Discovering Panama

Jun 12, 2012 Avatar Florence Brethome Florence Brethome

Panama is great! Great weather (even if their rainy season goes from May to December it is a lot less hot and humid than in Mexico), great food (rich seafood, succulent coffee, safe drinkable water! and superb vegetables & fruits), rich history, super nice people (melting pot of Americans, Europeans Chinese and Indians) and fabulous unspoiled nature! It was all I could wish for and more.

With non-stop flights from LAX to Panama City (6 ½ hours), this destination can definitely be considered as an easy getaway for your clients, comparable to Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

I spent 4 nights there, participating in a fam put together by Travel Marketing Solutions, representing 2 properties in Panama, one by the Pacific ocean and one in the Highlands, for a perfect combination:

  • Cala Mia Hotel
  • Panamonte Inn (part of Small Luxury)

They are located in the Chiriqui region of Panama, about 40 minutes away by plane from Panama City, on the Pacific ocean side of the country.
In Panama City, we also visited a small boutique hotel called Canal House, located in the old town. 3 bedrooms only, personalized service. Daniel Craig (aka James Bond) stayed at this property for 2 months while shooting Quantum of Solace.

Our land arrangements were taken care of by Panama Trails. They did a super job.

Boutique Hotel Cala Mia is on Isla Boca Brava, and surrounded by numerous islands, perfect playground for snorkeling, diving, fishing, and more. How to get there is what matters (a knowledgeable travel agent is recommended!) but once you arrived it is fantastic. Each of their 10 thatched-roof bungalows are located within 40 feet from the ocean. None have either A/C, phone or TV which some of our clients can miss. Some of the units are set for families as 2 bungalows are interconnected to become a 2-bedrooms/2-bathrooms private home. One also has an outdoor full kitchen.

A family from the California Central Coast was there at the same time, a couple with their 3 young kids. It was their 2nd stay at this property and they were extremely happy about their vacation. The food served at their restaurant was really good (Vittoria and Max the owners (respectively Italian and Dutch) who also lives on the island told us it was a paradise for lobsters which is what we had for dinner).

Cala Mia also offers a Spa and several hiking trails where you can meet exotic birds and monkeys.
Although close to the water, there are quite a bit of bugs at night. It is not a problem in the bungalow if you keep your indoor lights off.
Bungalow # 5: Honeymooners. Cala Mia is a GREEN HOTEL. Electricity is operated with solar panels.
Just a few white sand beaches on the Pacific Coast, most would have a dark/volcanic color. But still the snorkeling is great as the water is really clear.

Panamonte Inn is located in Boquete, cute little town in the highlands of Panama, about 2 hours from Cala Mia (by boat and car transfer) or 40 minutes from David airport. Boquete enjoys a great micro climate and temperatures are always mild, comparable to what we have here in LA. It is a mountain climate, so rain is to be expected in the afternoon. What a precious property! The combination of a turn of the century charm with newly renovated bedrooms (king beds, flat screen TV’s, WiFi around property, large bathrooms, you name it) is brought up to perfection. And what makes this property even more special are the owners, Inga Collins and her son Charlie Collins. Please read about them their life story – it is so unique.

In a couple of words – Inga was born in Panama from Swedish parents (her father was a sailor). She passed on her love of cooking to her son Charlie who is nowadays the assigned chef for the President(s) of Panama. He cooked for celebrities such as George W and George Bush, Sean Connery, etc.

Charlie and Inga love to meet with their guests and share stories. It is possible to arrange lunch with Inga for your clients, and/or private cooking classes with Charlie. We did experience a cooking class at Charlie’s home, it was great. Obviously the restaurant at Panamonte offers superb cuisine (I strongly recommend the trout).

The playground around Boquete is amazing: bird watching hikes, treks through the rainforest in the Baru Volcano national park, water rafting, golf (yes there is a golf course), canopy rides, coffee tours (we learned so much about coffee! I’ll never drink coffee the same way again!). And at the end of a busy day you can relax at the Panamonte Inn Spa and enjoy one of its fireplaces.

Canal House is located in the old town of Panama City, undergoing a complete restoration. It is becoming a very charming part of town, full of restaurants and little boutiques to shop at. It’s a much more attractive location than downtown (where the Intercontinental, Sheraton, Crowne Plaze hotels are). The Canal House is the first “hotel like” property to open in this area – more to come. At the Canal House, 3 bedrooms only, all on top of each other as the building is very narrow. The last unit (Master Suite) is the one you want to book for your clients as there’s a large terrace offering great views. You can reserve the whole property for a group or family for the very reasonable price of $800 per night. There’s a housekeeper on stuff, and a manager.
Breakfast is served in the dining room in the morning. A small kitchen is available for cooking or private catering. A cozy separate living room area is also great to watch TV, read a book, or sip on a cocktail.

I believe Panama has the great potential to become a popular destination for the American clientele, looking for a yet unspoiled and quite authentic destination. We only visited the Chiriqui region, but Panama has a lot more to offer! I can’t wait to check out the Caribbean side of the country – the region of Bocas Del Toro and the beautiful San Blas Archipelago.

Panama Trails can also take you to the Southernmost region of Panama named Darien, where you get to meet with the local Indian tribes, and share a lunch with them for example.

I still have a lot to discover about this country and I look forward to go back there soon.

You can send your 4-star clients to Panama, not the 5-star ones. Families looking for great educational activities would love it there. Honeymooners looking for an exotic but different destination would be delighted as well.

It is an easy destination to go to, and one that will definitely give you the feeling to “get away from it all”.