Breakfast on the beach, lunch overlooking the Panama Canal and dinner in the city by one of Panama’s most highly-respected chefs. Sound impossible? Groups can create split-programs with Bristol Hotels, getting the best of both worlds: the breezy beaches and busy city scene, that Panama has to offer.
Freshly made lobster medallions, savory spicy vegetable soup and a seemingly endless selection of decadent pies and soft, gooey cookies are only a few of our buffet lunch options. Our tour guide, Ivan, warns us that the only problem with the chombo, or Panamanian cuisine at Miraflores Restaurant in the Miraflores Panama Canal Visitors Center, is deciding what to eat. I go for a caprese salad drizzled with pesto and balsamic vinaigrette, seafood paella swimming with scallops, calamari and lobster chunks and finish off with a guava cheesecake so creamy that I determine seconds are a must.
On my way back to the table I wave hello to those on board a 1,000 ft “Panamax” vessel, just a few yards from my table. It’s just another day here on the Panama Canal.
We tour the area with Ancon Expeditions, hiking up a waterfall and visiting local handicraft markets where I stock up on locally-made souvenirs. Before nightfall we return to our hotel, Bristol Buenaventura, located on Panama’s Pacific Coast.
The Bristol group promotes split-programs by covering both the city and the beach with their two properties. The beach resort’s 114 guestrooms and 8 lagoon villas are inspired by old Spanish haciendas, exuding a sense of laid-back luxury and offering some of the best views along the coast. Soothing shades of greens and browns dominate the color scheme and décor, and whether you’re in your room soaking in the whirlpool Jacuzzi tub or lounging out by the pool, it’s hard to forget you’re smack-dab in the middle of paradise.
“You have an amazing pool to one side and a great beach to the other that’s just so expansive,” says Kurt Englund, general manager. “There are so many things to do right on our grounds, and groups really take advantage of that.”
While part of our group chose to take advantage of the hotel’s infinity pools and others took a gondola ride down the resort’s manmade lagoon, I hopped on a jet ski and went for a tour of the property from tip to tip. One of the perks of being right on the water.
Exploring Panama’s jungle and familiarizing ourselves with the area sure built up our appetite, which is great considering the amount of amazing food they had for us at the resort’s four restaurants and bars. My favorite was Tamarindo, which served the largest french toast breakfast I’ve ever seen, drenched in condensed milk (as most of the country’s sweet offerings are) which kept me happy and full until dinner. Meeting space is 10,000 sf.
BRISTOL PANAMA CITY
To experience the second half of our trip we took an 80-minute drive to the 56-room Bristol Panama City. The more luxurious of the two properties, it is located in the center of the city’s bustling financial district. Meeting space is 8,000 sf.
Set to open in February, the hotel’s new tower will feature 40 condos, 63 guestrooms and eight suites, connecting to the existing building through an area on the fifth floor.
“We‘re going to have a lounge area there so if a group is split between the residences and the hotel, they can meet up and hang out there,” says Victor Piti, director of sales and marketing. “We’ll have the same amenities available for the tower as we do for the hotel. We have a lot of services that are unique here and go beyond the traditional services such as butler services, a complimentary piece of clothing to be ironed and personalized business cards for guests, among others.”
With its dark wood accents and sleek, contemporary design, the 48-pax Barandas Restaurant was quite a delight. Chef Cuquita Arias de Calvo, commonly referred to as ‘the Martha Stewart of Panama,’ whipped up her 22-dish tasting menu that kept us full for the remainder of our trip. The dishes were what Piti calls, “Panamanian cuisine with a modern ‘Cuquita’ twist.”
Group favorites included cassava fritters stuffed with manchego cheese and topped with hot pepper jelly, pork belly ha kao with sweet and sour sauce, and Panamanian paella, served inside a coconut shell, which went quite nicely with our warapo cocktail, made with sugar cane and rum.