Arriving at the newly renovated Marriott Autograph Collection’s Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort Panama promises to be dramatic after the 2.5-hour journey from Panama City. The drive out of the city creates natural suspense about this off-the-grid luxury resort in the Riviera Pacifica area so that you’ll feel you’ve been admitted to an exclusive paradise when you enter the resort. Alighting from your car, you’ll be enveloped by a brick-lined cavernous portico, with ocean air gently blowing through palm trees.
The resort is Spanish-colonial designed with an open tiled courtyard concept, which allows the delightful songs of many of Panama’s 400 bird species to waft through the air along with free-flowing cross breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean. Panamanian artifacts are deftly incorporated into the lobby’s décor strategy, providing colorful accents. Altogether, I felt every sense stirred, as if preparing me for a time of rejuvenation.
Due to ongoing expansion activity at the resort, the option of arriving by boat will be possible in 2020, thanks to the Buenaventura Marina. Boat service from Panama City will be appealing because it’ll relieve weary travelers of facing possible congested roads in reaching Buenaventura. Additionally, traveling by boat will offer enviable views, allowing a deeper appreciation of the country.
Though Panama isn’t an island, as Costa Rica lies west and Colombia to its east, the narrow isthmus is comprised of 1,786 miles of shoreline and considered part of the Caribbean, bordered by the Pacific as well as Caribbean oceans. Enjoying a water commute to the resort will provide a window into the seemingly endless shoreline as well as distant glimpses of some of the country’s 1,500 islands scattered about. The newly constructed marina will also allow guests to rent boats and take part in chartered fishing excursions and sunset tours.
Opening the doors to my private balcony, I glimpsed the Pacific Ocean and heard the bubbly ubiquitous fountains spilling and splashing about below. Of the colonial-designed 114 guestrooms and four villas, you’ll not have a bad view since all thoughtfully provide either a pool, ocean or garden view. An example of the resort’s guest-first mentality is that though the entrance and bath are tiled, the remainder of the suite flooring is wood, making it less chilly when you step out of bed in the morning.
The colossal 100-year old Corotú tree, one of the resort’s not-to-miss Instagrammable landmarks, was carefully considered in the resort’s design. Sitting in its own grassy space with shops, restaurants and outdoor seating surrounding it, the revered tree sees lots of happy action. It serves as the choice spot for wedding receptions as well as the ideal camp site for kids, an experience offered through the complimentary Kids Club, whereby kids sleep outdoors in tents pitched under the expansive protection of the tree.
Camping is just one of many of the rotating Kids Club activities. Other examples of the truly unique activities include mother-daughter yoga classes, cupcake decorating class, snorkeling and fish-feeding at the fishpond. Should parents wish to shimmy late into the night to Latin American tunes at the nightclub Menao, babysitting can be arranged.
Many activities cater separately to kids and adults, but in the spirit of togetherness many are suitable for every age group. For example, the cultural workshop at the Mua Mua Museum, led by a member of one of Panama’s indigenous groups, helps you create locally inspired art, such as a Kuna bracelet. To connect guests with the community, Buenaventura promotes various day-long volunteer projects. Guests can contribute to help build libraries, schools and aqueducts for the resort’s province of Coclé, an impactful way to enrich your vacation.
Chocolate, anyone? Panama’s chocolate fame is rising and you can be a part of it at the resort, which recently unveiled the CACAO Experimental Bar in collaboration with Casa Bocao’. The unique experience guides guests through the chocolate-making process, beginning with Panamanian cacao from the famed region of Bocas del Toro. The quality of your own handcrafted chocolate bar, made from the purest of ingredients, will be the best you’ve ever had.
And though my mind was on eating the finished product, the presentation was interactive and captivating, an unforgettable way for anyone (six years and up) to learn about chocolate-making and Panamanian cacao. The Corotú Spa furthers the Panamanian cacao story by inviting you to indulge in their locally sourced, organic treatments which include a cacao service.
Good news: the chocolate theme continues at the Palapa Bar perched on the lagoon where legendary mixologist Miguel Diaz will regale you with a chocolate cocktail experience, culminating in the Caribbean Delirium which fuses chocolate and passionfruit. And Diaz is hugely effervescent and entertaining. You’ll want to spend as much time as possible lounging in the Palapa Bar, sipping his handcrafted creations.
Get into nature by visiting the newly opened Wildlife Center, which showcases animals of Panama such as monkeys, parrots and peacocks. You can also purchase food to feed select animals. If you have birders in your group, head to a nearby facility for serious bird watching.
There’s no better way to explore the 400-acre resort than on cruiser bikes. Follow the trail that winds through the scenic property and get some exercise as well. If you’re keen on team sports, there’s pickup soccer or beach volleyball; for those exercise buffs wanting more, consult the rich array of sports/fitness programming available through the Sports Club.
Golfers will fulfill a dream by golfing at The Buenaventura Golf Course, awarded the best course in Panama by the World Golf Awards. This course has hosted prestigious tournaments, including the Latin American PGA Tour. Take your turn on the Troon-managed 18-hole Nicklaus-design 72-par course but be prepared for a challenge—there are 300 Corotú trees and 100+ water bunkers sprinkled about.
Of course, the gorgeous water will be central to your visit, how could it not? You’ll be helplessly drawn to the swimming pools, seven in all. Charming bridges connecting different pool areas make for a bewitching setting. I honestly didn’t want to leave my stately poolside cabana, except to cool off with a margarita at the swim-up bar. The pristine, uncommercial two-mile beachfront is the picture of serenity, so unspoiled—and complimentary kayaks and paddleboards are available to get out on the water.
With nine restaurants, you can’t really go wrong. I loved the entertaining meal we had at the Japanese restaurant Tai Kai Sushi & Martini, which features the teppanyaki style of cooking where the chef prepares fresh food in front of guests on an enormous grill. Another unforgettable evening was spent at the poolside El Faro Beach Club’s Asa’o & Pesca’o Restaurant where I dined on Grilled Tuna with Maracuya Sause. The water shimmered under the moonlight creating an overall enchanting experience.
For the days you’re 100 percent beach or poolside, stroll over to El Faro for casual fare such as pizza, roasted vegetable salad and grilled shrimp. Or have it brought to your lounge chair, your choice.
Before you retire to your private kingdom for the night, aka your guestroom, visit Palapa Bar and ask Diaz for his Coclé Tropical Mojito. It may change your life, if Buenaventura hasn’t already.
Kathryn Streeter is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. Her work can be found in publications including USA Today Go Escape and Best Years, The Washington Post, The Week and AARP. Find her at www.kathrynstreeter.com.