Archive for October, 2007

Banana’s Resort on Isla Grande (A Review)

October 12, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

By: Chris Walker - Our family went and stayed for 3 days / nights in the Banana’s resort on Isla Grande. Overall we enjoyed our stay. The scenery was beautiful, the staff was very friendly, and the accommodations were excellent. The group was running a pricing “lodging special” for kids to stay free. What was not included was transportation from Panama City, meal costs on the island (except for breakfast), and the water taxi to get to the island. Thankfully, we brought cash with us to cover the water taxi, as that charge was not a piece of information until we were in the van on the way. Trying to secure a reservation was a cumbersome process that involved emails, international phone calls, and international faxes. It was challenging to get it done, and the lack of information that we are used to having (confirmations, confirmation numbers, etc) left us wondering if we really were going. We used their taxi service to get there, as our planned arrangements to get there ourselves fell apart. The driver was nice, prompt, and did his best to avoid the potholes on the road beyond Portobello. (more…)

The atmosphere was what we expected: isolated, resort like, and because we went mid-week, we were with just a few other people, it was not the crowd that we saw arriving on Friday for the weekend.

In terms of food, it is said that you can walk to town for meals, if you don’t want to eat at the resort. We did that one day, but it was a strenuous hike over a small mountain through the forest – not doable at night, and barely doable for a family with small children. We enjoyed the hike, but never left the resort again. When we asked the construction workers about the hike, they simply said they take the boat around to the other side.

Thus, you are a virtual captive of the resort for food. The food it self was OK, not spectacular, but not awful, and the pricing for tourists. 9.00 for pasta alfredo, 9.00 for corvina, are examples. After a few days, the selection seems very small.

In our cabin, we had spacious room with ceiling fans, air conditioner, and a sliding glass door. A screen on the door would have been a beautiful addition to sleep to ocean sounds at night, rather than the hum of and AC. In our cabin, we had no hot water. We don’t know if ours was broken, or if that’s normal. It didn’t bother us however so we never asked or complained. But for those prices, I would think hot water would be available.

All told, we still spent about what we would have spent to stay at the all-inclusive Decameron or something like that. But our family has unforgettable memories and had a good time. We wanted to be remote, disconnected and isolated. Banana’s on Isla Grande allowed that to happen. I can’t imagine staying more than just 2 or three days unless you are fine with the limited food choices and the swimming options of the sea or pools. Three days was fine enough for us.

Chris

Editor’s Comments: Thank you very much, Chris. I just love to get these trip reports from around Panama. Anyone who would like to write up a quick “been there, done that” kind of thing please feel free and send them to and thanks.

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Source: VIP Panama

A New Incarnation for the Panamá Rey Hotel

October 12, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

The Panamá Rey Hotel, under the same ownership for the past twenty-six (26) years, is presently in the midst of an amazing million dollar-remodeling project. With a history of solid successful business management behind it, and because the hotel is in David’s center of commerce, it is in an ideal location, and now is the perfect time to prepare the Panamá Rey Hotel as the premier hospitality center for the western highlands of Chiriqui. This modern renovation and major design improvement will give the hotel a highly contemporary, 21st century appearance. The renovations will involve a total revamping of the exterior and interior of the hotel from Accommodations, Guest Services, Restaurants Services, making it a hub for eco-tourism and attractive all-inclusive travel packages.

 

Panamá Rey Hotel is the tallest building in the city of David where you can experience the view from atop the hotel in the ‘mirador’ viewing area, which offers a superb, 360-degree view of the surrounding areas: Baru Volcano, the mountain ranges of Panama’s western highlands, and the Pacific Ocean. Well that is, after the two state-of-the-art “on top of the world” modern restaurants are completed. The entire eighth level will blossom into two magnificent restaurants: Mandalay Bistro, with Eurasian style cuisine, and Sky Pub and Grill, offering American style food which, when completed, will accommodate seating for 250 guests.

A View From the Top

The Panamá Rey Hotel began its renovations of its 100-room hotel in 2002 with an initial investment of $300,000 to upgrade part of the ground level of the hotel. A number of the interior rooms have already been completed. The Café Don Sui a small café was the first to be completely renovated and is adjacent to the hotel, with a new colorful oriental look, carried out using rich warm red color and wood interior. The café accommodates 25 diners.

The Skypub Bar and Lounge (Under Construction)

Next to be completed was the hotel lobby, revamping and opening it up to the street, then enhancing the look by adding a real teakwood reception welcome center. The renovation process does not stop here, with plans for the installation of a second hotel elevator, and of course, the hotel’s upper level with the two restaurants, as well as the new façade of the building and many other modifications.

Hotel Lobby and Reception Area

The Panamá Rey Hotel, ideally situated in the heart of David, the capital of Chiriqui with a population of approximately 124,500 (est. 2005), is the third largest city in Panamá. David offers all the modern services one might expect for its size. A sojourn at the Panamá Rey Hotel will keep you from wasting valuable vacation time with unnecessary packing and hauling of your luggage all over Panamá. The hotel is conveniently located so you may enjoy your vacation activities in the beautiful province of Chiriqui. The hotel is a mere 10-minute drive from the Enrique Malek airport, which serves the western highlands of Chiriqui with daily flights to Panama City, Costa Rica, and the Bocas Del Toro archipelago, a popular group of islands on the Caribbean side of the province. If your pleasure is mountains, then the Volcán Barú National Park, with the highest elevation in Panamá at 3,478 meters above sea level is your destination. And quaint little Boquete, filled with beautiful tropical vegetation, which can be found on the eastern flanks of the Baru Volcano in the pleasantly cool highlands of the province, is a perfect coffee growing paradise, with temperatures between 70° and 80° F. Furthermore, if you are interested in looking for real estate, you can arrange for a personal tour provided by the hotel’s owner Mr. Wee-Mingh Fung. Moreover, if you are an investor looking for that perfect opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Panama’s tourism boom, then you will be glad to know the Panama Rey Hotel is currently looking for investors.

