The harmony between the Caribbean air and the verdant tropical reserve that surrounds it makes Portobelo a destiny coveted by pirates in former times and by travelers nowadays, all in search of its hidden secrets. If in colonial times the place was strategic for the outflow of the wealth extracted from South America to the Spanish Crown, hence the pirates’ and corsairs’ assaults, nowadays one of its greatest treasures goes by the name of El Otro Lado Private Retreat, an exclusive oceanfront lodging covered by the forest that shapes the Portobelo National Park. The name of the hotel immediately indicates an authentic and a unique profile in the area: yes, this is a private retreat, a small corner to call your own on the North Coast of the Isthmus of Panama, located exactly on the opposite side, or on the “other side”, of the Portobelo village. Most of its staff is native to the area, knows the surroundings well and can help guests create exclusive tours. El Otro Lado is about 130 kilometers from Panama City, the capital of the Central American country.
SUL Hotels Tip: In a high-temperature environment with intense humidity, choose light clothes and swimwear, slippers, hats and, of course, sunscreen as well as insect repellent. El Otro Lado supports a project for social inclusion, recovery and appreciation of Native culture, reflected in the Portobelo Foundation (http://www.fundacionbp.org), which has a musical group and holds carpentry workshops, folk dance festivals as well as the Casa de la Cultura Congo (Congo Cultural House), with a gallery dedicated to handicrafts sold under fair trade terms.
There are five options of Villas or Bungalows, each with its own design and decoration. All accommodations are equipped with king-size beds, sets of Egyptian cotton sheets, a mini-bar, a 42-inch LCD TV, Wi-Fi signal and amenities by British designer Penhaligon.
This 65-square-meter cottage is situated between a waterfall, whose intermittent sounds sooth hearts and minds, and the forest, which fills the guests’ eyes with green. The suite and the living room have separate balconies.
Its structure is similar to Forest House’s, with 65 m², a living room as well as a suite with balconies and a view of the sea.
Nestled in the woods, it offers a wide panoramic view of the bay from the balconies. The contemporary décor includes pieces by Panamanian photographer Sandra Eleta, in addition to paintings by the participants of the artistic workshops supported by the hotel.
Leaning over the sea, standing on the sand, it has two suites and an airy living room; all rooms are integrated into a large balcony facing the bay.
This structure combines the common area on the ground floor and the three other separate rooms on the upper level. On the lower floor, you will find the living room, a bar and dining spaces. On the upper floor, two of the suites accommodate two adults and two children or teenagers, while the other includes two single beds.
The natural exuberance surrounding El Otro Lado instantly enchants guests, who enjoy the comfort and features of the facilities. Privacy and coziness are also part of the experience – as is the convenience of technology. The design and decoration have been carefully integrated into the concept of luxury without ostentation. The infinity pool overlooking the sea is a breath of fresh air for the moments of intense heat. In the “Con Sentimientos” Room, guests receive aromatic and restorative treatments. As for the gastronomy, chefs prepare daily menus centered on the Caribbean cuisine, with Mediterranean and Asian influences. They favor native and tropical organic products, creating refreshing ceviche variations, using the ubiquitous banana and, of course, the unique magnificence of seafood in unexpected and delicious recipes. There are also vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu options.
Portobelo was named by Christopher Columbus in 1502, thus expressing his admiration for the beauty he had found. Since then, Portobelo became a trading post where the treasures withdrawn from South America were taken before continuing on to Europe. The feared pirates of the Caribbean were frequently found in the area. Legendary names like Francis Drake, Henry Morgan and Edward Vernon lurked on its waters. No wonder the Spanish Crown built fortifications to protect Portobelo, whose ruins were granted World Heritage Site status by Unesco. Currently, the wealth of this small village is submerged and exhibited in a multitude of sea life. Out of the water, the treasure is present in the vegetation of the natural reserve, where it is possible to hike and enjoy other outdoor activities. Well, we already told you the secret to it all: it is called “El Otro Lado Private Retreat”.
Start by discovering the wide range of white sand beaches in the Caribbean, such as La Huerta, Puerto Francés and Playa Blanca; the hotel offers transfers by speedboat to reach them. Scuba diving and snorkeling are among the most recommended activities. There are also options like kayaking, water skiing, stand-up paddle boarding and artisanal fishing. The most fidgety guests can tour the mangrove swamps along the La Farahona River and hike the trails of the Portobelo National Park. We also suggest the historical tour through the village. If you have more time, you should extend your trip to Panama City and visit the Biodiversity Museum, the Biomuseo (www.biomuseopanama.org), as well as the locks of the gigantic Canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Regular flights connect São Paulo to Panama City. From the capital of Panama, the journey to Portobelo by car takes approximately 1h30 by the Corredor Norte (North Corridor). As you arrive at the Portobelo village, the hotel will arrange a transfer to the accommodations. It is also possible to arrive by train, through the Panama Canal Railway Company (www.panarail.com), whose route of approximately one hour crosses the isthmus and the famous Canal – the destination is the city of Colón, from where the hotel offers transfers.