Intriguing Panama draws you in

Monica Saito at the Panama Canal
Body: 

I had an amazing time on a recent trip to Panama!

I flew from LAX on a Copa in Business Class on a 738; just a recliner, big seat.  Service was good ( but I slept most of the way).

Arriving in Panama City, I was greeted by Royal VIP service at our gate, walked to immigration, where we had no lines and no wait, and then went to the VIP lounge, where we waited for our luggage, which was picked up by the service. All very fast and smooth, and the VIP service cost $50.00! (Well worth it.)

We stayed at the Bristol, one of TravelStore's preferred Signature hotels, and the best hotel in the city. I loved it. The hotel is elegant, spacious, and offers impeccable service. We had a beautiful, spacious room with a nice view. The restaurant was fine, too.

I was so pleasantly impressed by the restoration of the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter). I was here about 20 years ago, and in those days it was like Habana, and falling apart. Today it's comparable to Cartagena.  There are great restaurants, where the food is superb and affordable. Here, we also had a “chocolate tasting” and demonstration on how they make the best chocolate of Panama. Very unique flavors.

I was also impressed by the infrastructure of the New City (little Manhattan), which was a little overwhelming to me; I prefer the old and historic side.

We also visited the BioMuseo by Frank Gehry, an outstanding display of the biodiversity of Panama, and a must see.

We explored Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal. Got a glimpse of many animals and flora of the area, then went to the Miraflores Visitor Center, a large interactive museum on four floors, and we had a buffet lunch at a very good restaurant with a great view of the Panama Canal.

We also visited the beach, and stayed at the Buenaventura Resort, which at one time was a JW Marriott. This is a beautiful, huge resort about two hours from Panama City, and is surrounded by private homes The resort offers many activities, and it even has a small zoo that's privately owned. Being on the Pacific Ocean side, the beach is not the most pristine, but it is okay.

We had the best food prepared by the Spanish chef, David, who seemed to be always around greeting and talking to the guests. He described the food with such gusto that everything tasted divine. We imbibed in the creations of the young mixologist; cocktails that were just works of art. 

I have been arranging visits to Panama quite a bit, usually as a one- or two-night stopover, especially with Copa flight connections to all of Latin America. But there is so much more to this small country, that not even a week would be enough to see it all.  I would love to go back and explore more, like the coffee region of Boquete, the Caribbean side of  Portobello, San Blas islands, and more.

Overall I had a great trip and highly recommend Panama, even more so, now.

Monica Saito