Café Don Sui

After a fun-filled day of activities, make a quick stop to your room to freshen up then come join us at the Café Don Sui, which is annexed to the hotel and offers Chinese and International cuisine. The café also provides room service for the Hotel Panamá Rey, so you may dine-in or order to go. Take pleasure in the charming atmosphere of the café and enjoy an exquisite meal at reasonable rates. The Café Don Sui was newly remodeled in 2002. Visitors will want to say hello to Señora Fung the matriarch of the hotel and café. Señora Fung offers everyone a warm welcome and makes sure the food is prepared to his or her complete satisfaction. So, for excellent food at affordable cost the Café Don Sui is difficult to surpass.

The Panamá Rey Hotel provides excellent hospitality at affordable prices. Some of the hotel’s hallmark services include: bilingual receptionists, private meeting rooms, Chinese and international restaurants, security boxes, on-site parking, laundry services, shoeshine services, messenger services, plus corporate programs for its frequent clients. You may select from three room combinations including: basic, junior suite, or mini suite with Jacuzzi. All rooms have television and cable connection, hot water, room service and extras depending on your room selection. The Hotel Panamá Rey offers options for romantic getaways, eco-tourism and real-estate tours, and attractive corporate packages. Plan your daily outings, then relax and enjoy your vacation, letting the Hotel Panamá Rey take care of everything for you.

Mini Suite

Testimonials: We have a growing base of regular customers who go out of their way to stop by and visit every time they are in the area. You can see on of these testimonials on Don Ray’s Chiriqui Chatter blog.

To sum things up, this venerable, family owned hotel is committed to becoming a state-of-the-art, 21st Century hotel. It is in an optimal location to serve as a major hub for eco-tourism in the western highland of the Chiriqui province. The Panamá Rey Hotel’s complete revamping of its entire guest services will make it the most attractive, full-service venue available in David.

Contact Information:

    * Location: 3rd Ave in David, Chiriqui, in the Republic of Panama

    * Telephone: For information and reservations please call +011 (507) 775-0253

    * Email: [email protected]
http://www.hotelpanamarey.com/

SOURCE: Don Winner @ Panama-guide.com

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Source: VIP Panama

InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort & Spa in Panama Opens

October 11, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) (LSE:IHG) (NYSE:IHG) (ADRs), the world’s largest hotel group by number of rooms, announces the grand opening of the InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort&Spa, the first luxury beach resort in Panama. The 300-room resort is the second InterContinental hotel and the third IHG property in Panama. Owned by Empresas Bern under a license agreement with InterContinental Hotels Group (Nachrichten), the resort is situated on 20 acres of lush rainforest and is located just 20 minutes outside Panama City near the western entrance of the Panama Canal. It is the third alliance between IHG and Empresas Bern, one of Panama’s most prosperous developers. Bern has had long-standing agreements with IHG; and his Miramar InterContinental Panama and the Crowne Plaza Panama properties are both located in Panama City. “This magnificent property is a marvelous complement to IHG’s resorts across the globe,” says Alvaro Diago, Area President of InterContinental Hotels Group Latin America. “Herman Bern’s vision, once again, surpasses everyone’s expectations. This resort is IHG’s first in Central America and is destined to be one of the region’s premier properties.”

At InterContinental Playa Bonita, luxury begins with its spacious guestrooms, which feature magnificent views of the ocean and a casual yet elegant West Indies-inspired decor. Every room is thoughtfully appointed and equipped with luxury bedding, rich wood furnishings, air conditioning, cable television and wireless Internet access. In addition, Playa Bonita’s prime locale, within a self-contained enclave along a one mile stretch of golden beach bordered by natural reserves, provides guests with a tranquil oceanfront resort that is isolated from the outside world; yet, it has convenient access to the rainforest, Panama Canal, Panama City, the historic colonial city of Casco Viejo and Amador Causeway for a truly lavish travel experience.

Designed with the well-seasoned traveler in mind, InterContinental Playa Bonita’s brilliant white Mediterranean-influenced architecture, coupled with sophisticated and imaginative style, surrounds guests with a refreshing sense of peace and relaxation. White day beds scatter the grounds overlooking the Pacific Ocean and hammocks hang between every palm tree lining the beach. A mist pool provides a quiet oasis for adults and Bonita Del Mar, the resort’s 10,000 sq ft holistic spa, is the ultimate escape to cool off from the Panama sun. Additionally, the resort boasts four free-form swimming pools, three restaurants, 12,500 feet of meeting space and a number of outdoor activities.

“Playa Bonita is truly a grand work of art,” continued Alvaro Diago. “Herman Bern set out to deliver the luxury product that this destination has been missing, and I’m proud to say that Playa Bonita is it.”

“This property brings together the best elements of both companies,” adds Bern. “We have always been proud of our involvement with IHG, as their brands lend unparalleled global recognition. There is unlimited potential when two companies like ours are working together to develop a property.”

For more information or to make a reservation, please call 1-800-327-0200 or visit http://www.intercontinental.com .

The InterContinental Playa Bonita participates in Priority Club Rewards, the world’s first and most global hotel loyalty program spanning more than 3,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries. Members earn their choice of points toward free hotel nights or merchandise, or earn frequent flyer miles with more than 40 domestic and international airline partners. Enrollment in Priority Club Rewards is free. Guests enroll online at http://www.priorityclub.com, by calling 1-888-211-9874 or at the front desk of any InterContinental Hotels& Resorts property.

InterContinental Hotels&Resorts continues to grow its presence in the Americas region. In 2005, the company’s flagship hotel, the InterContinental Buckhead, completed its first full year of operations. The InterContinental Merida in Mexico joined the portfolio in 2005 and was quickly followed by the opening of the InterContinental Kansas City at the Plaza in January 2006. This Spring, the InterContinental Harbor Court Baltimore will open. Currently under construction are the InterContinental Boston, scheduled to open in Fall 2006, the InterContinental San Francisco, scheduled to open in late 2007 and the InterContinental Sacramento scheduled to open in mid-2008. Plans are also underway for the new InterContinental Resort&Residences Orlando with construction expected to begin in late 2006 and the property expected to open in early 2009.

IHG has been serving Latin America for 60 years — with hotels situated in nearly every key market in Central and South America. IHG is one of the leading hotel companies in Central and South America.

