Poised at the junction of North and South America, Panama possesses a laundry list of new attractions, hotspots and luxury hotels that are making it an up and coming travel destination—with the catalyst undoubtedly being the $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion that’s underway and scheduled for completion in 2014. The aim is to allow a greater volume and size of ships to pass through the historic, 50-mile long waterway. The result? Panama City is transforming into an energetic, modern metropolis, with investors preparing for moneyed visitors by upping its luxury quotient.
Donald Trump got in early on Panama’s growing popularity, opening Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in summer 2011, making it the first international venture for Trump Hotel Collection (and the tallest building in Latin America). The hotel is uniquely shaped like a tall ship’s sail, and rooms have floor-to-ceiling views of Panama City and the Pacific Ocean. Panamanian touches such as wood-carved headboards grace the 369 guest rooms, and luxe services abound, including wardrobe storage assistance (so frequent visitors don’t have to lug baggage back and forth) and a complimentary catamaran to Trump’s private Beach Club (an island with white sand beaches, a pool, cabanas, watersports and beach chair service). But it’s the 1,830-square-foot pool deck that really caught our attention—it has a gorgeous infinity-edge pool, alfresco seating at the poolside bar and restaurant and expansive ocean views.
Waldorf Astoria’s The Panamera, the brand’s first in Latin America, is scheduled to open in June in Panama City’s fashionable Calle Uruguay neighborhood. Located less than 15 minutes from Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport and within walking distance of the massive Cinta Costera (the city’s version of Central Park), the luxury hotel will have a 2,500-square-foot spa, 130 guest rooms and an outdoor swimming pool. There will be a variety of restaurants, from the handcrafted sushi at Ginger Sushi Bar and Lounge to contemporary French-American at Brasserie Brillo. The Bungalo Terrace and Pool Bar will be the spot for poolside libations, and The Cristal Bar will serve as an elegant space for cocktails and mingling in the lobby.
There’s much more to do than lounge poolside in Panama. The once dilapidated but charmingly historic neighborhood of Casco Viejo has undergone a sophisticated makeover in recent years. While you can still spot the colonial-era architecture prevalent throughout its streets, the area now houses some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, galleries and hotels. DiVino Enoteca is a swanky wine bar, with loads of varietals to choose from (watch for the classic, black-and-white movies playing silently in the background). At tapas restaurant Manolo Caracol, there is no menu—once seated, you’ll be given a variety of small plates with Spanish influences, such as Andalusian gazpacho with cucumber sorbet and spicy tuna sashimi.
The Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo is set to open in early 2013, and will focus on the country’s fascinating biodiversity and the importance of the isthmus—the narrow strip of land that makes Panama and its revenue-generating canal. And though the museum isn’t officially open yet, you can join the list of VIPs (Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jane Goodall) and stop by the site for a sneak peek.
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