Hotel Riu Playa Blanca guests can visit the on-site sports bar at any hour of the day. // © 2015 Terra Judge
Feature image (above): The all-inclusive property offers guests a taste of quintessential Panama, including palm trees and sandy beaches. // © 2015 Terra Judge
Flying into Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama, one is struck by the enormity of the surroundings. Skyscrapers, giant apartment complexes, shiny metals and ever-present construction reflect off the waterfront. It’s dazzling, just not what you might expect when you think of Panama.
But the long, sandy beaches with tropical breezes and palm trees and the people wearing white, broad-brimmed hats are there — you just need to find them, and you can do so about two hours away at the new Hotel Riu Playa Blanca.
The all-inclusive Hotel Riu Playa Blanca is located on the Pacific coast of Panama in the Cocle province. Opened in spring 2014, the new resort fits the image of Panama that travelers imagine, with its white walls, palm trees and expansive beachfront.
Arriving guests are welcomed at the Riu’s spacious lobby, accented with silver and red. The seven-story pristine building is surrounded by a large grassy garden, swimming pools and umbrella-bedecked sun loungers dotting the beach.
All 573 guestrooms have central air conditioning, a minibar, a liquor dispenser, an in-room safe and a balcony or a terrace. Double rooms may have sofa beds, and triple rooms have two beds. Family rooms offer two bathrooms, two bedrooms, three beds and a sofa bed, and can accommodate up to six people. There are 20 two-bedroom family rooms, seven of which are suites and boast Jacuzzis. Many of the rooms have partial or full ocean views.
The resort’s main draw is its winning combination of pools and ocean. Two swimming pools, a children’s pool with slides and a pool with a swim-up bar provide the backdrop for most of the available activities — one of which is enjoying the free-flowing drinks at the swim-up bar.
Additional fun includes joining activities with the Riu team, such as learning to dance; sing; play volleyball and ping-pong; and do aqua gym while submerged. Included in the all-inclusive rate is one introductory scuba diving lesson in the pool. Children can hang out at RiuLand, the children’s club, with entertainment programs designed for children ages 4 to 7 and 8 to 12, while the rest of the group clinks pina coladas poolside.
When the sun goes down, guests can ditch their bathing suits for tropical nightwear and hit the dining scene for buffets and themed restaurants. The resort offers Balboa, the main restaurant; Xian, with Asian offerings; Il Palazzo, the Italian option; and my own personal favorite: Chiriqui, the poolside grill and steakhouse. Make sure to secure reservations for Xian, Il Palazzo, and Chiriqui ahead of time, and formal dress is required for dinner.
There are several options for a pre- or post-dinner cocktail, including Burbujas, the lobby bar; La Rumba, the lounge bar; La Cumbia, the plaza bar; or the sports bar, which is open 24 hours and has nachos on hand for those late-night cravings.
The property also features Riu’s reputable nightlife, with live shows that bring the audience to the stage or present traditional Panamanian dancers. The nightclub, Pacha, lures in guests with its bumping beats, if you’re up for an even later night.
For those who dream of tying the knot in this picturesque destination, Riu Playa Blanca also offers weddings on the beach for up to 60 people, free for those who book a minimum of five rooms with at least a three-night stay. From my oceanview balcony one evening, I witnessed as a wedding party lifted dozens of candle-lit white paper lanterns up and over the ocean, making my Panamanian tropical vacation even more dreamlike and true to the tropics.