Panama, luxurious vacation destination
Famous for its canal and skyscraper-filled capital city, Panama is becoming increasingly popular for those travellers who are looking for reliable tropical weather, white sandy beaches and mountainous rainforests. The good news is that prices are quite reasonable, and there’s a plethora of luxurious resorts for the ultimate vacation.
The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort is located in the Cocle Province, which is just over an hour north of Panama City. It’s a great choice if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle. Start your day here with a golf game on the par- 72, Nicklaus-designed championship golf course. Only hotel guests and private members are allowed, so you won’t feel rushed as you make your way along the emerald-green fairways. If your game’s not up to par, guests also have access to the Cobra Performance Centre, where experts will examine your swing and design a plan to improve your game.
With seven pools and more than three kilometres of white sand beach, your biggest decision will be which palapa umbrella you should settle under. While relaxing, ask the resort’s award-winning mixologist to suggest a fitting libation. They specialize in cocktails using local ingredients like guayacan, which grows in the nearby rainforest. A must-try is their signature tropical mojito, which is served in a banana leaf-wrapped glass, and looks as good as it tastes.
While you may be content to stay put, this region is one of the most beautiful in Panama, filled with agricultural farmland, cloudforest mountains, national parks, jungle waterfalls and colonial towns. Buenaventura’s concierge can help you to arrange tours, which include birdwatching (Panama has close to 1,000 bird species), hiking in the rainforest canopy at nearby El Valle de Anton, or visiting an archeological site that dates back to AD 450.
If you’re looking for a bit more action, then The Bristol in Panama City is a good bet. Here, in the heart of the financial district, you can lounge by the pool after you browse the $3 million-dollar private art collection throughout the hotel, featuring works by famous Panamanian and Latin American artists.
For the best of both worlds, check out the recently opened Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort (10 minutes from the airport and 15 minutes to downtown). Located within an exclusive neighbourhood in Panama City, you can enjoy sipping pina coladas and eating ceviche by the pool, while watching the golfers pass by on another Nicklaus-designed golf course. For a nourishing Panamanianstyle massage, visit the spa for a cacao and coffee treatment, which involves a full-body coffee exfoliation and organic cocao wrap.
A walking tour of Panama City’s old town (Casco Viejo) introduces you to historical landmarks, building and plazas, while traversing 16-century cobble-stoned streets. The Panamanian government is investing in the renovation of this district. Still, it’s already home to some of the city’s most charming hotels, cafes and boutiques.
Designed by Frank Gehry, the BioMuseo reviews the historical creation of the isthmus that formed Panama, and how that affected the course of the earth’s biodiversity. Panama has the most diversified wildlife in Central America with species native to both South America and North America.
No visit to Panama is complete without a trip to the Miraflores Lock Centre, so book a tour to view massive ships squeezing through this 100-year old canal lock. Make sure that you check on the timing of the next ship, so that you can watch the lock in action.
For an up close and personal experience of the canal, a boat tour is the only way. In Gamboa, where the Chagres River meets the canal, hop onboard a small lancha, which will whisk you across the Gatun Lake. You’ll pass large cargo ships in transit across the canal, and then travel down small river tributaries, where your eagle-eyed guide will point out local wildlife, including iguanas, sloths, toucans and monkeys. Hang on to your belongings, as these cheeky characters have been known to jump on board.
Rum is to Panama, as whisky is to Canada. Visit Hacienda San Isidro to learn how this small sugar cane mill became a leading rum manufacturer of their world-famous Ron Abuelo.
Before you leave, experience a coffee tasting. An expert will advise you of tasting notes and flavours for locally grown blends that include catuai and geisha. And, of course, prolong the memories of your trip to Panama, by brewing up a cup of your favourite blend when you get home.
Kate Robertson can be contacted at email@example.com