All guestrooms at the JW Marriott Panama Golf and Beach Resort feature private gardens or balconies, and lagoon-front villas line the paths to the beach club.
The landscaping around the main pool creates privacy, and the decks of the turquoise pool integrate with the beach and ocean. There are lap pools closer to the beach and then there is the calmest slice of the Pacific you’ve ever seen, where the waves gently roll in as though in a bay.
The volcanic ash-soft sand of the beach sparkles underfoot. If your interests extend beyond sitting at the pool you can surf, jet ski, or go deep-sea fishing. You can arrange four-wheel ATV motorbiking or horseback riding along the ocean. Inland you can zip-line, play tennis, or play a round of golf on the hotel’s championship golf course.
Chef Jose Rodriguez from NYC has created five diverse restaurants. Tamarindo is a fine-dining establishment with a staff that will serve a private dinner under the Tamarind tree on the great lawn or on the beach. El Faro is the beach club’s restaurant and Prime 19 is in the clubhouse at the golf course. There is also a Japanese restaurant and a poolside restaurant that combines casual fare with Panamanian cuisine.
We drive to Panama City. We stop at Le Valle, a small town with a 500-year history. The local lore includes the story of a princess whose father, a chief, demanded she marry the son of another tribal chief. When she refused because she loved a Spaniard, her father had the Spaniard killed, and she ran into the woods to live without love. Hundreds of years later, she is still sleeping atop the mountains.
In Panama City, we check into the Bristol Hotel in the financial district. Selected as a leading hotel of the world, The Bristol is owned and operated by a group with several Panamanian hotels, including the JW Marriott. Our room is modern, luxurious, and gracious, just like Panama City itself. At the Dulce Vichy Spa, I choose the “Rain Forest,” a massage with moving showerheads pouring warm water to make the massage more a dream than reality.
Dinner in the main restaurant, Sal Si Puedes, is supervised by Executive Chef Cuquita Arias, a well-known chef-author and celebrity cooking show host. The delights of our tastings menu include sweet and sour crocodile, lobster medallions dressed in caramelized fig and hot pepper caviar, and tuna passion served with crunchy fried plantain and black pigeon pea mash.
For dessert, the bites of cheesecake topped with caramel and marshmallow sauce and the three-chocolate parfait are delectable.
All who come to Panama must see the awe-inspiring Panama Canal. There is a museum as well, a tribute to the engineering of 150 years ago as well as 100 years of keeping abreast of the state of the art. A new lane with wider and longer locks is now being built.
On our last night we visit Casco Viejo, “Old Town,” which is thoroughly enchanting and exciting. The choice of restaurants is as diverse as the cultures of Panama, the crossroads of the world.
By: Stan Cohen
Photos: Patricia Foerster