By Allison Tibaldi, Taking the Kids correspondent
Panama is a destination that seems to be on the tip of every traveler’s tongue. Panama City is the gateway to this country’s beaches, rainforest and diverse flora and fauna. My family and I recently had the opportunity to explore this colorful city, where the 21st century mingles with the old world. It’s very well connected to most of North and South America, so nonstop flights from many cities into the capital’s modern airport are the norm. We boarded a plane at JFK in NYC and five hours later we were swimming in our hotel’s pool.
The Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort
The new Santa Maria Hotel & Golf Resort is only 10 minutes from Tocumen International Airport and 15 minutes from the city center. The neighborhood has a swanky suburban feel but it’s close to top attractions.
The 182 guestrooms and suites feature authentic Panamanian design celebrating the country’s artisan traditions. Each spacious room is decorated with Panamanian crafts including the Guna Yala traditional Mola blankets that adorn the beds, baskets hand-woven by the Embera community and furnishings constructed from wood mined from Gatun Lake. Handmade masks and colorful paintings by Panamanian artists mesh with upscale global touches such as Italian marble accents in the bathrooms and European high-thread count sheets. The rooms are comfortable and uncluttered. The common areas are equally welcoming with an indoor-outdoor flow that encourages exploration of the lovely grounds.
For families, the gigantic pool with views of the 18-hole golf course means there’s plenty of kid-approved fun after a long day of sightseeing. Three restaurants, spa and high-tech fitness center round out the options.
If your family likes to golf, the hotel is the place to swing a club in Panama City. It is home to the only Championship Nicklaus Design 18-holes, 72-par golf course in all of Panama City.
Don’t miss the Panama Canal
The Miraflores Visitor Center is the best land-based platform to see this engineering marvel. You’ll view mega-cruise ships squeezing through the lock, watch the informative short video and explore the museum. You’ll leave with a better understanding of the canal’s history and the people who came to Panama to build it.
Explore the Old Town
Strolling the revitalized historic district, known as Casco Viejo or Casco Antiguo, is a must. Now a World Heritage Site, it was a decaying neighborhood only a generation ago. Today, it’s Panama’s hippest and most vibrant neighborhood. The charming architecture includes plenty of wrought iron, Juliet balconies and cobblestone alleys. The visuals reminded us of New Orleans or Charleston. Restaurants, colorful street art, chocolate shops and galleries are plentiful.
The stunning Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo highlights Panama’s natural and cultural history. The interactive galleries give visitors a good sense of how human ingenuity shaped this country as well as the importance that preserving Panama’s natural environment has on the canal. The long-reaching effects of the canal are explored as are Panama’s indigenous peoples.
Parque Natural Metropolitano
This 265-hectare city park is a rambling urban escape. It offers well-marked hiking trails through the tropical forest and the chance to see titi monkeys, sloths and iguanas right near the city center.
Biomuseo image courtesy of Visit Panama