We decided that after my Ironman, dear husband (DH) and I would head to Panama for a quick, relaxing beach trip. Why Panama? Well, the beaches were to be beautiful. It wasn’t that far. The price was right. The usual. So off we headed to Rio Hato for 4 days of doing nothing but being a slug. Sounds just right after 140.6, right? Right.
I did make it nearly 2 full days without going stir crazy from doing nothing but relaxing. As I’ve said before, I’m a horrible relaxer. I also read 2 full books (The Invitation Only Zone & Before the Fall…both good!). Yep, I read lighthearted stories about North Korean kidnappings on the beach. It was fascinating. If you are in to that type of book, get thyself to Amazon and pick it up. It is so, so good.
Anyhow, when we first booked the hotel room in Panama, it was a JW Marriott property, which we were really excited to try. One day, I go online to look at where the property is located in Panama to see what else is nearby, and….it…is…not…there. Instead, an AC Buenaventura is popping up. Um, ok Marriott. No notice? No warning? We probably wouldn’t have changed hotels but it would have been very nice to know in advance that the branding had changed completely. JW Marriotts are some of their nicer properties, so it definitely was a bit disappointing.
My other complaint about AC properties is that even though they are part of the Marriott brand, they offer pretty much zero perks for elite members. No lounge, no room upgrades, etc. It’s too bad, as some of the AC hotels are very nice.
The AC Buenaventura was fine. The rooms were clean and large, we had a lovely balcony, the pools were great, and the beach is nice. Some of the staff were so kind and nice, and some of the staff were about as ambivalent or rude. The food was very good, but not exceptional–but we are a bit spoiled living in DC. We had a lot of octopus – all good, some paella with seafood – excellent, as well as grilled shrimp, tacos al pastor, and lots of other things. It was all tasty. While I’m sure the prices are exorbitant for Panama, they didn’t seem so bad given that it was a resort, after all. And food prices (+10% tax) in DC are a bit exorbitant, too.
The AC Buenventura is in a new development that includes lots of villas, condos, a golf course, and a new zoological garden. It really caters to wealthy Panamanians with children (and nannies…they all had nannies) that are looking to escape the city for a weekend. The pool set-up is quite lovely, and the pools are warm, even by my standards. There is a lot of space for people to spread out there, but not too much space that it is annoying to walk from one end of the resort to the other. It is quite nice, but again, not a JW Marriott (cough, that we booked, cough).
We did really luck out on the weather. After driving through some torrential downpours to get there, it rained only once, and only for about ten minutes. It was overcast for 2 of our 3 days too, which made it significantly less warm and very, very pleasant outside. The last day the sun was out and it was hot. One of the very best things about the AC Buenaventura was that there is so much shade and so many cabanas! Even when people ‘reserved’ them early in the morning, there was always plenty of cabanas by the pool and shade by the beach so you could relax wherever you wanted. I really like to see that hotels are starting to see not everyone wants to bake in the sun, but most of us like to at least relax in the shade!
One weird point – there is a lifeguard on the beach and you aren’t supposed to go in when the lifeguard isn’t present. The first day, they rolled in at like 10:30…the next day, which was a Saturday, they did come in a bit earlier. I’ve never been somewhere that you ‘have to’ wait for a lifeguard. I’m not sure what would happen, really, if you went in, but I also don’t like to be a rule breaker. The water was completely calm…which I think may have been a bit unusual for the Pacific side of Panama.
Also, my last trivial (but non trivial…) complaint: there was no conditioner in the room. Now, I almost always bring conditioner with me for precisely this reason. But come on, it is a RESORT. It has to have conditioner, right? Nope, it had the horribly shitty “2-in-one” that does nothing on my long hair. We even asked the lady at the spa and she didn’t have any either. She said that they used to (cough, before the rebranding?) and then didn’t. Now, I just stayed at an AC property in Atlanta that had conditioner. So I don’t know what the deal is, but I’m a firm believer that a resort needs to have both shampoo and conditioner. This is not the Super 8, Marriott. AC Hotels. Whatever you are now.
Overall it was not a bad stay for the price. If you are looking at the Buenaventura and there is a good deal, it’s a pretty property for a quick vacation. The golf course did look lovely…so may be worth a few rounds! There also isn’t much to do around Rio Hato besides the offered four-wheeling or horseback riding tours (no thanks)–and it was the wrong time of the year for snorkeling. Maybe if I hadn’t just done an Ironman I would have been more interested in hiking to try to catch some sloths or parrots, but that just wasn’t going to happen this trip.
Also, the traffic from Panama City makes DC traffic look like a stroll in the park. So take this into account when figuring out transfers. I think we left at 3:30 am for a 9am flight. While geographically it isn’t that far, the traffic is truly terrible.
Panama is beautiful, the Rio Hato beaches are quite pretty, the ocean is warm, the AC Buenaventura is pleasant, and we got what we came: a bit of relaxation, a beach, and a beer by the pool.
Ok. More than one beer by the pool.