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Panama, luxurious vacation destination

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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.

DOWN TIME

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.

URBAN ALTERNATIVES

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.

POSITIVELY PANAMANIAN

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.

DISTILLING FLAVOURS

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 kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

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Travel: Dominica

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Travel: Dominica

The Ultimate Island Retreat

By Kate Robertson

Dominica is a little-known Caribbean island, located above Martinique in the Lesser Antilles. Comprised mostly of mountainous rainforest, it has few beaches; however, with its hot springs, freshwater lakes and fabulous diving spots, it’s become an attractive eco-tourism destination. Here, the pace is so slow, the air and water so clean, and the food so fresh – every day feels like a a little piece of heaven.

LOCAL CUISINE AND LIBATIONS

After tourism, agriculture is the second most important economical source for Dominica. Much of the food on the island is still grown organically, as farmers have stuck to traditional planting methods. The island is self sufficient with fruit and vegetables, as long as severe weather doesn’t play havoc with the growing season.

A Kalinago Native, Traditional Basket Weaving;

Local cuisine has a creole influence. Stews, fish, and smoked, jerk-like meats are popular. Side dishes (root vegetables) are commonly called provisions. Protein is often served with starchy carbs like yams and potatoes, along with carrots, beans, rice and a green salad.

Portsmouth is the second largest city in Dominica, with approximately 3,000 residents. When visiting, check out the Strawberry Restaurant, with its brightly coloured pink and blue exterior. The daily specials are definitely worth trying, and pair it with an island-brewed beer called Kabuli. For a tropical taste explosion, the passion fruit and coco milk smoothie is a must.

Cabrits National Park

Roseau is the capital of the island, with more than 20,000 people – one-third of the island’s population. Located on the Castle Bruce Highway, between Roseau and Portsmouth, is the Islet View Restaurant. It’s not much to look at from the outside, and inside the decor could best be described as shabby-chic, but it’s the outside patio that’s worth the visit. With a stunning view of the ocean, locals claim that their local rums will treat whatever ails you. Here, they have a large selection of rums mixed with various herbs, as well as a killer rum punch.

Emerald Pool

JOURNEY THROUGH PARADISE

Commonly referred to as the Nature Island, Dominica has maintained a significant portion of land as a national forest reserve. It’s the only Caribbean island with a long-distance hiking trail, called the Waitukubuli – which means ‘tall is her body’, referring to the tall island mountains. You can walk the trail from one tip of the island to the other – 185 kilometres. The trail is divided into 14 segments. Ranging from easy to difficult, each segment takes four to five hours to complete. Through each stretch, you’ll pass through rainforests, coastal villages and old estates, and along beaches and coastal ridges. Hummingbirds and parrots are in abundance, as is the Jacko (or Sisserous), which is their national bird. The landscape is truly spectacular with lush greenery, vines, trees, ferns and orchids – some 85 different species on the island.

The forests on the north side of the island were hit hard by Hurricane Maria in September of 2017. Tall trees were topped, so without its full canopy, it’s somewhat surreal, but still beautiful. Regrowth is now evident, and several volun-tourism initiatives are now in operation.

Sunset at Picard Beach Cottages

After trekking through the forest, finish your day with a fresh-water swim at Emerald Pool. A short hike takes you to a waterfall, which empties into an emerald-coloured pool. The setting is so achingly beautiful that you will feel like you’re in a scene from a movie. In fact, several scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, were filmed on the island.

Dr. Birdy, a guide on the Waitukubuli Trail

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Air Canada has daily flights from Toronto to Barbados. From there, Dominica is a one-hour flight on a small carrier.
  • Arrange for a rental car at the airport, or hire a guide who will help you with itineraries and take you anywhere on the island, for a very reasonable rate.
  • For the the Waitukubuli Trail, you will need to buy a pass. You can use a trail map or hire a guide for most sections of the trail.
  • Check with the Discover Dominica Authority for updates on activities and trails that may have been affected (or closed) due to Hurricane Maria.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

If you’re looking for a less strenuous holiday, or want to mix the hiking with with some R&R, the Picard Beach Cottages in Portsmouth will quiet your soul and your mind, with crashing waves and polaroid sunsets. The salty, floral-sweet air and the sound of melodious birds, help to stimulate your other senses.

In Roseau, get lost in the Caribbean ambiance while floating in the infinity pool at the historical Fort Young Hotel. Indulge in a Dominican- style massage at Nature’s Caress for another level of relaxation.

This wild, largely untouched, island is being called the modern day fountain of youth, with more than their proportional share of centenarian residents.

dominica.dm

Kate Robertson can be reached at kateflyingsolo@gmail.com

 

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