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Home > Destinations > Panama > Trip Reports > Trip Report

Panama - Trip Reports

Royal Decameron Costa Blanca

We just arrived back from our 2 week stay at the new Royal Decameron Costa Blanca hotel in Panama.

This 4 star hotel with 360 rooms is built on the side of a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The hotel is 1.5 hours from the Panama City airport. It is beside an abandoned USA air field, on the same beach as Manuel Noriega's Beach home. It is between the towns of Santa Clara and Rio Hato, two kms off of the PanAmerican Highway. The area is referred to as Farallon ('hillside'). The bus ride provides a great introduction to the country, even though you are pretty tired from the 5 hour direct flight from Toronto.

Considering the fact the hotel had just opened on Christmas week 2000, it was in really good condition. The rooms were spacious. The buildings are all 3 storey with no elevators anywhere on the premises. The furniture/accessories were new and tasteful. During our stay more furniture was added to our room, as well as wall paintings being hung. Satellite TV was available but only two stations were in English. Huge fresh floral displays were the centrepieces for the salad bars. There was nightly entertainment -- this was more interactive with the audience. There was also an enclosed disco with bar and unlimited drinks.

There were 4 theme restaurants, along with a major buffet restaurant. They included the Sushi Samba (Japanese), the Mogo Mogo (Thai), the El Cayuco (Steakhouse) and the El Canal (Seafood). All the theme restaurants must be booked early. The Main buffet restaurant, Panamai, held theme nights,e.g. Mexican, French, Panamanian. There were bountiful supplies of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, pasta, breads, pastry, and wines for lunch and dinner. They had huge breakfasts as well. Snacks were available throughout the day and evening at the Sushi and El Cayuco.

The serving staff (bartenders, waitresses, maids, receptionists) was pleasant but not as overtly friendly since they spoke very little English. The 2 weeks in January had great weather. Temperatures ranged from 75-95F everyday with no rain. However during the rainy season (8 months of the year) Panama sets daily records (27 feet)! Panama City however was always warmer with very high humidity.

The beach was huge - - sandy and walkable for miles with thousands of colourful shells for the picking! The hotel had all the water toys, including kayaks, paddle boats, sailfish, wind surfers, and snorkel gear (no charge). Fishing and diving tours could be arranged. A large sailboat and pontoon boat were available for a fee. There were 3 big, very clean pools on the property. Lots of aerobics and organized games were played in one of the pools near the El Cayuco beach bar. The property developers kept the wonderful big native trees and were constantly adding more trees and flowers during our stay. The Palo Alto Bar, part of the Sushi Samba and connected to the Upper adult pool, has a spectacular deck overlooking the property and is shaded by a huge canopy.

There was a good selection of liquors. They hadn't figured out how to use the newly delivered cappuccino machine yet! You could purchase a large variety of tours at the Tour desk. We enjoyed all the tours we went on. They had English speaking guides. We visited the Rainforest, the Miraflores Locks, The Old and New Panama City, Anton Valley Botanical Gardens/Zoo, Market day at Anton, an old native burial ground (dig) in El Cano, the old Catholic Church in Nata, the commercial district of the nearby town of Penonome, and many artisan shops. We hired a taxi for 5 hours to visit some of these nearby sites. Very interesting but our taxi driver spoke no English. Good thing we had a dictionary! Our taxi driver's enthusiasm for his country and eagerness to please made this a very successful outing.

We tried to book the partial transit tour of the Panama Canal but it required 40 people from our hotel at US $100.00/person. The tour to the Smithsonian Ecological Sanctuary at Colorado Island (we were told) requires a year's advance booking and only goes once a week on Sunday to safeguard the environment. We settled on the Ecocanal Tour. This includes a tour of the Miraflores Locks, a small boat ride across Gatun Lake alongside the Panamax freighters and a tour of the US Military Survival Training site in the Rainforest near Gamboa for US $ 50.00/person.

On two nights we were treated to a fireworks display after dinner. FromJanuary 12 to 14, the nearby town of Anton was celebrating its local festival with parades, bullfights, the works. Some of our fellow Canadians joined in the festiviies and really enjoyed the local life. On January 20, the hottest ticket in Panama City was the Sting concert at the Stadium that holds 60,000!

To drive in Panama City is suicidal. Never seen anything like it!! There are 1000's of local buses, Red Devils. You just have to find out which ones to take. They aren't expensive, but they are crowded.

This hotel presently caters to Ontarians, Quebeckers, and Panamanians. Very few Americans and Europeans were there during our 2 weeks. The hotel has been totally sold out since day one. The hotel has only a small store in the lobby. However the big Panama City Tocumen airport has a huge number of duty free stores and, as mentioned above, there was lots of opportunities to shop on tours.

Bikes, scooters and tennis courts are free. Quads are available for a fee and are usually rented for tours. Horseback riding is nearby. The only extra charge is for a safety deposit box ($2.00US/day). Tips were gladly accepted.

Security Staff is everywhere on the premises. On several of our trips to Panama City as soon as we left the bus to do a walking tour we were discreetly shadowed by the local police. They made sure we weren't hassled while touring the area near the Mayor's home and the President's residence in downtown Panama City. While this might make some uneasy, we found the experience reassuring. They want tourists to return and are making sure we have a safe trip.

There are two possible drawbacks.

1. Lots of steps make this hotel a challenge for those with physical problems. From the beach to our third floor room we climbed 99 steps one way. To remedy this the hotel will ferry those with mobility problems around the grounds in Club Cars.

2. During low tide a few jelly fish were spotted. Swimming was not recommended during this time. If stung a wash in "sweet water" helped relieve the irritation.

We would like to return there in the near future. Most of the guests thought the prices would be increased for next season, especially with opening of another hotel presently under construction 2kms down the beach!


Thanks to Barb and Randy for this trip report ...
January 2001

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