El Otro Lado
What We Love
- Rate includes daily plated breakfast
- The wine cellar, with more than 20 varieties from Argentina, Italy, Chile, France and Spain
- Visiting the community projects in Portobelo founded by El Otro Lado's owner
What To Know
- The only dining option is the on-site restaurant
- Portobelo is an 90-minute drive from Panama City, followed by a five-minute boat transfer from the mainland
- Best for couples and groups of friends; not ideal for youngsters
- Free WiFi
El Otro Lado (“the other side” in Spanish) is so named because it’s across the bay from Portobelo’s mainland, on Panama’s “other” coast, the Caribbean. A 90-minute cross-country drive from Panama City, the town of Portobelo itself doesn’t have cars, so the final approach is in a small dinghy painted in a signature colorful checker pattern. A sign pinned above a swing chair at the entrance says “a private retreat,” which feels more like a promise to guests than a deterrent to anyone else. Dotted around the central pool, the four houses were originally built to accommodate the owner’s friends and family, so the vibe is intimate, homey and as far from cookie-cutter as it gets. Like the rest of El Otro Lado, it’s an impossibly successful mix of patterned tile floors, bright pink sofas, handmade wooden furniture, looming African masks and black-and-white photographs taken by the owner. Local artwork by Kuna Indians adorns the walls, ornaments are scattered on almost every surface, and one house has a full kitchen. The real heart of the retreat, however, is the central living gazebo, where a fresh (and included) breakfast is served each morning.
In the Area
Since the resort is remote, guests tend to rely on the concierge to organize activities and excursions. Request a hike through the 270-acre estate with one of El Otro Lado’s guides and see spectacular virgin rain forest and the UNESCO-listed fort of San Fernando. The retreat makes much of the wooden furniture and colorful paintings in the on-site workshop, and guests can join in on an artisan-led workshop. As the staff for details. For true pampering, request a Caribbean-influenced massage treatment in the single treatment room. If its adventure you’re seeking, get up at dawn for a kayak ride in the wild marshes, where you’ll see flying fish, heron and maybe even sloths. The crocs don’t come out until after dark.
How to Get There
I cannot share enough good words about this wonderful little gem in Panama's Caribbean. I have visited the property several times, and it always delivered. This is a
family hotel with a social cause. And now, the new generation recently got involved and things have changed for the better.
The team at El Otro Lado kept us busy since we arrived, carefully crafting our days to balance cultural immersion, nature discovery and blissful decompression. We hiked around the land behind the resort with Jason, a nature specialist that has lived in Portobelo for over 10 years and helps the Smithsonian Institute discover new species in the natural park of Portobelo. We didn't know how much depth could be discovered behind that 'innocent' looking jungle that bordes the resort. The views from the mountain top are spectacular... being able to see both the bay and the ocean from a single commanding post... just like the Spaniards that protected the bay from pirates like Sir Francis Drake centuries ago.
In fact, Discovery Channel's Joshua Gates from program Expedition Unknown was staying at the property while they recorded a special program about Francis Drake. Amazing.
In the morning we begun an active day with Aurorita's yoga class, a power hike to San Fernando fort or a training session with Anel, who is a talented staffer (artist, wood specialist and sports enthusiast who trains local's for marathons and nutrition, and exercise in a very primitive looking gym with equipment made out of natural wood)
We got to try out a few of their new cultural offerings... like a special guided tour of Portobelo town, where we got a behind the scenes access to the church that house the local "Black Christ or Cristo Negro", a local's house called Vicky, where we got to learn about the local congo culture and find out more about the family's social work. The hotel is a not for profit venture that works in synergy with Casa Congo, Fundación Bahia de Portobelo. They operate Escuelita del Ritmo too, which gives kids ages 5-15 free music and 'life classes'. We got to try out a percussion class with Gustavo one of the local musicians. Super fun.
Another afternoon we tried out a trip down the mangrove with the Faraona... a romantic adventure where you are taken to the end of the mangrove... I felt like in the Serengetti river during sunset. As we returned we tried our mojito crafting skills and also learn't to make La Llamarada... a hot sauce recipe from Mirna, the property's chef. Quite spicy. I saw another group trying a BBQ in the main house after we left... it looked amazing.
On our last night... the staff organized an unforgettable evening. They set up a pop-up bar on top of an abandoned dam that has a lake on the side, full of candles and torches... It was breathtaking finish for our stay.
I could go on an on... Its just better to go and explore.
This gem is a hidden property located in Portobelo. Surrounded by nature, this facility has abundant service personnel to satisfy the most demanding guest. The food was delicious, the activities (Hiking, boating, and exploring the mangroves) were delightful , the Congo night show was very artistic. Our activity director Mr Anel Angulo was available at all times ready to help us. We were eight family members and we were all pleased with the hotel. I highly recommend a stay in this Paradise or Shangri-La
As you jump in the boat to cross the bay, you know this won’t be a traditional boring hotel. A wonderful setting on the water, you feel you are miles from everywhere, tucked away on the jungle edges. The rooms were fabulous - an eclectic colorful jumble of great furniture that worked wonderfully together. Great showers, high quality linens and towels, a hammock you never want to get out of....and colors everywhere in a joyful array.
The food was delicious served in a large communal room filled with sofas as well as the dining tables, with a killer bar. The pool area was another big hit - colorful with a view that you can happily contemplate for a few hours. Good activities - the beaches along the coast were all wonderful for a few hours with birdlife all around and very few people. Great kayaking in the expansive bay - enjoying the jungle views miles away from humanity.
When arriving the compound you are immediately impacted by the order and greenery of the jungle, seldom this is found together. Once in the retreat (and I fully agree with that name) you continue to find a perfect balance between great service and personal space. You feel special, but on your own. All the areas have been meticously decorated to reflect the local Antillian, African, Spanish heritage of colonial Panama in the XIV and XV Century.
I went for my anniversary and enjoyed it all. Recommend you take the hike to the dam, and sit at the hut there...true peace.
A great place to relax and overcome jet lag. Most of the other guests were Panamanian, but we always felt more than welcome. A few staff members speak English, but when we had to rely on my very rusty Spanish, everyone was gracious and complimentary. Nature is close at hand. We took several of the excursions and saw dozens of different birds, monkeys with babies, a group of Embera who relocated from the Darien Jungle, and the ruins of several old forts. If you like being busy all the time, a 2-day stay is enough. We limited our activities to the morning or afternoon and thought a 3-day stay was about right. The menu is limited, however, they willingly met my husband's dietary preferences. WiFi is included and reasonable. Accommodations are spacious and comfortable.