Saturday, July 2, 2016

A week or so ago I headed to Panama and found an explosion of art and color in a private retreat on the beach at the edge of the Panama jungle.  The El Otra Lado Hotel, (the name is Spanish for “the other side”) sits on 300 acres, surrounded by 3 world Unesco Heritage Sites and just a quick boat ride across the clear blue bay from the historic port town of Portobelo.  The laid-back, but luxurious compound has just four colorful cottages and three suites.  The owner, a Spaniard who fell in love with Panama, converted her private home into this gorgeous seaside retreat. The names of the cottages, Forest, Sun, Sea and Spirit, reflect the vibe that is intimate, eclectic and as much fun as it gets.
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When our private boat arrived, we were greeted by the warm staff and welcome drinks!

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The beauty of this place is matched only by its huge heart and commitment to the local community. This isn’t just a hotel, it’s a society project helping to support the local community, culture and artists. Working hard to keep their culture alive, the kids of the village presented a special Congo Dance performance for us at the hotel on Friday night. It was so beautiful, I wanted to cry!  The next day we visited the music school and the local art gallery in Portobello that El Otro Lado supports. You can even have the opportunity to work with local artists in a woodworking and painting workshops.

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I stayed in the adorable Sun House. The brightly lite rooms have curated playlists to set the tone, love it when a hotel does this!!

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The heart of the retreat is the Gazebo restaurant, with floor-to-ceiling windows that give you amazing views of the bay and the pool. The menu is Caribbean-fusion and is based on what is caught that day.  I don’t even have words to describe how good the food is.  The inside of the Gazebo is a vibrant mix of green, orange and pink. It’s hard to believe that this place could get even better – but they are currently building a sustainable farm so that all the food will be directly sourced!

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The Spirit House. So rad.

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The rooms are an amazing mix of patterned tile floors, brightly colored sofas, contrasting pillows, colorful folk art, photography and hand carved sculptures from local artists. It is practically impossible to imagine how this all comes together to create one of the coolest design hotels I have ever seen- but I will just let the photos tell the story!

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On top of everything else – there is so much adventure available in the area. Glide through the peaceful river in a native dugout canoe or catch the sunset on a kayak or one of their special boat cruises. Swim among coral reefs and underwater wrecks with PADI-certified dive teams or head out on a deep sea fishing excursion. Or you could just slip quietly into one of the poolside sun loungers and watch the sailboats glide across the bay.

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