Prevue November/December 2015 - (Page 64)
Adventurous groups encounter an unexpected side of Panama
[ON LOCATION] STEVE GRASSO
rossing the Bridge of the Americas on the way to the
Westin Playa Bonita Panama, you see the two
contrasting sides of Panama City. To the left are the
gleaming futuristic towers of the modern city, a booming
urban metropolis at the crossroads of Latin America; to the right,
the unspoiled Spanish colonial architecture of the Casco Viejo,
settled in 1673 and steeped in history.
Encouraging visitors to encounter the real Panama is a key
component of the resort's group programming as Herman Bern Jr.,
VP of Product Development of Bern Hotels & Resorts, explains:
"We partner with Gamboa Tours, so groups can customize their
experience to really go beyond the ballroom with excursions
that encourage guests to travel deeper and experience
Panama's local culture."
Aside from its enviable location with picturesque white sand
beaches and views of the iconic Panama Canal, the hotel, with 611
guest rooms and 64 suites, recently unveiled the Casa Naga, a
25,000 sf mega villa that can be hired for private events.
"Casa Naga is a private residence that's only available for
select groups, thus offering a unique and exclusive experience.
It can host intimate dinners of 12 to larger groups of up to 300,
and contains a private collection of exquisite international artifacts,
which are interwoven throughout the property," says Herman Bern
Jr. "It is one of the newest luxury event venues in Panama, going
way beyond the traditional ballroom."
We enjoyed a custom meal of beef fillet served with comfit
pear and cream cheese, and stuffed chicken breast with portobello
mushrooms, prepared in front of us by the villa's executive chef.
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This was the theme of our visit, showcasing Panama's unique and
sometimes overlooked cultural experiences. A 4x4 tour out to the
Caribbean side of Panama and the town of Portobelo offered our
first brush with the unexpected. Rich in history, Portobelo was
founded by the Spanish in 1597 and is scattered with fortifications
from the colonial period. One of the most interesting sites is the
Church of El Cristo Negro, which houses an enigmatic statue of
a black Christ dating from the 17th century, and to which several
miracles and supernatural occurrences have been attributed.
A small fishing boat took our group to Isla Grande, a pretty
beach on an island off Portobelo's coast. Here we enjoyed a feast
of baked sea bass caught fresh that morning, followed by an
afternoon of swimming and snorkeling. After exploring the museum
and observation deck at the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal,
former members of the Ciudad de Dios street gang guided us
through historic Casco Veijo. Walking narrow cobbled streets amid
the colorful Spanish colonial architecture of this UNESCO World
Heritage Site is like taking a step back in time.
Our guides explained how a gang intervention and reintegration
program has helped them make a living by escorting groups through
their neighborhood. Along the way, we met with locals and heard real
life stories of the area's past and its residents' hopes for the future,
rounded off with a perfect mojito at their own street-corner bar. Our
night took a final twist with dinner at ZAZA Restaurant & Lounge,
a sophisticated venue in the historic district.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Prevue November/December 2015
Planner’s Pick: Salt Lake City
Bureau Buzz: Birmingham
Fresh Meets: Melia Hotels International
Good Business: Community Outreach at ASAE
Sea Shores: Crystal Cruises
Ode to Inspiration
ASIA & THE PACIFIC
On Location: South Korea
On Location: Istanbul
On Location: Panama
On Location: Scottsdale
Checkout: Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
Prevue November/December 2015