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With one of the fastest-growing hotel inventories in Central America, an expanding Panama Canal and a museum by a world-famous architect about to open, Panama is decidedly in growth mode. For travel agents, this means fresh opportunities to sell the destination to a wider array of clients. Here are a few traveler types who might consider Panama the next great place to discover.
Upscale TravelersWith thousands of luxury hotel rooms entering Panama’s hotel scene over the course of about three years — including brands such as Waldorf Astoria, Royal Sonesta, Hilton and Westin — occupancy rates have dipped and prices are lower in the face of increased competition.
That makes Panama City, in particular, a much better deal for travelers looking to indulge, especially when compared with other cities in Latin America.
Top luxury hotels include the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower, a member of Preferred Hotels Group that’s set in one of the city’s most eye-catching skyscrapers.
Other noteworthy options are the Bristol Panama, which debuted a second tower last year, and the InterContinental Miramar, which offers some of the best ocean views. Sumptuous spas, fine dining and casino excitement are among the on-site offerings at many of the capital’s luxury properties.
InterContinental Miramar and InterContinental Playa Bonitawww.ihg.com
Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Towerwww.trumphotelcollection.com
Culture VulturesPanama City’s historic Casco Antiguo district is undergoing restoration like never before, with upgraded streets that are perfect for strolling past the neighborhood’s famed historic architecture.
Clients can dart into small galleries, shops and museums, including the Panama Canal Museum, set in a former hotel. And nearby, on the Amador Causeway, work is finally wrapping up on the BioMuseo, the Frank Gehry-designed museum that will showcase Panama’s natural and cultural roots. With a visitor center and tours already available, the colorful landmark is bound to become a must-see for fans of Gehry as well as anyone interested in cultural and natural history.
A side trip to Kuna Yala, the semiautonomous indigenous region also known as San Blas, will allow clients to gain additional insight about one of Panama’s largest indigenous groups, while enjoying spectacular Caribbean coastal scenery.
Hipster TypesStyle-conscious travelers like to stay on top of the latest trends. In Central America, Panama City is taking on the role of the coolest place for urban explorers.
Upscale shopping for international designer brands is best at places like the ever-expanding MultiPlaza Panama, a mall where the Las Terrazas section serves as a sleek venue for dining and drinking.
It’s a step above the average mall. But for more authentic, small-scale coolness, send clients to the Casco Antiguo, where Tantalo, a boutique hotel, has a very happening rooftop bar and lobby lounge/restaurant, or the Panamericana, a decidedly hip hostel where the rooftop bar attracts a trendy, young crowd of locals and foreigners whose purchasing power far exceeds the room rates and cheap drink prices.
Sun SeekersConsidering Panama’s long, winding coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, it’s no surprise some rather good beaches dot the shores. The most convenient to Panama City include the recently opened Westin Playa Bonita and adjacent InterContinental Playa Bonita, both of which are about 30 minutes from the capital.
Another favored destination for city-based visitors and residents is the area around Coronado, about an hour-and-a-half from the city. The newest international hotel brand here is the JW Marriott Panama Golf & Beach Resort, the result of the recent rebranding of the existing Bristol Buenaventura. For a Caribbean beach experience, many travelers hop a quick flight to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago of pristine islands near the Costa Rican border.
JW Marriott Panama Golf & Beach Resortwww.marriott.com
Westin Playa Bonitawww.starwoodhotels.com
Nature LoversPanama’s relatively small size makes it easy for visitors to combine city stays with ecologically oriented excursions. Less than an hour by land from Panama City are hotels such as the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, which offers birdwatching hikes, boat tours through the Panama Canal and rides on its own aerial tram, which glides over the lush jungle canopy.
Also great for bird spotting is the Canopy Tower, a small hotel set in a structure built by the United States Air Force in the 1960s to house radar. Tour operators like EcoCircuitos Panama also offer a variety of nature-focused day trips and multi-day excursions from Panama City.
Gamboa Rainforest Resortwww.gamboaresort.com