To classify Panama’s picture-perfect Coral Lodge as “off the beaten path” would be an understatement. It took a small plane, smaller boat and a large amount of determination for my husband and me to reach this gem. We were seeking an idealistic romantic getaway for our honeymoon, and Coral Lodge proved well worth the effort to find. Isolated and elegant it is a honeymooner’s paradise.
Thatched roof, elegant bungalows are delicately perched over crystal clear turquoise water and surrounded by pristine empty beaches and red mangrove rainforests. It’s a good thing we were not seeking nightlife or an action-packed activity schedule because this slice of quiet bliss was solely designed for relaxation. With only six bungalows the resort sells out with a mere 12 people. There is absolutely nothing and no one else in sight for miles around except the occasional passing dugout fishing boat manned by a local Kuna fisherman, an indigenous people who live on the nearby islands.
During our stay at Coral Lodge there were only three other couples at any given time, and we all unanimously attested that we’d found our own perfect private heaven.
Thoroughly ecologically-sustainable in design from top to bottom this quiet resort offers 180-degree vista views of the Caribbean’s azure waters and coral reefs. It’s located near the heart of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the Northern hemisphere and second largest in the world. We had the unique experience of exploring reefs that had allegedly never been scuba dived by anyone else before.
Before Coral Lodge opened a decade ago the reef had reportedly gone uncharted. The rich underwater habitat is home to dozens of species of hard and soft corals, eels, lobster, manta rays, octopus and a wide array of colorful tropical fish. “Honeymooner’s Hideaway” is the name we christened a portion of the reef we were the first to explore.
For non-scuba dive certified travelers, no worries, just take a plunge off your bungalow deck and you’re surrounded in amazing coral reef ideal for snorkeling. Complimentary snorkel gear is provided.
Horseback riding excursions on the beach or through the jungle are activities available to guests. We opted for a ride through the jungle not realizing that our guides would lead the way by hacking a path for us with machetes, a reminder how isolated we were and that few others had been there before us to beat the path. The jungle swilled with the metallic buzzing of locus and insects and the melodic whistles and trills of forest birds. We often heard the hooting of howler monkeys in the distance, but never caught a glimpse of the crafty and vocal primates.
Every now and then we would hear the remote scream of a chainsaw in the distance, and spy an ominous plume of smoke in the jungle far away. It’s rare to find such a treasure trove of isolated pristine habitat, and sobering to realize that this little pocket of paradise like so many others places around the world may not last forever.
When we visited in 2007, it was perfect and unspoiled. I spent many refreshing hours sitting on my private sundeck, soaking in the absolute silent natural beauty and indulging in unimaginable rest and relaxation.
The resort is nearly all-inclusive. Access to snorkel gear, kayaks and delectable gourmet dining is covered with the room rate. Fresh catch-of-the-day lobster, octopus and snapper were just a few of the mouth-watering options offered daily. However, alcohol and activities like scuba diving, horseback riding and river cruises cost extra. Transportation to the lodge (which is rather extensive) is not included, but the resort will make all the necessary transportation arrangements for you from Panama City.
We found that one of the most unique aspects of the location is the opportunity to explore the San Blas islands, an independent chain of more than 300 islands owned and governed by Panama’s indigenous Kuna Yala Indians. The Kuna women are aesthetically striking with colorful handmade dresses and adorned in elaborate beaded jewelry and ornamentations. They are well-known for their handmade molas, which are colorful stitched designs that make a perfect gift and souvenir. Approximately 80 percent of the San Blas islands are uninhabited, giving visitors an opportunity to both engage in the local culture as well as spend a day on their own private island.
On our arrival day to the remote idyllic islands we were treated to an afternoon on our own private island and a savory local fare of fresh lobster with coconut rice.
On our last day, on the way back to Panama City, the resort arranged an excursion to the ancient city of Portobello. This sleepy town is home to 16th century ruins of Spanish Fortresses with a fascinating history of plundering pirates. Several hundred years ago this was an important trading and treasure port for gold, silver and other riches, which is why it was often under siege by infamous pirates like Caption Henry Morgan. The ghostly ruins of Portobello are a World Heritage Site and well-worth a day trip to explore.
IF YOU GO:
The best time of year to visit Coral Lodge depends upon your preferences. For scuba divers July through October tends to be best, even though it is the rainy season. During this time of year the winds tend to be low and water visibility is high.
For those seeking sunshine, January through April is best, but the winds can be very strong at times.
Official Panamanian Tourism Institute Web site: