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ASK JOURNEYS: Panama is still a good winter getaway

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With Transat Holidays' decision not to offer non-stop flights from Winnipeg to Panama this year it is clear that those who were considering the destination may not want to approach it from another gateway.

In so many ways that is too bad!

It is an area with a tremendous opportunity to develop a very large and successful tourist product.

So why was it pulled from Manitoba brochures? What was it like as a winter sunspot? Was there anything to do besides sit on the beach?

These are many of the questions that have come to me over the weeks since the destination was pulled.

During our stay we chose to stay at a beach resort for four days and spend the last three nights in the city. It was an excellent decision because, while the beaches and resort were excellent, Panama City is an education unto itself.

UNESCO has recognized the historic district of Panama and the archeological site of Panama Viejo as World Heritage Sites.

Panama Viejo, founded in 1519, is the oldest European settlement on the Americas Pacific coast.

Second only to the Panama Canal the Old Quarter of Panama, as it is identified, has become extremely popular with tourists who come to see the historic buildings, some still needing refurbishment, but many being restored to their original lustre and magnificence.

Going forward this will become a prime global attraction.

With huge modern skyscrapers as a backdrop to the Old Quarter, the city offers a kaleidoscope of progressive design interspersed with traditional architecture.

With the Panama Canal as its foundation it has become the financial and business hub of the region. It, once again, is the headquarters for one of the world's largest construction projects for the second time in its history, as the biggest companies in the world begin the expansion of the canal that forged its place in world commerce decades ago.

The other option that is available to those interested in visiting Panama is a combination package that includes a beach stay as well as a few days in the Gamboa Rainforest.

Feedback from those who have selected this experience say the jungle adventure on the aerial tram and the visit to Monkey Island were particularly satisfying.

But in the end the primary motivation for going to Panama in winter is for a beach resort vacation.

Most of the popular beaches in Panama involve up to a two-hour motor coach ride from the airport, which can be quite tiring after a long flight. Once at the resorts however, guests are warmly greeted, invited to dine, and are welcomed into excellent rooms with all the expected amenities.

While Panama is a country that has been hosting tourists for many years, in some ways it is just beginning the development of the name-brand resorts we find in Mexico and the Caribbean. Considering the fact that there are almost 2,500 kilometres of coastline which can be developed we can expect to hear more and more about them over the years.

The reason Transat Holidays pulled out was not because of lack of interest from Manitoba, but rather a shortage of the kind of quality accommodation tour operators demand for their clientele. They still offer the destination from Calgary, Toronto and other gateways but could not accommodate all of the full flights that could be sold from Canada.

We stayed at the Royal Decameron Resort, which is in high demand because of the casino on its grounds, and its own golf course very close by it.

The resort itself is composed of a series of three story structures which were once military barracks. The resort sprawls over two kilometres of fine sand beach offering 10 restaurants, eight of which are a-la-carte. For those choosing the two-week options, this can be really important.

The beach may be long but 11 bars on the resort property, a number close at hand to the beach, make it easy to stay and tan for most of the day.

There is always a lot to do on the resort with an abundance of water sports offered during the day, a discotheque that goes deep into the night and an entertainment program every evening in an outdoor theatre.

While we chose to stay right on the resort, guests can stay in accommodations right on the golf course adjacent to one of the fairways, and an easy walk to the clubhouse. They have access to all the restaurants and other facilities of the resort or can book a housekeeping option as well.

A short shuttle ride to the golf course for us was always available, and we were able to join other Canadians, Americans, as well as the occasional South American guest as golf partners. Panama is a popular destination for many of the countries south of the Panama Canal that use the beach for the same kind of escape from work that tends to refresh most of us enough to face the coming year.

It may be awhile, but I have no doubt that Panama will once more be back as a non-stop sunspot choice for Manitobans. Resort investors know a good thing when they see it.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2012 D2

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