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July 7, 2008 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent

Agents and tour operators are betting this diverse country will be Latin America’s next tourism giant

Belize, Costa Rica and Argentina are arguably the three-headed monster of Latin American tourism. And, although they dominate now, it took all three destinations a good 10-year span to be the giants they are today. Now, experts are predicting that Panama could join those three popular Latin American hot spots within a few years.

corte culebra panama canal

The Corte Culebra is the narrowest part of the Panama Canal and crosses the Continental Divide

“It’s not [in the same category as] Belize or Costa Rica just yet because there’s still some developing that needs to be done in Panama,” says Joyce Horowitz of Altour Travel, a Signature Travel Network member with offices in New York. “But every year, I’m seeing more and more bookings there and think it won’t be long before it’s on everyone’s radar.”

On the Map
Here is what you need to know when your clients express an interest in Panama.
The Republic of Panama is located in the center of the Western Hemisphere, bordering the Caribbean Sea and east of the Republic of Colombia. To the south is the Pacific Ocean and to the west is the Republic of Costa Rica.

Panama, in fact, is the link between Central America and South America and could be a great spot for a perfect five-day getaway or the starting point of a two-to-three-week Latin American adventure.

The 330-room El Panama is in the heart of the country’s banking district on the main avenue of Panama City. Recently renovated, it’s the prime location for clients looking to do some shopping and dining, because it is in walking distance from some of the destination’s best shops and restaurants.

el panama hotel

El Panama Hotel in Panama City offers the convenience of the nearby business district

The Country Inn & Suites is a budget-friendly option for your clients; it offers great rooms at an affordable price. It is located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal at Fort Amador and has 159 rooms that all include balconies.

Clients who prefer boutique hotels should look into Hotel De Ville. This intimate property only has 33 rooms, all with king-size beds, and—like El Panama—is only a few minutes from the city’s main avenue, Calle 50. For a deluxe hotel, we recommend Intercontinental Miramar, a 25-story glass tower that overlooks the Bay of Panama and has 202 rooms.

panama sunset

Sunset from the Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort & Spa in Panama City

If your clients are more beach-oriented, we recommend one of the following properties: Royal Decameron has 600 rooms and sits on Playa Blanca, about 50 miles west of Panama City; Coronado Golf & Beach Resort on Playa Coronado, is perhaps the best of Panama’s beach resorts, with 78 suites, its own golf course, tennis courts and a spa; and Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort & Spa, 30 minutes from Panama City, is perfect for clients looking for a deluxe beach resort and has 300 rooms, five pools and three restaurants.

Perhaps Panama’s most luxurious hotel is the Panamonte Inn & Spa in Boquet. The city of Boquet is called the “City of Eternal Spring” and is where some of the best coffee in the world grows. Whitewater rafting, bird watching and horseback riding takes place here as well.

The 16 guest rooms at the Panamonte Inn & Spa include the recently renovated El Fresal cabin, situated just across the road. This cabin is perfect for families or groups. Other rooms include Standard, Superior, Garden Cabins and a Honeymoon Suite.

In the Works
There are many new hotels either already under construction or in the planning phases, but perhaps most notable is the anticipated addition of SuperClubs. SuperClubs broke ground late last year on a Breezes Panama in Playa Blanca, and it will be the first resort situated on the country’s southern Pacific coast. In addition to the more than 300 suites and rooms, the resort will also feature 110 villas. It is slated to open in early 2009 and we’re told that agents may be able to book the property by as early as spring of next year.

breezes panama

A rendering of a guest room at Breezes Panama, set to open in early 2009

The best flights to Panama are via Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Copa Airlines. Continental and Copa have daily, nonstop flights to Panama City out of Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Those flights take a little more than five hours. Delta flies out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Tour Operators
Two recommended operators are Ancon Expeditions of Panama and Panama Marine Adventures. Agents should contact Ancon for packages and deals at 011-507-269-9415 or [email protected], and Panama Marine Adventures at 011-507-226-8917 or [email protected] or [email protected]. Signature Travel Network recommended Panama Travel Experts. This is Signature’s destination specialist for Panama and assists in the company’s shore excursions, unique itineraries, FIT requests and more. Agents can call Panama Travel Expert representatives Paul McBride, Franz Garcia or Geovanny Comparaz at 866-637-8871.

Quick reminder: Travel Agent brought you news this past August that Royal Caribbean will operate 17 southern Caribbean itineraries December 2008 through April 2009 from Colon, Panama, marking the first time the line has established a home port near the Panama Canal. The seven-night voyages on Enchantment of the Seas will call on such ports as Cartagena and Santa Marta in Colombia, as well as Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam will offer a 17-day transatlantic crossing in October from Venice to Fort Lauderdale, FL, where it will begin operating 10-day Southern Caribbean and Panama Canal cruises.

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