By Michael Natoli, Travel Consultant
The first stop on this adventure was the elegant Bristol Hotel in exciting and Miami like, Panama City. A serene oasis from the hustle and bustle of the busy financial district in which the hotel is located, the Bristol is representative of the sophistication and a new generation of Panamanian hotels. Decorated in an upscale yet comfortable style, the rooms include custom fabrics and art work by leading Latin and Panamanian artists and have all of the amenities to guarantee a restful night after a day of exploring the city’s many treasures.
A highlight of our stay was spending a day with guide Richard Cahill of Ancon Expeditions, who introduced us to the best sites Panama has to offer including Manuel Noriega’s former residence, the ruins of old Panama City called Panama Viejo dating back to the 1500’s (designated a World Heritage Site) and of course the Panama Canal. Richard not only possesses a vast knowledge of Panamanian history and culture, he is a very interesting and entertaining gentleman and you consider yourself having another friend in the world after spending the day with him.
Dining at the Bristol is reason in itself to visit Panama. Salsipuedes restaurant, led by renowned Executive Chef Cuquita Arias Calvo, and used as a meeting place by the Panamanian President, offers authentic and varied Panamanian dishes based on traditional ingredients with innovative and creative twists. If you’re lucky enough to be dining on a Thursday, be sure to order the “Tavaco café y ron” which is a custard with coffee syrup and a touch of rum and caramelized tobacco leaves. Delicious!
The next stop on our Central American tour was the brand new luxury beachfront Mukul Resort and Spa on The Emerald Coast of Nicaragua, the vision and creation of Don Carlos Pellas - a local entrepreneur and philanthropist. Mukul is the Mayan word for “secret”. To say Mukul is overwhelmingly beautiful would be an understatement. Crashing waves, the ocean breeze and exotic musical birds provide the backdrop to a day spent either on the white sand beach, lounging in your own private pool, or golfing on their exquisitely manicured 18-hole golf course with its last hole ending on a spectacular ocean front green. While there, I stayed in one of Mukul’s cliff side, free standing “bohios”, which felt as if I were in a luxurious, glass walled tree house perched over the ocean surrounded by the lush tropical rain forest. Each of their 23 bohios has a wraparound deck, private plunge pool and lounge allowing for a secluded, solitary stay if one desires. If ocean front is what you like, 12 beach villas are available with the same impeccable amenities.
In the evening, after enjoying the wine pairing menu specially prepared for us by Chef Cupertino Ortiz and conceived with particular wines in mind, we relaxed in the comfy yet grand open-air lounge area where one can enjoy a selection of specialty cigars from their extensive collection while sipping on an aged tequila from one of Don Carlos Pellas private reserve.
The spa and services offered are absolutely incredible and nothing like I’ve ever experienced. The spa itself is housed in six individual cliff side “casitas” devoted to different ancient healing traditions using local Nicaraguan ingredients, providing the most private and relaxing experience one can imagine. I must admit, visiting a spa isn’t always on the top of my list but this experience has made me rethink that list.
Last but certainly not least, Villa Manzu in Costa Rica was our final destination and the perfect setting for wrapping up a wonderful travel experience. Located on the tip of Peninsula Papagayo, also home to the Four Seasons Hotel, Villa Manzu is 30,000 square feet of modern luxury with 180 degree ocean views … but despite its size, the atmosphere is warm and intimate. Originally constructed as a private home, the Villa has now opened its doors for the enjoyment and pampering of those wanting a truly unique experience. Upon our arrival, we were greeted in the receiving courtyard by villa manger, Jennifer Cowles and her husband Chris who oversee the Villa Manzu team and arrange any water or land activities you wish to enjoy while there. After a tour of the 8 beautifully decorated and individually designed suites, we were treated to our first taste of the creations by Nicolas Devenelle, the Villas Executive Chef. Having a meal on a lovely terrace, overlooking the Costa Rican rain forest while listening to the Howler Monkeys, was one of those unique life experiences I’ll forever remember.
The most difficult decision to make during the stay at Villa Manzu was trying to choose from all of the available activities or to just relax in the saltwater infinity pool while drinking fresh coconut milk from its shell. In the end I was able to do both and really enjoyed my first venture into paddle boarding which gives a wonderful vantage point to observe the many varieties of marine life in the crystal clear waters surrounding the peninsula.
Manzu translates to “friends” in the native language of the indigenous people, and is how everyone at the Villa has you feeling throughout your stay.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit beautiful Central America, please treat yourself to a wonderful experience in any of these exceptional locations!