Panama

Review – Coconut Lodge, Panama City, Panama

Written by Mark McElroy

If you’re headed to Panama City to explore the culture, relax and recharge, or be pampered almost beyond belief, your search is over. Book a room at Coconut Lodge, and book it now. (And hurry! I’ve been gone just twelve hours, I’m already planing my return trip, and I won’t feel guilty at all about snagging a room before you do — ha!)

With pressures mounting at work and an aggressive travel schedule coming up, we needed a four-day weekend with zero pressure. I plan projects for a living, but this weekend, I didn’t want to make choices or arrange my groups activities. Instead, I wanted to enjoy a new destination, have some incredible meals, and, yeah, be pampered — as in, “I’ve not been this relaxed or delighted in months!”

As it turned out, Coconut Lodge was the perfect choice. From the minute Melissa (the daughter of lodge owners Mike and Nancy) picked us up at the airport, we were chatting like old friends about how the family came to Panama almost by accident and how every single member has been involved in the creation of Coconut Lodge.

After a welcome drink, we swam in the salt water pool before getting a great night’s sleep in two of Coconut Lodge’s spacious, well-designed rooms. (If it’s available, spend the extra money and book the “Casita,” the small house by the pool. It features a large closet and huge bath and feels like your own private home.)

The next morning, we had an amazing breakfast. I’ve stayed in B&B’s all over the planet, but no one but Mike has ever served me delicious home-cured bacon! Paired with a honey-drizzled yogurt parfait, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and hot coffee, that breakfast gave us enough energy to keep up with Mike during our day-long tour of nearby Portabelo and Isla Grande.

In addition to insulating us from the stresses of driving in Panama, Mike was an expert guide for everything from the ruined fortifications to the floating mangrove islands, with the knack of blending history, personal stories, tips, and insider info into a friendly, enthusiastic conversation that was easy to follow.

Mike also made the foodie in me very happy, bringing along homemade Hungarian sandwiches (with chicken, goat cheese, and mushrooms) for us to snack on before taking us to Isla Grande for a stunning seaside lunch of freshly-caught lobster. But that night, he really dazzled us with his six-course dinner: a spicy noodle soup, creamy bow-tie pasta, salad with goat cheese, a palette-cleansing pineapple sorbet, tender roast pork, and a Hungarian apple cake drizzled with caramel.

After a late night enjoying wine and conversation with Mike and Nancy, we didn’t think our perfect day could be topped — and yet Nancy delivered again, taking us on a day-long tour of all the best sights Panama City had to offer. Every member of our group felt like we were being shown Panama City by an old friend.

Nancy hit all the top sites, avoiding the rain and ferrying us effortlessly to the serene Bahai Temple, Ancon Hill, the Old City, San Jose Church, and, of course, the Panama Canal. She leveraged her local knowledge to avoid the rain and keep us one step ahead of the crowds. With Nancy as our guide, we felt like all of Panama had been reserved exclusively for us. Did we feel like VIPs? Yes, definitely.

Our third day was just as magical, spent mostly with Captain Carl on nearby Gatun Lake. We visited Monkey Island, met a pet boa constrictor, kayaked to a hidden waterfall, swam in the icy jungle stream, and chowed down on down-to-earth Panamanian cuisine. Every minute of this day was arranged for us by Mike and Nancy; all we had to do was enjoy it.

Beyond this, there were so many “over the top” touches. One day, we spoke aloud about how much we loved pina coladas; that afternoon, they appeared like magic. Because of our tight schedule, one of us didn’t get to try any local ceviche at the Fish Market; that afternoon, smiling staff members brought little bowls of ceviche to our poolside table for everyone to enjoy.

When a member of our group left a bag of expensive chocolates behind, Mike and Nancy not only offered to go look for them (a generous offer that we declined), they relieved our friend of any regrets with a plate of chocolates, great wine, and shots of delicious local liquor!

In short: Mike, Nancy, and Melissa are passionate about delivering a “best of class” vacation to their guests. Essentially, they’re offering a resort experience, but on a smaller, more personalized scale. The result? Sheer magic.

I’m a world traveller, with strong opinions and high standards around everything from customer service to cleanliness. Coconut Lodge is one of only two B&Bs I know of that truly deserve a five-star rating. (The second is, of course, the Eden Park, in Auckland, NZ.)

Highly recommended. Book your room now!

As always, my opinions are unbiased and not for sale. We paid for all rooms, meals, and services out of our own pocket. We did not accept any payment of any kind in return for this review, and the staff did not know we would be writing abut our experience.

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Mark McElroy

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