Note to Editors:

InterContinental Hotels Group PLC of the United Kingdom (LON:IHG, NYSE:IHG (ADRs)) is the world’s largest hotel group by number of rooms. InterContinental Hotels Group owns, manages, leases or franchises, through various subsidiaries, over 3,600 hotels and 537,000 guest rooms in nearly 100 countries and territories around the world. The Group owns a portfolio of well recognised and respected hotel brands including InterContinental(R) Hotels&Resorts, Crowne Plaza(R) Hotels&Resorts, Holiday Inn(R) Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn Express(R), Staybridge Suites(R), Candlewood Suites(R) and Hotel Indigo(TM), and also manages the world’s largest hotel loyalty program, Priority Club(R) Rewards.

InterContinental Hotels Group offers information and online reservations for all its hotel brands at http://www.ichotelsgroup.com and information for the Priority Club Rewards program at http://www.priorityclub.com.

For the latest news from InterContinental Hotels Group, visit our online Press Office at http://www.ihgplc.com/media

http://www.finanznachrichten.de/nachrichten-2006-03/artikel-6222810.asp
SOURCE: Don Winner @ Panama-guide.com

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Source: VIP Panama

Nikki Beach to Playa Banca in Panama

October 11, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

 By Doreen Hemlock | South Florida Sun-Sentinel - South Florida’s Nikki Beach, known for its celebrity-studded, late-night parties at beach venues, is extending its hip brand to Central America. The company’s new hotel division said it broke ground on an $80 million project at Panama’s Pacific Coast beach known as Playa Blanca. The venture, which promoters call “the sexiest project in Panama,” is due to open its first phase in December 2008, featuring a deluxe condo-resort with 144 rooms and suites, a spa, gym and other amenities. Panama-based RG Inmobiliaria will develop the Nikki Beach Resort & Residences Playa Blanca, which will eventually encompass 500 units. Nikki Beach said it also plans a second hotel later in Panama, in the capital of Panama City. The groundbreaking comes amid a real estate boom in Panama, with some analysts calling Panama City “the next Miami.” Skyscrapers are rising fast across the capital’s skyline, including one by Donald Trump. A nation of almost 3 million people, tropical Panama has boosted business incentives in recent years, partly to offset the loss of U.S. military revenues after the U.S. handover of the Panama Canal in 1999. (more)

Besides tax breaks and a warm welcome, international investors say they also like Panama’s expanding operations at the Canal, political stability, sophisticated financial center, low crime, widespread use of English and the U.S. dollar, plus costs lower than U.S. rates.

Based in Miami Beach and owned by Jack Penrod, Nikki Beach already has grown its club-restaurant network to span Hollywood, Fla., New York City and Reno in the United States, as well as Mexico, Portugal, Spain, France, Morocco, Italy and other overseas locales.

Its months-old hotel division also plans resorts in Costa Rica, Mexico and Grenada in the Americas, Portugal and Spain in Europe and Cape Verde in Africa.

SOURCE: Don Winner @ Panama-guide.com

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Source: VIP Panama

Travelers find exceptional hotels in Latin America

October 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

Travelers can choose from many quality hotels throughout Latin America, but will likely return again and again to those they feel offer an exceptionally good stay.

Although the definition of an exceptionally good hotel stay varies from traveler to traveler, there are generally a few standards most travelers agree on, according to Langley Steinert, chairman and founder of TripAdvisor, Inc.

TripAdvisor provides a comprehensive travel search engine that helps consumers research their business and leisure travel plans via the Internet. The company’s website TripAdvisor.com, which was awarded Forbes Best of the Web, also post thousands of hotel reviews for properties worldwide that are either written by former guests or by professional reviewers.

“Service is clearly the most important to the majority of travelers,” said Steinert. “A caring staff makes the difference to most hotel guests who often comment on such things as good maid service or a helpful concierge.”

Room quality comes next in importance, with travelers giving hotels high marks for comfortable beds, nice views and large, luxurious bathrooms, Steinert maintains. Good restaurants and attractive outdoor facilities, such as pools, are also frequently mentioned.

“Whether a hotel is exceptional or not to travelers is really about whether it exceeds their expectations,” he added. Three qualities distinguish Radisson hotels in Latin America, according to Michael Turner, president of Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Latin America: Radisson’s YES, I CAN staff training program, the company’s STAY YOUR OWN WAY program, and its excellent distribution throughout Latin America. Two new hotels were added in the region in 2004, the Hotel Radisson Decapolis in Panama City, and the Radisson Ciudad Empresarial.

Radisson’s YES I CAN training program aims to provide all staff with the power to surpass the expectations of guests in an efficient and effective way.

“Radisson is very proud of the quality of service of its employees, who make a difference within the hotel industry. The YES I CAN program is constantly offered to all staff, so every employee who joins the hotel gets this training before coming into contact with our guests,” Turner said.

Radisson’s worldwide STAY YOUR OWN WAY offer personalizes guests’ experiences by granting them the freedom to enjoy the hotels with services tailored to their needs.

To accommodate the needs of executives who travel throughout Latin America Radisson currently has 10 award-winning hotels located in El Salvador, Guatemala City, San Jose, Panama City, Bogota, Quito, Sao Paulo, Montevideo and Santiago. New Radisson hotels will soon be added in Cali, Colombia, Lima, Peru, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Exceptional hotels strike the perfect balance between their quality product and service elements, according to Jeff Karlson, regional director of sales and marketing for Hilton International in Latin America. Hilton operates 10 hotels in Latin America, which are located in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Belem, Caracas, Barquismeto; Isla Margarita, Quito; Guayaquil and Cartagena.

“Hilton Hotels in Latin America are from the onset strategically designed to be ’special places’ where guests can always expect a more exciting and rewarding experience,” Karlson said.

Hilton guests rave most about the personal recognition they receive at the hotels and the unparalleled reward system Hilton provides through Hilton HHonors[R], Karlson added.

“Our staff are trained to create personal ties with guests that go beyond the business relationship,” Karlson said. “We understand the need of travelers to feel a sense of belonging and personal attachment as they travel around the globe.”

The Hilton HHonors program is unique in allowing travelers to earn both hotel points and airline miles at more than 2,500 hotels worldwide.

