Panama is an isthmus sitting beautifully between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and it certainly isn’t short of experiences worthy of making you feel like a million bucks – especially if you’ve got a couple to spare. Panama is certainly a place your Pounds, Dollars and Euros go further; here’s how to spend (un)wisely.
Panama is blessed with over 1,500 miles of sandy shoreline and thus, is best enjoyed on the water. Panama Boat Charter will take you to a picturesque set of islands on a Contender 28S with plenty of opportunities to enjoy that Panamanian deep blue sea you heard so much about. There are Dolphin and Whale watching packages (from June to October), tours of the Bay of Panama, fishing and beach trips to the island of Taboga and further out to paradise in the Pearl archipelagos. Virtuoso Travel will similarly take you on an ultra-luxe tour of Panama City and the San Blas Islands, that dreamy archipelago of 365 pristine islands you might have heard (dreamt) about. This is one of the most delectable luxury experiences in Panama.
The Pearl Islands are one of Panama’s most glittery archipelagos and Contadora Island is their gem. It’s alleged that Spanish conquistadors escaped to Contadora to take stock of their inventory, granting the island its unique name (“Contadora” is Spanish for book keeper).
In the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, your best bet is over-the-water bungalow resort Azul Paradise. This eco-property is tucked away on a private beach and it’s committed to improving the lives of the locals in the nearby Salt Creek village. The rooms are so ridiculous, you might never want to leave, which would be a crime given the gorgeous surroundings.
Photo credit: Azul Paradise Resort
Panama City is an urban wonderland filled with majestic, cloud-caressing skyscrapers. Get the view from the top with a private helicopter tour. Aero Albrook will ferry you ocean to ocean or take you through the Ancon Hill, the old town of Casco Viejo and the Panama Canal, the greatest feat of modern engineering.
Photo credit: Aero Albrook
Chic rooftop bars
Take to the skies while back on solid ground with a visit to one of Casco Viejo’s stylish rooftop bars. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the Casco’s charm, and it has a rooftop bar to suit every style and craving. At Casa Casco in Plaza Herrera, you’ll be asked if you prefer a sea view or city vista upon arrival, and what delicious options those are. Lazotea is sleek and offers dining and drinks overlooking the city and it’s even got a pool to boot. Salvaje’s tropical decor delights and Capital Bistro is another good one for drinks practically right one the water. When a view is this good, there’s no saying no.
Indulge in some retail therapy at Multiplaza mall’s Luxury Avenue which Dolce & Gabbana, Bally, Cartier, Chanel and Michael Kors call home – perfect if you’re staying at the Courtyard by Marriott Panama Multiplaza just opposite the mall.
The Bristol Hotel Panama City is part of The Leading Hotels of the World consortium, one of only two such hotels in Central America. No stranger to well-heeled guests hailing from all corners, its doors swung open way back in 1997. If available, ask for the Tower Executive Room on the 12th floor (it’s the best one) because who doesn’t want to watch TV from the comfort of your bathtub? One of the most noteworthy parts of the Bristol is the amazing spa, which sits on the 25th floor, the highest point of the Executive Tower. The Vichy shower rain massage is the movie star of their menu. A jet is applied to the body so a rain effect washes over you – literally – while the masseuse treats each area. The massage is carried out on a gel pad and soft, balloon-like pillows.
The W Hotel is nothing to be scoffed at either. The outdoor pool is on the same floor as the bar and often plays host to pool parties and even rooftop yoga sessions. For Old World charm, make your way to the American Trade Hotel in Casco Viejo. This building was once Panama’s tallest skyscraper and it’s been restored to perfection by the Ace Hotel Group. Rooms are spacious and the location offers sumptuous views of Plaza Herrera and the Iglesia la Merced on either side. In the historic town of Portobello, take your itchy feet and retreat to El Otro Lado, a private retreat with a dreamy infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean sea and the lush surrounding jungle.
Photo credit: Marriott Hotels
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Rosie Bell is an international travel writer, author of the book “Escape To Self”, and content editor for Club Elsewhere. Follow her on Instagram @TheBeachBell.