I just came back from an amazing week spent in Panama where I was invited for the first edition of Blogger week – between the city, the coffee plantations and San Blas Islands, here’s a guide to my favorite places…
Most people hear ‘Panama’ and immediately think of the famed canal by that name. But while the Panama Canal is certainly a sight to see, Panama City offers much more than that piece of history. From its paradisiacal beaches to its bustling restaurant scene, this vibrant city delights visitors. Here are the sights I consider crucial for your first visit to Panama City. I’ve included bests of the city’s history, culture, gastronomy, and beaches.
The most cosmopolitan capital in Central America, Panama City is both vibrant metropolis and gateway to tropical escapes. Many worlds coexist here. Welcoming both east and west, Panama is a regional hub of trade and immigration. The resulting cultural cocktail forges a refreshing ‘anything goes’ attitude, more dynamic and fluid than its neighbors.
Unflinchingly urban, the capital rides the rails of chaos, with traffic jams, wayward taxis and casinos with deposit by phone slots stacked between chic clubs and construction sites. A center of international banking and trade, the sultry skyline of shimmering glass and steel towers is reminiscent of Miami. In contrast, the peninsula of Casco Viejo has become a thriving colonial neighborhood where cobblestones link boutique hotels with underground bars and crumbled ruins with pirate lore.
Escape is never far. Day trip to sandy beaches (Pacific or Caribbean), admire the canal, or explore lush rainforests of howler monkeys, toucans and sloths.
San Blas is Home to the Kuna, an autonomous indigenous group who run San Blas with minimal interference from the national government.
Imagine a turquoise archipelago with one island for every day of the year. With white sand and waving palms, these Caribbean islands cheat no one’s version of Paradise.
The American Trade Hotel and Hall(part of the Ace Hotels group) opened its doors in Fall 2013 in Panama City, occupying a lovingly restored landmark building in Casco Viejo.The property stands at the ecological and cultural crossroads of the Americas, deeply connected to both the historic Old Quarter and the nascent new Panama City – a meeting place for influencers, creatives and cultures from around the world.
Bahia de Portobelo, Provincia de Colon, Portobelo, Panama
At El Otro Lado, guests are invited to sit back and take in the steamy rainforests and kaleidoscopic coral reefs that surround the remote 110 hectare retreat while sipping a passion-fruit mojito. The thriving landscape that surrounds El Otro Lado provides the backdrop for endless hours of relaxation. But there are countless options to explore should an active mood strike you, including fishing, rainforest tours, and snorkeling at one of the nearby beaches, transported by one of the hotel’s four motor launches. Social activity centers on the Gazebo—the hotel’s restaurant, bar, and lounge—adorned with carnival masks and white sofas splashed with brightly colored cushions. Here, chefs bring Caribbean ingredients and colonial flavors together nightly, and guests can while away hours gazing over the infinity-edge pool, which appears to flow seamlessly into the pristine bay.
Bocas del Toro is a province of Panama comprising an archipelago off the Caribbean coast, plus adjacent mainland with biodiverse rainforest. Isla Colón, the main island, is home to the capital, Bocas Town, a hub for dining, shopping and nightlife, with reggae music emanating from open-air bars such as Barco Hundido. Beaches with calm waters for swimming include Boca del Drago.
The Resort at Isla Palenque is a “private island community” including residential units — it’s surprisingly intimate, a sort of boutique resort with an environmental conscience and futuristic design focused around indoor-outdoor living. The most unique accommodations are inside the four Tented Suites, perched on a bluff overlooking the beach, beneath the shade of towering trees. It’s high-end camping, with a dash of the treehouse hotel: each suite features an innovative outdoor living area, shaded by a natural forest canopy, leading into a bedroom enclosed by a canvas roof and walls. There are hardwood floors, contemporary outdoor showers, and an in-room iPad with wireless access, as well as a composting toilet, a traditional hammock, and high-impact fans in place of an air conditioner.
You can easily fill a week with activities in and around the mountain village of Boquete. Tours of every sort—jungle tours, coffee estate tours, hiking tours. Adventures for every age—ATVs, zip lines, white water rafting. Or just relax and let your traveling companions do all the adventuring. Boquete’s good for taking it easy, too.
As for eateries, chef Andrés Madrigal, who’s earned a Michelin star and worked with everyone from Ducasse to Arzak, has opened Madrigal, also in Casco, with a focus on Spanish fusion cuisine (entrées from $22)