“It is one of the few programs which does not make travelers choose between earning miles and points,” Karlson added.

Hilton International recently outlined plans for a unique five star resort development scheduled for completion in early 2006, which is to be situated at the heart of the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil.

Guests of the Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi in Brazil particularly appreciate the luxury hotel’s friendly and helpful staff that maintains its professionalism without seeming mechanical, according to Luis Perillo, resident manager.

“The feedback that we have received from guests in the extensive surveys we have taken showed that they place a premium on the service of our staff because they are friendly and helpful, but still very professional,” Perillo said. “This is extremely important to us because we encourage staff to be themselves without a lot of restrictions in the belief that they will make guests comfortable if they are happy and proud to work at the hotel.”

The 485-room, elegantly appointed hotel, which is owned and managed by Hilton, was the first of the group’s hotels in Latin America to offer futuristic guest rooms that provide changes in ambiance and decor to facilitate sleep, work and relaxation.

Work areas feature high-speed Internet connections, ergonomic furniture and office supplies, while the bedrooms offer panoramic windows designed to make the most of natural light and plush goose feather comforters.

The Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi, which opened in October 2002, also is home to the award-winning Canvas Bar & Grill, where chefs create culinary works of art on big white, square plates–emphasizing texture, color and flavor. The restaurant–which was named the “Best Business Restaurant” by Latin Trade in 2004 and received a coveted star from the Guia 4 Rodas Brazil 2004–also hosts exhibitions of local artists’ work that rotate every 45 days.

The Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi has received several prestigious awards, including “Best Business Hotel in Latin America” from Latin Trade in 2004; “Best Luxury Hotel” from Guia 4 Rodas Brazil 2004; and “Best Meeting and Convention Hotel in South America” from the World Travel Awards.

Marriott International specializes in exceptional hotel stays with an unrelenting commitment to meeting customer needs through a tradition of excellence in quality, caring, personal service and warm hospitality that started 75 years ago with the founders of the company, according to Susan Tompkins-Payne, regional director of field marketing, Caribbean/Latin America Region, Marriott International.

Marriott was recently named the most admired company in the lodging industry by Fortune magazine, which polled 10,000 executives, directors and security analysts who judge companies based on “innovativeness, employee talent, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, quality of management, financial soundness, long-term investment and quality of products/services”.

“Over the years, our guests have provided us with many challenges. Misplaced passports, lost luggage, and in one instance–the odd for gotten pair of dress shoes,” said Tompkins. “In this case Marriott arranged for size 10 black wingtips to be brought to the guest’s room immediately. On another occasion, a guest had forgotten his wallet half way across the world. Marriott retrieved the wallet, shipped and delivered it to the guest overnight.”

Marriott has 36 locations throughout Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras and the Caribbean.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts Spa Collection in Mexico provides a truly exceptional hotel stay for those who enjoy being pampered in style. All of the hotels in the collection are centered with the philosophy of the Seven Pillars of Wellness–a global vitality trend that incorporates the essential facets of health, beauty and inner peace that provide a well-being approach to fitness.

Spa Collection hotels–which are available in Cancun, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta–offer a distinctive portfolio of spa amenities and services: They are home to the luxurious Temazcal treatment, Nopal Wrap and Mystic Mayan Massage.

Guests who experience the Temazcal treatment enter a special chamber heated by rocks. When boughs of herbs are laid over the hot rocks and the rocks are doused with water, a richly scented steam begins the sweating process necessary to relax and purify the body.

The Mayan Mystic Massage is a full body technique using specially blended oils and the healing power of quartz, while the Nopal Wrap uses cactus leaf extracts–ideal for those who have had too much sun, sea or wind.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide–Latin America Division operates 43 properties in 10 Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

Across all of its brands, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) sets itself apart from other international hotel chains through an ideal blend of international standards, and local flair. The internationally regarded IHG family of brands (InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites) includes some of the most recognized and respected names in the industry. As the most global hotel company, with a presence in 100 countries or territories and 535,000 guestrooms IHG’s brands are among the most familiar name in the global hospitality industry.

In Latin America, IHG has, or is about to establish a presence in virtually every major financial center in the region, as well as numerous other cities in key countries throughout the region. IHG, with its roots in Latin America, and nearing its seventh decade of existence, is renown for its ability to balance the complex needs of today’s traveler, be it business or pleasure.

“Corporate and leisure travelers both have grown accustomed over the years to enjoy our standards and amenities across the whole of our brands,” says Alvaro Diago, area president of InterContinental Hotels Group Latin America. “That is why our brands continue to rank amongst the most preferred in the region.”

IHG provides guests with the option to select their hotel needs based on their available budget. And IHG continues to promise the lowest Internet rate guaranteed for all its brands. IHG offers one simple loyalty program, Priority Club Rewards, which provides guests with the option to accumulate points or airline miles across all its hotel brands.

Some of Central America’s finest hotels, personalized five-star service and the best locations can be found in Real InterContinental Hotels brand.

The visual impact of all six hotels represents only the beginning of their many pleasures. Inside, along with the warmth of the colorful lobby and the soothing atmosphere offered by the staff, guests will note the exquisite charm of the award winning restaurants and bars.

Tastefully decorated in warm tropical colors, the spacious guest rooms begin at the deluxe level, followed by Junior Suites that may feature Jacuzzis and spacious living areas, while Club Rooms provide private lounge benefits for members of InterContinental’s Ambassadors Club. A stay on the executive floors ensures the utmost in privacy and personal service, including complimentary buffet breakfast.

Always situated in the heart of the city, Real InterContinental hotels are at walking distance from the country’s largest malls and other entertainment options.

When You Travel with Your MasterCard Car, Exceptional Service Is Routine

In a world in which travel has become increasingly complicated, MasterCard offers exclusive amenities that make every trip simpler and more enjoyable.

INFORMATION AND RESERVATIONS

Planning a trip abroad can be confusing, Do you need a passport or vaccinations? MasterCard premium cardholders can obtain complete destination information by calling the MasterAssist[R] service.

Platinum cardholders can call the MasterCard Concierge Service to arrange car rentals, restaurant reservations, tickets to events, and more.

