The Best Destination in Panama
Our top two choices in Panama for a beach vacation were the untouched San Blas Islands — very rustic and undeveloped or a stunning private retreat near Portobello National Park called El Otro Lado. We decided on the latter.
El Otro Lado, Private Retreat
Question: What do you do if you want to take a vacation– but one person wants an adventure and the other wants to sit on a gorgeous beach and sip on boat drinks by an infinity pool all day?
Answer: You go to El Otro Lado. This is a good spot spot for people who would like a jungle adventure — without compromising luxury or seclusion. Typically to achieve that type of profile you would need 18 hours of air travel, various doses of malaria pills and a scary ride in a plane that formerly belonged to Russia. However, getting to El Otro Lado is a bit more simple.
The View of El Otro Lado from Portobello Bay
To get to El Otro Lado first you must get to Panama City. This is a 3.5 hour direct flight from Houston, Texas. From there, El Otro Lado will either pick you up or you can rent a car and drive 2 hours from the International Airport to Portobelo though a combination of smooth paid highway and country roads. Note: driving in Panama is an adventure in itself. If you don’t speak Spanish I wouldn’t do it because chances are extremely high that you will get lost and need directions at some point.
Arriving at El Otro Lado:
Once you arrive in Portobelo you need to get out a map. And not one with street names. But one with pictures that looks like you are hunting for a buried Pirate’s Bounty. And, metaphorically, you are. Directions like, ‘go straight at the big building’ and ‘walk next to the escuela de ritmo and there you find the little boat dock that will bring you to your private retreat’.
A 5 min boat ride will transport you to El Otro Lado. We were were greeted with fresh papaya juice (from the papayas on property) and promptly met the three well-trained well-manicured house black labs. Given the personal touch of this private retreat, check-in consisted of eating fresh ceviche and drinking Papaya Mojitos as we marveled at the interior decorating of the clubhouse. The decorating style should not make sense… yet it works perfectly.
It’s like Africa meets Lilly Pulitzer meets Vogue.
Another guest, who had just returned from deep sea fishing, was intrigued by the fact my husband brought his fly rod. As we discussed the incredible clubhouse decor he commented that the same designer had done his estate in Panama City– but with a lot less pink.
Gorgeous yet funky dinner settings at El Otro Lado
There are four separate houses for guests. Three of the four are for two people and one larger house is for four people. Guest houses are painted in aqua with white trim or in turquoise with purple cabana stripes. They have white lattice work around the roof and a wrap around porch with one side facing the sea and the other backing up to the jungle.
You have a proper desk in your little house. Inside the drawers are bird, orchid and fish maps to identify rare species in daily viewing. Chic white beds and sofas stand in-contrast to the vibrant and colorful artwork in the room. The modern bathroom has polka dot accents and the shower feels like you are outside.
White linen towels embroidered with their name ‘El Otro Lado’ were a very calming site for someone native to Connecticut. There was a modern white cube sitting on the bedside table that seemed to be useless until I clapped and the time appeared. Flat screen TVs, iPods fully loaded with different “El Otro Lado Mixes” sitting on Bose surround sound docking stations add modern flair to the artistic house.
View from the Private Beach, Woman not Included
What to Do?
During your days you can chose to lounge by the infinity pool, as pictured above. It is here you watch boats sail by in Portobelo Bay which, centuries ago, was a vibrant port and the non-fictional basis for modern day tales of Pirates of the Caribbean. The staff to guest ratio ensures you are never without a a cocktail (ask for the Loominescence– a banana colada which we named on our last night… and used all of the bananas). And if you need to get up and walk around, grab one of the pareos neatly folded as you step out of the pool. It brings a little Nantucket elegance to this Central American retreat.
For the Adventurer
If you are interested, there is a wide range of activities are offered such as: a hike through the jungle with a guide (who has a machete that was put to good use), boat trips to private beaches for the day, kayaking and, my favorite, art classes.
View of the Bay from an Evening Boat Cruise
After spending a week at the retreat we could say definitively that El Otro Lado is an incredibly unique, relaxing and adventurous place to vacation.