Let's get this out of the way: The Panama Canal is, indeed, a marvelous feat of engineering. But — surprise! — there's more to Panama City than a set of impressive locks. Here's the secret: This surprisingly romantic destination makes a legit honeymoon spot for the adventurous kind of couple. (Yes, really!) And, it's not a bad place to while away a bachelor or bachelorette weekend, either. We feel you about those fantasies of Hawaii, Fiji, or Aruba. But before you make your final dream-trip arrangements, here's one more spot you might consider.
1. Who's Ready For a Long Flight, After a Long Night?
First thing's first. For such an exotic destination, Panama City is quick and easy to reach. It's a mere three-hour flight from Miami, and also has nonstop flight service from such cities as Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, and New York. After a long night of dancing and toasts — and the mania of wedding planning for months before that — a short flight feels like a plus. Trust us on this one.
2. Luxury Hotels Are Surprisingly Affordable Here (So You Can Save Your Wedding Cash)
Westin Playa Bonita
Even if you have the healthiest of honeymoon budgets, you'll be happy to know that the dollar will take you far in Panama City. During a recent visit, we checked into The Westin Playa Bonita. With six restaurants, a full-service spa, and three infnity pools, this spot has all the makings of supremely cushy stay. Its rates start at less than $200, and top out at just over $450. Oh, and yes: It has a swim-up bar. Newlyweds deserve to float everywhere, after all.
3. But, You Can Still Splurge Plenty — In a Miniature Las Vegas
If the sky's the limit for your budget, consider a hideaway that has its own helipad. Villa Bonita, a private villa, is a bit under-the-radar — but it's open to rental for the right kind of guest. (You, clearly! And President Obama, who has also stayed here.) Nestled on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the villa has 20 themed, charmingly over-the-top suites that channel Paris, Japan, Russia, and other dream destinations. Plus, every room has its own, sea-facing private balcony. Touring the villa is a bit like walking the Las Vegas strip, where you can easily hop from one fairytale version of a city to the next.
Okay, so there's no gambling here. But, there is a private infinity pool, an in-house wine cellar, a house staff, and access to all the Westin Playa Bonita's amenities. Fair warning: You have to book a minimum of 10 rooms to reserve this spot. But, if you opt to use it for a bachelor or bachelorette party, that should be easy, right? Or, go big (okay, huge) and reserve all 10 rooms for you and your brand-new spouse. Costs average at $750 per suite, per night.
4. Casco Viejo Is a Surprisingly Chic Date-Night Setting
Just promise us one thing: you'll get off the stool at the swim-up bar sometime, and hit the historical part of town. With candy-colored buildings, impromptu dance parties in brick-paved courtyards, and music spilling out of every nook, Casco Viejo is completely alive. (You'll feel it when you get there.) And, it has so many posh places to grab a sunset cocktail.
At the American Trade Hotel, a lobby bar filled with well-heeled clientele channels Hemingway's Cuba. You'll also find Instagram heaven in its airy dining room, which has hanging wall fixtures that look like oversize dream catchers. Insider's tip: There's also an adorable library room decked with palm-print wallpaper for a more intimate happy hour. Even if you're not a guest, pretend you got lost and take your mojitos in there.
Ocho Y Medio has a lush, hidden courtyard strung with bistro lights, and a roving cocktail cart for tableside sips. CascaCosco is a rooftop bar with panoramic city views, plush white-leather banquettes and champagne service. It is your honeymoon, after all.
5. You'll Get the Best Vacation Snaps
The macaron-hued buildings in Casco Viejo offer every hue of photo backdrop, and the BioMuseo is no less photogenic. The rainbow-bright museum focuses on natural history, and its eight galleries are filled with soaring aquariums, a visual narrative of Panama's history, and two mock animal stampedes. (You'd have to be there.) But the building itself — the only Frank-Gehry-designed structure in Central America — is the true wonder. Be sure to grab a few snaps in front of its exuberant, spaceship-like facade.
Admittedly, sloths give Frank Gehry some stiff competition. Another capture-worthy outing — which can be arranged through Gamboa Tours — is a tour of the rainforest via aerial tram. You may spot a toucan, a monkey, and a couple of sloths. You'll definitely get to breathe in the majesty of nature, and listen to the hypnotic sounds of wind rustling through palm leaves. And for the six year old in all of us: There's also a butterfly house at the base of the rainforest, filled with gorgeous, fluttering, blue-winged creatures.
6. You Have the Rest of Your Life to Play it Safe
At the end of the day, your honeymoon is your choice. And while you can't go wrong with a classic like Paris, you have the rest of your life to travel with your spouse. And if you fancy something out-of-the-box — something that involves toucans and gigantic dream-catchers — Panama is always a good idea.
Westin Playa Bonita
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