PRESTIGE AND PROTECTION

On your day of departure, you may be able to avoid the crowded gate area and wait in privacy and style at a Priority Pass Airport Lounge, if you are a Platinum cardholder.

And if shopping in the USA is on your itinerary, take MasterCard along. All cardholders from Latin America can take advantage of the convenience of shipping purchases back home with MasterDelivery[TM]. With this exclusive service, you can send “proof-of-receipt” packages to MasterDelivery facilities in Miami, which will handle customs and arrange for delivery to the address you designate.

EMERGENCY SERVICES

Cardholders who travel abroad can rely on MasterCard Global Service[TM] for emergency card-related assistance–any time, anywhere, any language,

Has your card been lost or stolen? With one toll-free call, you can file a report, and request a replacement card or an emergency cash advance to cover immediate costs. You can also call Global Service for account-related information or directions to the closest cash machine.

HOW TO REACH MASTERCARD

In your home country, call your card issuer for service. From the United States, the Bahamas, Canada, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands, just dial MasterCard Global Service at 1-800-307-7309. From Mexico, call 001-800-307-7309. From Brazil, call 0800-891-3294. Or call collect to the United States at 1-636-722-7111.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Freedom Magazines, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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Source: VIP Panama

Casco Viejo Panama - Los Cuatro Tulipanes

October 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

The restaurant scene in Casco Antiguo, Panama represents some of the finest and most innovative cuisine in the entire country. From shee-shee prefix menus to simple outdoor cafes, there is something for almost everyone behind these walls.

Where else in Panama can you sit beneath hundred year old stone walls or beside historically-preserved monuments? Where can you go out for a night of theater and a glass tangy ocean-side sangria? The emerging restaurant scene in Casco Antiguo, though already firmly established, is making hefty strides in the nation’s culinary marketplace.

Casco Antiguo is not for everyone. The preconstruction condos in the city and sprawling beach resorts on the Pacific Coast are for the masses. If you’re looking for everyday vacation—the kind of place that might exist on just about any tropical coast—then this may not be the place for you.

But think about quaint plazas in Europe? Think about beautifully-aged balconies and droopy bougainvilleas. Think about Cuba, think about Cartagena, think about New Orleans (minus the girls gone wild).

Casco Antiguo might be Panama’s most unique nook: a neighborhood with almost no middle-of-the-road travel characteristics left in its tank. This is a place for romantic travelers and investors to whom the twinkle of all-inclusive resorts, and the sheen of loft high rises is anything but extraordinary.

Get on a double-decker tour bus if you want. Eat at the tourist restaurants and shop in the tourist malls: the same places you’ve been vacations year after year. Those who find their way to Casco Antiguo though, are ones who will not forget.

Matt Landau is the modern day equivalent to a travel dimwit. His articles on Casco Viejo and rants on Panama apartments for rent have appeared in no major news publications and after several years of dedicating himself to the industry, he now resides in a small hut companioned only by something that resembles an overgrown hedgehog.

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Source: VIP Panama

Cruisin’ and Tourin’ the Panama Canal

October 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

Well, we’re back at it again. Cruising I mean. This time, we’re taking a Carnival Cruise to the Panama Canal. While investigating the tours available, I was again amazed at the wide variety of shore excursions available.

Our cruise has only three stops in eight days. Our first stop is in Costa Maya, Mexico for a nine hour stay. The next port-of-call is Limon, Costa Rica for eight hours of fun. The last port will be Colon, Panama at the start of the Panama Canal for a nine hour stop-over.

Each port-of call has at least one shore excursion that would appeal to most everyone. We obviously can’t take all of the excursions, so, decisions have to be made.

In Cost Maya, Mexico, Carnival (on-line) offers a full two dozen possibilities! For the culture buffs there are two different Mayan ruins excursions to choose from as well as a “Mayan Culture Experience” tour.

Perhaps you would prefer to take a motor coach tour of the Costa May area and check out the highlights or you could choose the “Town & Beach Break Combo”.

For the adventuresome, Carnival offers horseback riding, Or, you could choose from the four different off-road tours, including jeep, kart, mini-rhino or dune buggy adventures. Two speedy water adventures are offered as well. How about a fly-fishing adventure in this very exclusive corner of the world?

Carnival offers twelve different beach and water sports excursions. Scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking (in cool clear bottom kayaks!) and catamaran sailing are all included in these excursions.

Carnival lists one less excursion (twenty-three) for Limon Costa Rica. Many of these include the canals and rivers in the rain forest areas. Aerial trams, zip lines, boat cruises, kayaking, wagon or train – take your pick!

Tours to various plantations may be of more interest. Choose from coffee beans, pineapples, bananas - or perhaps the Costa Flores Tropical Gardens?

Take a horse-back ride or go white water rafting. Bike through a Caribbean Village. Explore Costa Rica on an off-road excursion. Carnival offers them all.

In Colon, Panama, Carnival’s on-line offerings include a dozen interesting excursions. Take a step back in time and visit an Embera Indian village where the tribe lives today much as they did when Balboa first set foot in Panama.

Of course, the main highlight for many here will be the Panama Canal, once considered the eighth wonder of the world. Six of the offered tours include the canal.

There is a golf course with the canal as a backdrop. You can fish at Gatun Lake, one of the most famous canals in the world.

Visit Portobello, the “Pirate’s Paradise”. Or take the Isthmian Railroad and see the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean both in one hour.

With so much to do while on board the cruise ship, and the broad diversity of excursions available is it any wonder why vacation cruising is becoming so popular?

A1-Discount-Cruises.com offers visitors informative articles packed with helpful hints and ‘insider’ information relating to Alaskan Cruises, Caribbean Cruises, Romantic Getaways, cruise ships and cruise wear. Visit us at Discount-Cruises for all your cruise shopping needs. To get decked-out for your cruise, check out our Cruise Wear page.

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Source: VIP Panama

First Time In Panama?

October 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

I’ve been meaning to commit this to writing since I got back from a conference in Panama City. The conference was held this past May in a beautiful setting along with some truly inspirational people. But, if you’re going to Panama for the first and staying in some of the same places I stayed in there are a couple of things you need to know.

