“BIENVENIDOS!” That was the first word I saw upon my arrival at Tocumen International Airport, located in Panama City, Panama.  I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I do know that “bienvenidos” means “welcome,” and that is exactly how I felt from the moment I landed in the beautiful country of Panama until the minute I left.  I sighed a breathe of relief when I saw a Gamboa Tours driver standing near the baggage claim area with my name on a sign, ready to pick me up and transport me to The Westin Playa Bonita. 

The drive time from the airport to the hotel is about 35-40 minutes, and I came to find out that Panama City was unlike anything I’d imagine it to be. Driving through the city, the massive skyscrapers were so high I couldn’t see the top of them from my car seat window. The city was chic, clean and beautiful – almost like Downtown Miami and South Beach.  Once we crossed the bridge getting closer to the hotel, my surroundings became more of what I’d imagine Panama to be – endless green trees that lined the narrow street and emerald mountains in the distance.  Natural beauty. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more beautiful, we pulled in through the gates of The Westin Playa Bonita.

Walking into the hotel was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The lobby was grand and spacious, unique and filled with natural light. The first view straight ahead when I first walked through the doors was the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out to the palm trees that surrounded the hotel’s beautiful pools and the endless Pacific Ocean in the distance. I really felt like I was in paradise from the moment I laid my eyes through those windows.  To make my arrival even more welcoming, I was greeted with a warm towel for my hands and the hotel’s signature punch to put me in the tropical mood (as if I wasn’t already enough). 

This luxurious hotel boasts 611 guest rooms, including 64 spacious suites and three deluxe Presidential Suites, complete with ocean or tropical rainforest views. My 796 square foot room, the Revival Suite, was more then perfect to fit my needs. The suite featured two private balconies with gorgeous panoramic views of the pools and Pacific Ocean, living room area with a sofa, a separate bedroom, dining table for four, Westin Executive Club Lounge Access, and so much more. As much as I loved the comfort of the suite, there was so much more of the hotel to experience.

When in paradise, the first thing to do is grab a cocktail, lay out by the pool and soak up the Central American sunshine. So, that’s exactly what I did. In addition to the miles of beautiful beaches, The Westin Playa Bonita Panamá offers three freshwater infinity swimming pools and an additional spacious pool specifically designated for children. The pools and beach area offer full bar and food services. Speaking of food, I couldn’t help but indulge in the one-of-a-kind cuisine from the hotel’s lavish restaurants.

One of my favorite restaurants located on property is Oceanica. Guests can enjoy an international buffet that will satisfy the urge to indulge with classics ranging from made-to-order omelets and hearty sandwiches to grilled specialties and assorted pastas. I may have spent the most time in Pacifica, which offers an eclectic array of flavors and cultures blend together to create Pacifica’s mouthwatering menu.  Asiana, is Asian fusion at its finest that offers an extensive menu of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese favorites. When it comes to dining at a laid back restaurant, Starfish Grill is the place to go. Guests can indulge in fresh seafood, flown in from around the world.

As much as I love eating, drinking, sleeping and relaxing at the hotel, I knew there was way more of Panama to explore. Luckily, I was able to tour the beautiful country with Gamboa Tours, the beach hotel’s official destination management company. Guests can arrange group and private experiences throughout the destination. Some of the most popular tours include Monkey Island, the Panamá Canal, Miraflores Locks and the Embera Indian Indigenous Village. I love learning about the history and culture of each place, so the Panamá Canal and Old Town Panama tours were some of the ones I chose to take.

With a driver and a tour guide that picked me up from the hotel lobby and took me around, I was really able to experience the Panama Canal, and learn the history behind the 48-mile long canal. It is one of the most significant waterways ever created and is truly awe-inspiring for anyone who gets the opportunity to see it in person. Providing passage from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for approximately 15,000 ships per year, the canal redefined the shipping industry since its completion in 1914. Still utilizing the same technology from the turn of the twentieth century, the canal is a must-visit, historic attraction that offers daily tours showcasing the canal’s continuous impact.

Another tour that is well worth the experience is Valle de Anton. Just a two hour drive through rural villages and rolling green hills, your guides will transport you to the west of Panama City, where you can find the picturesque town of El Valle, nestled in the crater of a giant extinct volcano. Yes – a town built inside of a volcano! Not only was this quiet and quaint town absolutely adorable, it was home to Canopy Adventures. This exhilarating outdoor zip-ling experience gives visitors the chance to get a first hand look at the natural beauty of Panama’s rainforests.  After a short climb to the top of the ridge, you will soar through the trees, where you see mind-blowing views of waterfalls, streams and wildlife located all around you, making a truly extraordinary experience that you will never forget.

Whether sipping a cocktail by the pool, or zip lining through the rainforest, there’s really no place like Panama. Having the opportunity to experience this beautiful country and The Westin Playa Bonita is truly a one-of-a-kind destination that everyone should add to their travel bucket list. The trip would not have been as memorable without the luxuries of the Westin Playa Bonita and the hospitality of the Gamboa Tour’s guides. For those looking to travel to Panama, be sure to visit The Westin Playa Bonita, to book your stay.  Until then, hasta luego!