Last month, I spent a week in Panama an intriguing country with gorgeous coastlines, supremely lush countryside, a thriving capital city (the nation has one of the worlds fastest-growing economies), one famous canal, and a history packed with pirates, conquistadors, and the notorious Noriega. My friends and I hopped around from Panama City to the offshore Caribbean archipelago, Bocas del Toro, and topped off our trip with a night at the beachfront Bristol Buenaventura on the Pacific Coast (just under 2 hours from Panama City). I must admit, we couldnt have been happier to arrive at the Bristol. As amazing as our trip was, what with our surfing adventures, private over-the-water pads (more on those next week), and unlimited watermelon-smoothie cocktails, after six days of 90+ degree weather, no air-conditioning, and no screens (or working bug spray) to protect from Panamas infamous teensy but ravenous mosquitoes called chitras, a little five-star service and cool (the operative word) sophistication was exactly what we needed.
The sprawling resort is dubbed Panamas finest hotel and Id have to agree. Opened in February 2009, the Spanish hacienda-style beauty sprawls out over 1,000 acres (once farmland; horse stables and a little zoo remain) encompassing two miles of golden beaches; a glistening lake; and rambling pools with swim-up bars, cushioned loungers and cabanas. (An 18-hole Nicklaus golf course is set to open in 2011.) A skinny river runs along the back of the hotel by Tamarindos outdoor dining area and guests can ride a small captained boat along the canal, Venetian-style. Private villa residences surround the main resort and line the banks of the lake and greens. A picture-perfect white adobe chapel sits across the entrance courtyard next to a massive, 200-year-old Corotu tree, home to a white owl that can be spotted at night. Designed by Zurcher architects, interiors have a glammed up, old-world feel with plenty of open-air spaces, inner courtyards with gardens and fountains, breezy archways, and organic or cultural touches that anchor the resort in Panama: The backdrop behind the reception desk is a wiry mangrove tree root, while Lovers Square statue, across the bridge, is one of the many artworks on property by Latin and Panamanian artists. The resorts three restaurants incorporate Panamanian flavors and are overseen by Chef Sergio Howland (a Michelin-starred chef hailing from Cabos Esperanza Resort); the lamb in a five-spice sauce was a standout and the huevos rancheros have a spicy kick. The Corotú Spa comes with five treatment rooms, a sauna, steam room, whirlpool, and a fitness studio next door. Rates from $395/night; www.thebristol.com/buenaventura.
Check back soon for the next video installment of the Bristol Buenaventura's rooms and suites.
Special thanks to Jon Johnnidis and Mark Johnnidis of Axios Productions for their amazing video expertise.