#1. NO WASHCLOTHS. Now I never used a wash cloth until my wife pointed out the need for ex foliation. I don’t know how I ever survived without instituting this into my life before, but the nightmares have almost gone away. At the Plaza Piatilla they have hand towels and they have bath towels…not a washcloth in sight. The puzzled looks I got from the wait staff was priceless. Just an observation that is hotel specific? Nope. No washcloths in David, Panama hotels either.

#2. NO FREE REFILLS. Except for the higher end eating establishments, there is no such animal. I was irritated by this at first. Must be a money thing, huh? Well, yes and no. let’s go to the video tape. I was watching the Latin American version of American Idol and I got my answer. You recall how the three judges in the United States version always display the large chalice with the name brand emblazoned so big and so rich in color that it can be seen from the waiting room? Taking a look at the Latin American table, we see cans. Yep, cans. Aha! A clue! Taps filled with co2 are few and far between. Even the star judges don’t get that kind of treatment. Coffee is the same way. You’ll pay for each and every cup. Found this in David as well. Of course, you don’t need too many cups of Panamanian Coffee to get your groove on. Unlike U.S. coffee, this is a REAL cup of coffee.

#3 U.S. FAST FOODS. I can eat just about anywhere. Some would say therein lies my problem. It’s a heavy burden. But a piece of KFC chicken over at the mall in Panama is not the same chicken you get in the U.S. Seemed to me the spices were cut in half. It was like listening to a song that you can barely make out. You know it from somewhere but you can’t hear enough of it to really identify it. No Ranch Dressing either. I can live without it but my better half has been known to leave the premises grumbling in cases of the ranch dressing void.

#4. BEEF IS RANGE FED. Now this is a good thing. This is the way God meant it to be. No hormones or antibiotics to mess up your system. Pure, simple, range fed beef. They don’t age the beef either. This is probably another key to longevity in the little latitudes. Aged beef is another way of saying “decomposing beef.” Aging came about to tenderize range fed beef. A good idea at the time, except that you’re basically eating a half rotting corpse. Believe me, you’ll live longer by not eating semi-rotten meat.

I guess that what I like though. The choices. I like being able to choose what I want, how I want to live (or die). It’s sure not from consuming some chemically induced animal carcass. The people in the mountain ranges enjoy some of the longest lives anywhere. In light of this, maybe I’ll just go back to using hand towels.

M.C. Kopfer is former radio program director and talent scout. A graduate of Kent State University and a retired State Law Enforcement Agent. He is currently a member representative for the VR Group and an active contributor to Privacy Club International For more information please go to http://Kopfer.vrgroup.info or contact him via email a

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Source: VIP Panama

A Guide on Bars in Panama and Bar Districts

October 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

Be prepared for a shocker when you get to Panama, especially if you are coming from one of the Central American neighbours. Bars in Panama are much more cosmopolitan than the bars in, say Guatemala or Nicaragua. You will find a tremendous variety in the types of music, drink prices, and crowds.

If you are just looking to unwind, grab a beer, and call it a night around 10 then Panama may not be the place for you. There aren’t a ton of sidewalk cafés that feature outdoor or patio dining, but a handful exist in places like Casco Viejo or El Cangrejo. Even the Bella Vista and Calle Uruguay area has a handful of spots. Habibis is an obvious choice for outdoor lounging, and Sahara is another good place to go for a cool drink outside. In Casco Viejo, one can find a number of places like Brazios. La Terraza was a popular gringo hangout, but with the exit of ¨dirty Mike¨, the Panama bar’s fabled owner, the place has lost its distinctive feel. You can still get a cold beer at this famous gringo watering hole, located on Via Venetto.

Bars in Panama usually get cranking around 10 or 11pm, and one of the best bars to begin the night is the new Londoner Bar located on Calle Uruguay. They have happy hour, billiards, and a good looking and distinctively British menu. British memorabilia line the bar, British and Scottish ales are available, and football is almost always on the tele. Another good bar in Panama is Crème. An upscale lounge type bar that features some great mixed drinks and the most comfortable couches in the country, Crème is a must visit for the business traveler and the backpacker alike. Located next to Farmacia Arrocha, this bar turns into a very hip club after 11pm. The appetizers are top notch, and the drinks wont cost you an arm and a leg.

For a complete list of bars in Panama, I usually go to buscapanama.net. I think this site is maintained by an American living down there, and it seems like they do a pretty good job of keeping up with the trends. The site differentiates between bars and clubs, which is important because the two tend to attract different crowds. Another good thing about buscapanama is that they feature pictures of people at the bar. Another good panama bar website is dealante.com, but that one is in all Spanish. It’s a great place to see all of the good looking crowds.

The thing about Panama bars is that one week they’ll be all the rage and the next week they’ll be dead. People in Panama love their bars, and following the trends can be a full time job. Bars in Panama run a ton of specials, and from the looks of it the busca panama site has a list of specials as well. Most bars here don’t close until late, so there is always an opportunity to grab a drink well into the wee hours.

The variety of bars in Panama is tremendous, and they are concentrated in a number of different areas. The primary bar hopping areas are Calle Uruguay, Area Bancaria, and Amador Causeway. The financial district, or area bancaria, is quickly becoming one of the hottest places for bars in panama. Bars like El Pavo Real, Koppas, Crème, Lighthouse, and Voila are all located in this new trendy area. It is the closest area to walk to if travellers are staying in the El Cangrejo or Bella Vista areas, and it is very safe at all hours of the night. The causeway is a bit far away, and bars are spread out. Calle Uruguay has the highest concentration of bars, and they run the gambit from dive bar to swanky club.

Either way, there is definitely something for everyone!

Kent Preiss-Davis has been dreaming about Panama since he was a boy, and finally made it out to the beautiful country which he now calls home. He has taken on the arduous task of reviewing every bar, club, and brothel in Panama City, Panama. A weekend wasted is never a wasted weekend.

Panama Bars

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Source: VIP Panama

It’s ‘English Spoken Here’ On an Island Off Panama

October 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Panama Hotels No Comments →

THERE were no taxis when my plane landed on a Saturday afternoon in the town of Bocas del Toro, Panama. I hung around the terminal for a few minutes, then strapped on my backpack and started walking. Twenty paces later, fat raindrops began falling and I scurried under the wooden eaves of a tiny refreshment shack.

