Volcan's Shangri-La Hotel

Volcan is the highest of Panama’s retirement communities. At 4,200 feet it is 1,000 feet higher than its sister town: Boquete.

Many first timers to Panama are stuck with that wonderful dilemma: “Everything is so wonderful, how on earth do I choose what’s best for me?” Well it’s going to be even harder to choose – particularly if you stay at Volcan’s newest resort hotel: Mountain River Lake Inn. Situated on the prestigious north-end of Volcan, the inn has views to Tizingal mountain and the awesome, Baru Volcano.

Lake and restaurant

As a writer I have become mortally sick of the much abused and over used adjective, “Paradise.” For the past two years I have preferred to use the analogy of Shangri-La. That is fitting because in the 1933, Lost Horizons, novel by James Hilton, his mythical community is located in a community with rivers, lakes and gorges. Ditto Volcan. Hilton’s community has a Buddhist lamasery- we can’t quite match that but we do have a Buddhist realtor. Shangri-La was a place of eternal youth. Volcan’s cemeteries would make a lie of that, but on the other hand we do have eternal spring. Hilton’s place had snow – in Volcan, they have never suffered with the wet, wintery, white stuff.

Octagonal cabinas for four persons

In Lost Horizons I bet they didn’t have four supermarkets, three hardware stores and nearly forty restaurants and Shangri-La didn’t have cars, so alright no need for Volcan’s three gas stations. The characters in the novel crash landed their plane – nothing so traumatic needed here as Volcan has a paved, two kilometer long runway. If you bring your private plane early in the morning, (when the sky is clear) you can put your aircraft down without any landing fees.

The owner of the Mountain River Lake Inn, is Columbian born, but now naturalized American citizen, Dr. Mario Vahos Perez. Mario has just retired from Baltimore, Maryland after 34 years in practice as a plastic surgeon.

Dr. Mario Vahos Perez

The how and why.
I am always fascinated as to the how and why of people’s lifestyle and career choices, so I asked Mario the inevitable question, “Why a plastic surgeon?” His answer gave me a deeper insight into the man’s character. He explained that one day, when he was an anesthetist in an emergency room, a child was brought in with a terribly burned arm. He watched as the surgeon took a graft from the child’s leg and transferred it onto the effected arm. Several days later he was witness as the bandages on the graft were removed. He viewed the child’s almost perfectly restored arm as something miraculous and at once saw the direction for his life’s work.

Mario has worked tirelessly repairing the after effects of life’s tragedies and has also worked in the esthetic field repairing life’s genetic shortcomings. He decided to retire and to enjoy his sunset years beautifying nature. “Some of my colleagues have literally worked ‘till they dropped, that wasn’t going to happen to me.”

The transformation.
Mario took a three hectare piece of swampy cow pasture and transformed it into a flower and waterfall bedecked Shangri-La that would equal Hilton’s mythical mountain community. It was early in the morning, the sky was a clear blue as I walked past the man-made lake and along the stream that flows through the property. Mario has planted flowers everywhere and small ornate bridges take you over pools where carp, trout and tilapia glisten in the clear flowing waters.

Jeannie Friedman, a local natural therapist, accompanied me and immediately felt the energizing tranquility that this unique place engenders. I would certainly recommend staying here if you plan to visit Volcan, as this would give you an insight into how peaceful and beautiful this mountain town can be.

There are five aparthotel units complete with fridge and stoves that rent for $55 a night and slightly larger octagonal cabins that sleep 4, that rent for $88 a night. Work is just finishing on a small restaurant that is located in the middle of the man-made lake. This would be an ideal place for an early morning coffee or for a romantic late night dinner.

For reservations and contact information go to Mario’s website at:
or E-mail him directly at: