Westin Playa Bonita: Tranquility in Panama

A Westin Playa Bonita guestroom with a rainforest view. The resort is about 20 minutes from downtown Panama City.
A Westin Playa Bonita guestroom with a rainforest view. The resort is about 20 minutes from downtown Panama City.

It's something most city dwellers have probably felt at one time or another: an overwhelming need to escape the trappings of urban life, if only for a short while. And in many cases, the closer the escape hatch, the better.

One evening during my trip to Panama City last spring, my Uber driver expressed a similar sentiment as we inched along an under-construction highway. His solution? The Westin Playa Bonita, coincidentally my host hotel as well as our destination.

The oceanfront property, which opened in 2012, is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Panama City, but its tranquil, rainforest setting is far removed from the cosmopolitan chaos one might associate with the Latin American metropolis.

Exploration, on-site fun

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Indeed, given the property's location, guests who gaze across the horizon to the Pacific waters will find little indication of its proximity to the city, with perhaps one exception: the vessels transiting the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. Watching ships of myriad sizes and purposes make their way across the canal in the distance, as I did one evening from my balcony, it became clear how vital the waterway is to global transport and commerce.

But of course, there's far more to do at the hotel than ship-watching. There's the eponymous beach, the mile-long Playa Bonita, with its barefoot-friendly golden sand and kayaks for rental (for $15 per hour).

Pools at the property, including a freshwater infinity pool and a kids pool, ensure aquatic fun no matter the ocean's conditions, and bar and food service are available throughout the pool and beach areas.

I enjoyed a one-hour massage at the Sensory Spa by Clarins, a facility offering 13 treatment rooms, a beauty salon and, included in all spa treatments, a "Thermal Circuit Experience," which alternates guests between hot and cold chambers in a three-tiered approach said to "relieve muscle tension, dispel toxins and promote deep relaxation," according to the resort. In-room treatments are available, as well.

Restaurants at the Westin Playa Bonita include Pacifica, one of two buffet venues.
Restaurants at the Westin Playa Bonita include Pacifica, one of two buffet venues.

Guestrooms at the property, owned and operated by Panama-based Bern Hotels & Resorts, offer the amenities one would expect of Starwood's upper-upscale brand.

Each of the resort's 611 rooms (including 64 suites and three Presidential Suites) features the brand's signature Heavenly Bedding, a 40-inch LCD TV and ergonomic workspaces. In-room WiFi is available for about $16 a day (access is complimentary for members of Starwood's Preferred Guest program), or guests can connect in the lobby for free. Bathrooms offer oversize tubs and a customizable showerhead.

Its six restaurants include a steakhouse (Tierra y Fuego), Asian fusion (Asiana) and buffets (Oceanica, Pacifica). The resort's ice cream parlor is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

While all of this makes the property a great choice for couples or families, it's also well suited as a host venue for large groups, featuring 65,000 square feet of events space. In 2015, the seventh Summit of the Americas made use of that space, hosting President Obama and his staff.

The president's contingent also made use of two on-property villas located a short distance from the main building. The Villa Bonita offers 20 rooms, each decorated with items from the Bern family's travels, while the six-room Casa Naga, completed last year, sticks mostly with a Southeast Asian aesthetic. The villas are available for guest stays or events on a case-by-case basis.

Rates at the Westin Playa Bonita start at $180 per night; a family package, starting at $234 per night, includes a 50% discount on a second room and complimentary kids' meals with the purchase of an adult entree. See www.westin.com/playabonita.

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