”Where are you staying? La Veranda?” asked the woman at the counter, in an English that had a heavy West Indian accent. ”Well that’s right over there,”

She pointed out a blue house, just on the other side of the small dirt runway, and I headed that way. The rain, and the urgency of settling into a dry place with my gear, had distracted me so much that it took me another 20 paces for it to register — I’d just had a conversation in English (West Indian-style) in Panama.

The Bocas del Toro Archipelago, on the Caribbean coast of western Panama, is a tiny enclave of English-speaking Afro-Antilleans in a Spanish country. History, politics and labor migrations have created a handful of these colonias, as they’re called, all along Central America’s east coast — Nicaragua and Honduras, for example, have the Garifunas, and there are Afro-West Indian communities in Limón, Costa Rica; Colón, Panama, and on the tiny Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia.

The colonia in Bocas Town, on Colón Island, came about because the United Fruit Company built a headquarters here around the turn of the century. The company hired Caribbean migrants, mainly from Jamaica, to work banana plantations. When United Fruit moved to the Panamanian mainland some years later, the Caribbean workers stayed on the islands, settling in to fish, farm and trade.

More than 100 years later, Bocas Town still feels like an abandoned company outpost. Walking quickly along dirt streets, I noticed that the houses were mostly wooden two-story cottages with identical silhouettes: wide porches; framed, shuttered windows; and, occasionally, wood gingerbread trim. Many appeared on the verge of collapse, others were well-maintained and boldly painted — red with green, yellow with blue. Laughter, music (gospel and B. B. King), and the sputter of old car engines being tinkered with drifted through the air — the sounds of Saturday on any small Caribbean island.

While I was intrigued by Bocas’s unusual past, I had other reasons for including it in my trip to Panama last January. With 9 islands, 51 keys and more than 200 islets spread across the lagoon of Chiriquí, the Bocas del Toro Archipelago is like a mini-Caribbean off Panama’s coast. But it gets a fraction of the Caribbean’s tourist traffic, and there are no resorts or big hotels on the islands, only small inexpensive guest houses. A national marine park in the lagoon, on the nearby island of Bastimentos, protects the archipelago’s nearly pristine reef for snorkelers and divers.

Shivering under a thin blanket on my last night in Panama’s mountains, I dreamed about swimming in blue-green waters, lying on empty beaches and snorkeling with the equipment I’d lugged from New York.

Bocas Town, the provincial capital on Colón, the archipelago’s main island, didn’t have much of a beach (the public beach there fronts on the ominously named Bahia Sand Fly), but it is where most travelers go because of its central location. From there I could rent little boats to take me on short day trips to the marine park, 20 minutes away, and to uninhabited islands.

By the time I reached La Veranda guest house, the rain had slacked to a gentle drizzle. I’d found La Veranda in a roundabout way. When I called a nearby guest house, Cocomo on the Sea, it was full. I asked the friendly sounding American owner if she could recommend something, and she suggested La Veranda, which wasn’t in either of my guidebooks (both had been published before it opened two years ago). I liked the name, picturing a house with a big, cozy porch. On this instinct alone, I called the day before I arrived in Bocas Town and booked a single with bath for $25.

Not knowing what to expect, I realized after I walked up the old wooden stairs to the big second-story porch that I’d stumbled upon a rare find — a cheap guest house with terrific style. Heather Guidi, a former nurse from British Columbia who bought and restored the house, had turned it into a funky Caribbean fantasy of blue, yellow, purple and sea-green walls, original wood plank floors, ceiling fans and gingerbread trim. In my room were many things that pleased me — thrift shop mirrors, a billowy white mosquito net, handmade chairs painted turquoise, and, beside the queen bed, a lamp that made me laugh with its shade speckled with tiny sea shells.

The large veranda had an antique sofa and comfy wicker chairs with batik cushions. There was a kitchen at one end, with a big refrigerator, a stove and a sink. ”You’re welcome to use it,” Heather said, and told me the grocery was two blocks away.

Lounging on the couch and chairs were three of my fellow guests, two blond crewcut men, and an earnest blond woman, in their 20’s. One young man was working on a computer, the second was cleaning the sink; the woman was reading the Bible. They were freelance missionaries from Colorado, on a break between projects in Central America.

I found this out because shortly after I unpacked, the rain came back, this time in exuberant waves, sheet after tropical sheet. There was little to do but sit on the veranda, chat and wait for a break in the clouds. A brief one did come, and I ran down the street to the grocery store, the ”Epicenter of Savings,” for coffee, milk, water, bread and cheese. On my way back, drops began to trickle down again. I scurried up the stairs as thunder began to roll.

It was not the rainy season, Heather said. In fact, it was the time of year that is supposed to have the lightest rainfall. This made me hopeful that tomorrow would be sunny. My mood lifted, and when the missionaries invited me out for a beer, I joined them.

The next morning, the sky was gray, but there were some breaks in the clouds that encouraged optimism. After fixing coffee and eating some fruit, I walked down Bocas Town’s main road to the town center in about 10 minutes. Along the harbor was a road lined with fishermen’s bars, dive shops and places that arranged boat excursions. I got as far as asking about a snorkel expedition when the gray clouds turned black again, and I headed back to the guest house pronto.

But the rain caught me in the middle of Calle 3, Bocas Town’s main street. I jumped onto a creaky wooden porch where an elderly man sat silently, watching the nearly-empty street. He’d caught my eye because his house listed about 30 degrees to the left and appeared to be only moments from collapse, and because he looked like a member of the Buena Vista Social Club, distinguished in a starched white guayabera. In an Afro-Antillean town, the man stood out, a reminder of Hispanic Panama.
His name was Don Mario, and when I introduced myself, he immediately got up and went back into his house. I heard some scraping and banging, and he emerged holding an old steel folding chair.

