Rockin’ in Panama

Nothing had prepared us for the intense heat. However basking in the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel overlooking Panama City makes it almost bearable.

Behind us, comfortable cabanas provide shady respite from the unrelenting sun. Young servers flit among guests with orders from the Float Bar and cafe. Meanwhile, music blares from morning into the night. No one seems to mind. After all, it’s this party atmosphere that brought them here to the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis where all are encouraged to embrace their inner rock star.

FIT FOR ROCK LEGENDS

From our elegant corner suite on the 41st floor, we take in majestic views of the skyline of Panama City and the glistening Panama Bay. Two large bedrooms, each with a luxurious ensuite featuring large walk-in shower facilities, have me wishing I had invited my sister to join us. Separating the bedrooms are a comfortable lounge area, an office nook and a kitchenette. With room service available around the clock, I can imagine why rock stars seeking absolute privacy may never leave this little enclave.

One of our two spacious bedrooms at the Hard Rock Panama Megapolis. (V&V Hospitality & Media Services)
The pool at the Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City. (V&V Hospitality & Media Services)

We’re on the full Rock Star all-inclusive plan, which means we can choose to dine at any of four dining venues during our stay at no additional cost. The 12th-floor Bazaar restaurant serves buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The remaining three à-la-carte restaurants include Soy, which features an Asian menu; Tauro, a steakhouse; and Ciao for pizza and tapas. Although the poolside cafe is not included in our package, that doesn’t stop us from ordering a couple of midday snacks. Quick bites are also available at the Juice Bar or Express-O.

During our four-day stay, we experience all the restaurants and decide the buffet at the Bazaar is our preference for dinner. From soups, salads and charcuterie to pasta, fresh fish and meat dishes, the variety of selections is mind-boggling. I feast on melt-in-your-mouth sushi and sashimi offerings accompanied by a seafood and seaweed salad.

As one might expect, nightlife options are endless. No less than five bars are listed in our plan, each with an impressive selection of non-alcoholic beverages, standard liquors and cocktails included in our package. The Base Bar in the lobby and the poolside Float Bar are perfect for watching people. On the mezzanine level, Mamie Lee’s is a popular spot to enjoy a refreshing beverage after a day of sightseeing, while the Who R U Lounge on the 11th level is an airy space for a pre-dinner apéritif or a break from the dance floor at the adjacent Stage Bar, which rocks with live music into the early morning hours seven nights a week.

The lobby at the Hard Rock Hotel in Panama City. (V&V Hospitality & Media Services)

After that, we’re on our own and off the package. Open until 3 a.m., Monday to Saturday, ultra-chick Bling features DJ talent, VIP exclusive areas and bottle service. The decadent Bits Roof Lounge on the 62nd floor, complete with mood music, is a serene place to sunbathe beside exotic waterfalls by day and enjoy sparkling panoramic city lights by night. And, if we gambled, the Majestic Casino is immediately across from the hotel entrance and easily accessed from the hotel’s mezzanine floor.

Rock star memorabilia is displayed throughout the Hard Rock Hotel. (V&V Hospitality & Media Services)

TOURING PANAMA CITY

After a couple of days of lounging and spa treatments, we venture outside our hotel and purchase tickets for the hop-on/hop-off, open-air, double-decker trolley, which conveniently departs from the Multicentro shopping mall directly across from our hotel.

Two daytime tours are offered—the Canal Route and the City or the Panama Viejo Route. Our US$29 tickets entitle us to hop on board the trolley at any of the scheduled stops on either route for 24 hours. Earphones are provided along with a map. On board, audios recorded in six languages explain what we are seeing en route.

We opt for the Canal Route, which highlights eight stops: Parque Urraca, just a couple of blocks from Calle Uruguay, a key destination for visitors; Mi Pueblito, a village depicting three Panamanian cultures; Albrook Mall; Ciudad del Saber, a cluster of academic organizations; the Panama Canal; the colourful Biomuseo designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry where we learn about the original of the Panamanian Isthmus and its impact on the Earth’s biodiversity; Isla Flamenco, a tourist haven at the end of the Amador Causeway, which connects the mainland to four small islands that once guarded the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal; and Casco Antiguo.

The skyline of Panama City. (V&V Hospitality & Media Services)

Also known as Casco Viejo (Old Town) or San Felipe, Casco Antiguo is the historic district of Panama City. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1997, it preserves the first institutions and buildings of Panama. Here, we explore a number of churches, the governmental office and residence of the President of Panama, the Panama Canal Museum, Palacio Bolivar, the National Theatre of Panama, several plazas and plenty of shops and restaurants.

Street vendors in Casco Antiguo. (V&V Hospitality & Media Services)

My husband is on the prowl for an authentic Panama hat and finds one to his liking for US$25 from a street vendor. It’s hot so we duck into a shop only to find a maze of merchants selling everything from jewellery and art to leather goods and more Panama hats. We leave with three painted canvasses in hand.

It’s mid-afternoon when we locate our perfect waterfront table at the charming El Bistro de Paula Nani where we thoroughly enjoy fresh seafood choices and linger over refreshments. It’s been a long, exhausting but memorable day. We look forward to our cocoon back at the Hard Rock Hotel and some well-deserved relaxation.

TRAVEL PLANNER: Copa Airlines offers scheduled non-stop flights from Toronto and Montréal to Panama City. Or you can choose to connect through Miami, Florida. All-inclusive VIP packages are available at the Hard Rock Panama Megapolis.

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