Busy month as hotels section launches

It has been a busy month! Ten new articles appear on the site this month as we start our series on hotels and resorts . As you will see if you read some of the articles, these are not the usual brief details listing numbers of rooms a hotel has and the prices it charges.

Unless you want a quiet hideaway, who really cares how many rooms a hotel has, as long as it has enough to accommodate you and your family? (And if it's a hideaway, I'll tell you.) As for prices, they don't mean much either. Very few people pay full price anyhow. Most use travel wholesalers these days (and in a few months, I will offer you that option right on this site).

I have also written stories on some of the chefs, and I never refuse an opportunity to sample their food…all in the cause of good research, of course. ;-)

In April, I believe two separate families of visitors to the website will visit Panama and I hope to meet them. I hope also to talk a bit about Chiriqui, the province that borders Costa Rica.

Until then, happy reading.


New this month

Sometimes the inconsequential things
stick in your mind

In the Caesar Park Hotel , for example, there is a small, lidded jar in the bathroom that contains Q-tips® and cotton balls. And because it is a minor detail, it draws attention to the fact that nothing seems to have been forgotten. It is that attention to small touches – in addition, of course, to the important ones – that makes a hotel an award winner.

Facecloths are another small detail. North Americans are used to them being provided, but you will not find them in many hotels in Panama.

Down-to-earth chef sees himself as food seller

Hotel content on the Internet can be so much of the same old, same old. We sleep in hotels, but what can you say about beds unless they are lumpy?

We also eat in hotels, but rarely see the man or woman behind the food. So our hotels section also includes stories about some of the chefs.

One featured this month is Heinter Gellenberg , a man enthusiastic about his work, yet he describes himself in simple terms. “I am a seller of food,” he says.

Food makes as much money for the Caesar Park Hotel as the rooms do, and that is unusual for any hotel. The secret to that success: 85% of people who eat there are local customers.

Gellenberg keeps a close eye on his competition, eating out about three times a week at restaurants and other hotels in Panama City. “But,” he adds, “I never go to a new restaurant in the first week.” He likes to make sure that start-up problems have been corrected first.

Tremayne tries out fitness center
...and lives

Why we torture our bodies with exercise is a mystery until we experience the benefits of doing so regularly. Regularity is important, and the better hotels have fitness centers so we don't miss a day.

I found the most comprehensive fitness center of any of the hotels in Panama, and I knew I had to find out if my old bones could still take it. They can, but cautiously!

It's a tough life without a plug for a computer!

It’s a tough life, writing about hotels in Panama. Being pampered each day, eating choice food, suffering superb service, meeting interesting people. Everybody’s life should be so tough!

There are some real drawbacks, though. My office is in my suitcase, and it moves every day. The stories have to be written daily, too. There are so many interviews, so many details, and I am afraid that if I don’t get it all down on paper quickly I might confuse an interview done in one hotel with someone in a completely different hotel.

Unlike other hotels in Panama, my office today has no plug for a computer – in fact, no computer. Knee, pad and pencil only. Back to the Dark Ages! It’s noisy, too. There’s the muffled rumble of the Pacific Ocean on a white sand beach. Birds cheep and trill in the trees behind me.

This hotel in downtown Panama City
has relaxed atmosphere

Pull up in front of El Panamá and it is obviously different from other hotels in Panama. For starters, there’s no door, no barrier between the outside and inside. The theme repeats throughout the hotel. At least part of the 10-foot wide corridors on each floor open onto a central courtyard with a large irregular-shaped pool in its center. A fresh breeze blows down the hallways, even when it is sultry at street level.

Feels like you could touch ships
from this restaurant at locks

The Miraflores Restaurant , is far more than good food; it is an experience, an adventure, for those who have yet to see the Panama Canal in action. If the weather is good, sit out on the deck. Shipping making its way through the Miraflores lock seems almost close enough the touch. I was the first to break the news to Chef Stephane Dias that his restaurant was voted the best in Panama in the latest issue of Lonely Planet. I had heard myself that afternoon.

New hotel bridges time

The Radisson Decapolis is one of the newer hotels in Panama City. It opened in 2004 in the very center of the banking district, just across the road from the Pacific Ocean. A pedway conveniently links it to the equally modern Multicentro shopping center.

The hotel’s design is avant-garde, yet it tries to bridge the gap between modernity and the ancient traditions of Panamanian Indian people. The motif in front of the main door and repeated throughout the hotel is similar to patterns found on the colorful appliqué molas made by Kuna Indians.

Are you gay? family demanded

Paul Carrillo is executive chef at the Radisson Decapolis. Peruvian by birth, his ancestry is Italian and his traditional family believed the kitchen was for women only. As a child, he liked to play in the family kitchen. His grandparents thought it was not manly for boys to be around food preparation.

New Year in his family was a time for looking toward the future, and one year Carrillo was asked what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted, he said, to be a chef. His father demanded to know if he was gay, Carrillo says with a chuckle, speaking through an interpreter.

Opposition to his career has evaporated now. When he goes to his family home in Peru, he does the cooking. Mama’s home cooking might be fine, but I’m sure it is nothing like the dinner Chef Carrillo prepared for me. Read the mouthwatering description.

For a change of pace, good news about taxes

Taxation for U.S. citizens in Panama is zero on the first $80,000 earned outside the U.S. A couple able to split income can earn up to $160,000 a year, enough to live like royalty and have a lot left over.

Although foreigners retiring in Panama cannot normally work in a job that would take employment away from a Panamanian citizen, many retirees have lucrative businesses here. In fact, the government encourages it. Run a business the income of which is derived from a country other than Panama (an Internet-based business, for example), and there's no taxation here, either. Set up a tourism business and there are many Panamanian tax breaks.

I hope you enjoyed this issue of Your Panama Nuggets. Watch for the next issue on the first Saturday in May at 10 a.m. EST.