.
Prado is Prado…
Across several decades, El Prado grew in size and reputation, and became well known as the jewel of the coast. It was the place to be and over the years played host to many famous people, including Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly and Charles Lindbergh. Of course, with fame comes drama and El Prado is no stranger in that regard – just ask anyone who was around back then and for sure they’ll have a story to share. According to accounts by locals and excerpts from the media, in its heydays between the 1950s and 80s, loud music and laughter was trademark for the Hotel, with gigantic parties and events almost every night. At the time, El Prado had the dubious distinction of being at the center of the narcotics and money laundering business of the coast, and was where all the top cartel bosses, gangsters, and their families partied. If you had money, anything could be had at the El Prado.
Bailed-out by the high-end Marriot chain
Around that time, the courts forced the crime syndicate to concede ownership on the basis that the money used to buy the hotel was from ‘ill-gotten’ means (drugs) and instead gave ownership of the hotel to the government – and as is common with everything government manages, over the next several years the hotel sank into dire straights. Sales plummeted, employees weren’t paid, and the hotel visibly deteriorated. Thankfully, in 2012, the government awarded a consortium the El Prado Hotel concession (for 30 years) and in 2016 the Marriot hotel group, an investor in more than 5500 hotels worldwide took-over management of the hotel. In total, more than $25 million USD is slated to be poured into the hotel over the next decade.
Author’s note: I plan to add more content here about the improvements that have been made by the Marriot
If you’re coming to Barranquilla and need a place to stay, we highly recommend Hotel El Prado – just standing on one of the terraces will transport you back to the 50’s – it’s incredible. Oh – and the pool is amazing. If you don’t decide to stay there but want to check it out, they offer a pool and lunch combo every Sunday at a reasonable price. You should also check out their pizzeria – they have delicious wood-fired pizza and pastas, open from Thursday to Sunday until 10pm.
Rooms at El Prado run between $35 and $75 USD.
Hotel El Prado is located here:
Cra. 54 ##70-10, Barranquilla, Atlántico