The Westin Playa Bonita Panama’s lobby // © 2016 Zorianna Kit
Feature image (above): The property sits on a former U.S. air force base and is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and lush rainforest on the other // © 2016 Zorianna Kit
Panama City may be a busy metropolitan hub, but you need only to drive a few minutes from downtown to reach a beachfront property surrounded by a rainforest oasis. Once a former U.S. Airforce Base, it is now home to The Westin Playa Bonita Panama.
The location is so tucked away — yet so close to the city — that it’s no wonder the Playa Bonita was chosen as President Obama’s secluded home away from home during the Summit of the Americas last year. The president stayed on the property’s private residence Villa Bonita, while Vice President Joe Biden checked in at the one of the Playa Bonita’s presidential suites.
My own suite overlooked the Pacific Ocean and, in the distance, I could see the ships taking a break as they waited their turn to enter the Panama Canal. From my private balcony, I also could spot the hotel’s four beachfront infinity pools.
There were six restaurants and three bars to choose from when it came time for meals or drink. And with my access to the Westin Executive Club Lounge on the 19th floor, I was able to stop in for a quiet meal, grab some snacks or relax with a glass of wine while taking in the views around me.
The hotel’s in-house Gamboa Tours can craft any type of itinerary for guests to explore Panama. One popular site to explore is the Panama Canal, of course. The engineering marvel joins the Atlantic and Pacific oceans over a 48-mile stretch. I visited the Miraflores Locks, where I watched as ships were lifted and lowered in two separate stages to transition between the two oceans.
For a wildlife experience, Gamboa Tours’ Gatun Lake Expedition took me to one of the largest artificial lakes in the world to see the primates on the popular “monkey islands.” I also rode an aerial tram through the rainforest, ascending 280 feet from the forest floor to the canopy. Both excursions were unforgettable ways of seeing wildlife up close and personal in their natural habitats.
After such eventful days, it was easy to unwind at the property’s Sensory Spa by Clarins. Treatments such as the Bamboo Body Scrub were wonderful, but it was the Aquabella hydrothermal wellness circuit that truly elevated my spa experience. One can easily spend hours unwinding in this coed space that includes hot and cold plunge pools, the Amethyst steam room and an ankle-deep river of stones that massages tired feet.
But despite the beauty of the property and its private and luxurious setting, it was the personalized service that put my time at the Playa Bonita over the top. In Panama, Mother’s Day is celebrated Dec. 8, and my stay happened to coincide with that date. Even though my kids were back home, when I returned to my room, there was a vase of red roses with a Mother’s Day card, complete with a touching note from the concierge staff.
I may not be a member of the White House staff, but at the Playa Bonita, I mattered just as much.