Rain pounded, I sat, and Don Mario entertained me with episodes from his 83 years, beginning with the time he ran off, in his 20’s, to Havana. ”Oh, mi amiguita, what a time it was!” he said, his eyes clouding wistfully. ”I danced in the clubs, I heard all the great musicians, saw the great comedians — it was the best time of my life.” More stories emerged, of his travels around South America on a merchant marine vessel, his adventures in Panama City during World War II. He did not explain in detail how he’d ended up as a tailor in Bocas Town, but I did find out what made his house tipsy: an earthquake in Bocas about 10 years ago. In any event, explained Don Mario, it would be torn down soon, for, like many Bocas old-timers, he was selling his property to an investor who would probably put up a little hotel, or a restaurant, to join the others now popping up along Calle 3.

After my conversation with Don Mario, I drifted along the main street, noticing now how tourism was reshaping the sleepy little backwater. There were three or four restaurants with Italian names and owners, and the clatter of hammers announced renovation and new construction. Over a terrific, simple lunch of fish and rice at Restaurante Kuna, run by Kuna Indians from eastern Panama, I overheard Latin men with mustaches speaking rapidly into cell phones, while their gringo lunch companions questioned them, in bad but enthusiastic Spanish, about real estate opportunities.

I realized I’d arrived in Bocas Town at that pause before the tourism machinery kicks in, before the friendly smiles of the locals turn into professional grins (or irritated masks). Suddenly, I didn’t really care if I ever used that snorkel here.

The rains continued to pass over La Veranda. Between downpours, I walked in the neighborhood, met the neighbors and explored the little piers that jutted out from the light brown crescent-shaped beach opposite Sand Fly Bay (which, happily, didn’t live up to its name). On one old wooden pier, a group of children sang me Spanish pop songs, spoke to me in the local English patois, and showed me how to fish with a plastic line.

And then, one afternoon, the sun appeared, and I ran down to the central docks. Suddenly, everything was in color: green sea, blue sky, little red and white boats. It was now or never — I hired a small boat (a bote) to ferry me across the bay to Isla Bastimentos (for $1), the next largest island in the archipelago, and home to an Afro-Antillean community that was preparing for a big carnival. (I had been eagerly reading the posters that announced the parades.)
In a tiny wooden vessel that had been carved, Indian style, from a single piece of wood, I set out with two boatmen, one talkative, the other strangely silent. Suddenly, about five minutes out to sea, the wind kicked up, sending the little craft slamming down with a loud thump. The silent boatman didn’t even flinch.
”Don’t worry,” said the chatty boatman. ”He’s deaf.”

”Deaf?”

”He can’t speak, either. We’re a team — he drives, and I talk.”

We put in at Isla Bastimentos, and I noticed there weren’t any other taxi boats. So I asked the partner to wait while I explored the island for around 30 minutes. I offered him an extra dollar, and he said O.K. Seconds after I turned my back, I heard the motor sputtering; the boat turned around and sped across the bay back to town.

Isla Bastimentos has one main street, about a half-mile long. At one end, women were playing drums and chanting and clapping carnival songs. At the other was an open-air bar jutting into the harbor. It was old and funky, with missing floorboards and a strong smell of rum and sea salt. Only after I walked in did I notice that the only other woman in the place was the bartender.

Soca music pounded and echoed across the empty dance floor, and so did my heart. Was I stranded? Had I taken enough cash in case I had to spend the night? Worst of all, the sky was turning into a gray soup again. My face must have telegraphed my panic because moments later, one fisherman had bought me a beer and another had gone to look for his neighbor. ”Yuh no worry,” said the neighbor in patois, ”I can take you back in my boat.”

The rain held off until just before we pulled into Bocas Town harbor. Then the sky burst, all at once, and the showers came down, thick, warm and comforting.

The bottom line: an island enclave

I spent $38.62 a day on food, hotel and transport during four days and nights in Bocas del Toro. Prices are in United States dollars, which are widely used in Panama. The international dialing code for Panama is 507.

Transportation

From David, in southwestern Panama, I flew to Bocas del Toro for $24. My flight back to Panama City cost $49.35. Both were on Aeroperlas, Panama’s main domestic airline; (507) 757 9341, on the Web at www.aeroperlas.com.

My guest house, La Veranda, was a five-minute walk from the airport. Water taxis, which leave from the main dock by the harbor, charge about $1 for the 15-minute ride to Isla Bastimentos. Boat owners congregate at the pier, offering various excursions; I would have gone on a four-hour snorkel trip to nearby Hospital Point if it had ever stopped raining. The price I negotiated was $8.

Street addresses are not commonly used in tiny Bocas Town; the streets, arranged in a grid, have numbers or letters. Most hotels and restaurants are on or near Calle 3, the main drag, which can be walked from end to end in 15 minutes. The airport is near the center of town.

Places to Stay

The four-room Veranda guest house, telephone and fax (507) 757 9211, www.laverandahotel.com, had a sense of personal style that is rare in budget lodgings. Rates are now $35 a night, but my large room cost $25 a night and had its own bathroom with a shower, a queen bed, and lots of shelves and pegs for hanging and storage. La Veranda doesn’t serve breakfast, but the guest rooms open to a large, airy veranda with couches, a dining table, chairs and a communal kitchen. Perhaps the only drawback is that it is two blocks away from the sea (guests have access to the hotel’s swimming dock).

If a sea view is a priority, I’d recommend the nearby Cocomo on the Sea guest house, (507) 757 9259, www.panamainfo.com/cocomo, a more upscale, more conventional place with an inviting deck overlooking the water, and four rooms, which I couldn’t inspect because they were full when I visited. Rooms cost around $50, with breakfast.

A budget standby is Las Brisas Botel, (507) 757 9248, where a rather drab, dingy room without windows is about $25 a night. The draw of the place is its spacious breezy deck overlooking the water.

Where to Eat

La Ballena, (507) 757 9089, is an Italian-owned restaurant on Avenida E one block off Calle 3. It’s upscale for Bocas Town — dinner entrees are $9 to $12 — but the portions are huge. My meal of tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by spaghetti with octopus sauce, could have fed two. The bill was $18 with a glass of surprisingly good house wine.

Kuna is an unpretentious restaurant across from Las Brisas Botel. Seafood dinner entrees (around $7) are served on a wide, breezy porch overlooking the main street. I had very good shrimp and calamari in garlic sauce, and returned the next night for grilled red snapper. There is no phone. DAISANN McLANE

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Source: VIP Panama

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