Tour Operator: Canal House
Duration: 5 days / 4 nights
Phone Number: (507) 228-1907
The compact country packs so much diversity that in one day you can swim in the Caribbean and the Pacific, visit three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cruise a Man Made Wonder of the World surrounded by wild tucans, monkeys and crocodiles and treat yourself to some of the best hotels and restaurants in Latin America. So just imagine what you can do with five days...
Day One : Stroll and Sleep in a UNESCO World Heritage Site
With New York less than five hours away and direct flights from seven other North American cities, it's a quick trip, made even quicker by your access to the diplomatic arrival service that whisks you through customs, along the Pacific Ocean past the dizzying skyline and into the charm of Panama City's quickly revitalizing old quarter, where you will base for two nights out of the lovingly restored Las Clementinas, a six-room, all-suite 1930's hotel with a view to die for that Wallpaper* recently called one of Latin America's best or ; or The Canal House, a restored turn of the century mansion with 3 unique rooms. The old quarter--a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique mix of architectural styles that give you instant insight into Panama's Spanish, French, Chinese, American and Caribbean influences--is the kind of place where hip galleries and gourmet ceviche restaurants co-exist effortlessly alongside raspado (shaved ice) carts and traditional barber shops offering $2 haircuts. Most flights arrive in the early evening, which gives plenty of time for a stroll around the old quarter, followed by dinner and a mojito on one of the plazas.
Day Two; The Rainforest and the Panama Canal
Enjoy a cafe con leche or a delicious cappuccino with your breakfast (sip it slowly--the world's most in-demand coffee comes from Panama) before taking a 30 minute drive through the rain forest to the edge of the Panama Canal, where you'll spend half a day exploring the lush waterway that strikes the seemingly impossible balance of being a both a key to global trade and one of the most bio-diverse places on earth. On the way back, stop at the Miraflores Locks for a late afternoon beer in the observatory overlooking the mechanical ballet that Frank Gerhery once called a "kenetic sculpture, an incredible experience."
Days Three & Four: A Caribbean World Heritage Site and Private Retreat Like No Other
As you ease out of Panama City, Latin hustle gives way to a distinctively Caribbean rhythm. Incredibly, crossing the isthmus takes less than an hour by car, which gives you time to detour past the haunting cliff-top ruins of Fort San Lorenzo before heading on to the town of Portobello, where a beaming boatman waits to take you across the bay to El Otro Lado (literally, "the other side"), a private retreat surrounded by rain forest and fronting a bay Christopher Columbus adored so much he christened it "Portobello" ("beautiful port") and UNESCO protected as a World Heritage Site.
Stepping off the launch it's clear that El Otro Lado is truly a labor of love. The balance this private retreat strikes between elegance and playfulness speaks to the well-traveled owners' passion for a unique lifestyle they have cultivated over decades in this once forgotten Panamanian village. The retreat is intimate--only four cabins--and the staff has a warm but unobtrusive style that comes from years of working for the family and their guests.
If you can resist the temptation to just find a secluded hammock and read all day there is plenty to occupy your two days at El Otro Lado. In addition to exploring the retreat's lush grounds, the must dos include the short boat ride to the retreat's private beach (the chef packs a mean picnic basket!) and a visit to the studio of Panama's photographer laureate, Sandra Eleta, whose years of living and working with the village's youth is beginning to produce some of Panama's most interesting talents.
At the end of your fourth day you'll board the historic Panama Canal Railway at the Colon station and be back in Panama City in time for dinner in Casco Viejo and your final night in Panama City at Las Clementinas or The Canal House.
Day Five: A Unique Art/Artisan Gallery and Farewell
Departure. If there's time, we'd recommend a visit to Carlos Weil's gallery before heading to the airport. His decades working with indigenous artisans has masterfully bridged the gap between art and artesania and almost no one can leave his cramped, eclectic gallery without finding the perfect gift to take home.
Price: High Season: April 2012, November & December 2012 (excluding Holidays).
High season: January 4th thru April: $3290.00
Low Season: May to October 31st, 2012: $3185.00
Holidays: December 22nd 2012 to January 3rd 2013 :$3425.00