Le Méridien Panama opened its doors in September 2009, becoming the first urban outpost in all of Latin America—and only the second location in the region overall—of the elegant hotel chain originally founded in France. Starwood Hotel & Resorts took over Le Méridien in 2005, and the Panama hotel, designed by renowned local architect Ignacio Mallol, embodies the chain’s new contemporary look. Situated within the financial district near the Bay of Panama, Le Méridien offers views of both the Pacific Ocean and Panama City’s glittering skyline. In addition to working as a concierge, Sofía Márquez, age 23, is training to become an events planner.
What restaurant would you recommend for a professional lunch or dinner?
La Casa del Marisco (Tel. 507-223-7755) is a gastronomic institution in Panama City, having opened in 1965. It serves international cuisine with a focus on Spanish, particularly Basque, specialties. Manolo Caracol (Tel. 507-228-4640) creates a unique multi-course menu every day, depending on what’s fresh. They do take dietary restrictions and taste into account, so they won’t present dishes that you do not want in the prix-fixe meal. Peruvian chef Daniel Manrique opened a branch of his Segundo Muelle chain (507-391-9234) here two years ago, serving fish and seafood dishes like ceviche. The restaurant recently redid its menu to add more meat and poultry options.
I have 24 hours in Panama. What itinerary would you recommend in order to impress a client?
In a four-hour tour you can cover a great deal of the history of Panama. The tour begins with the Panama Ruins, which are the remains of the original Spanish colonial settlement that was attacked and destroyed by pirates. The Casco Viejo, or the old quarter, is the oldest part of the rebuilt city. It is filled with pedestrian walkways, plazas and beautiful 17th and 18th century buildings.
You should not miss the Miraflores Visitors Center, operated by the Panama Canal Authority, with exhibitions on the history of the canal’s construction. There you can get a close view of ships passing through the canal locks from outdoor terraces.
A tour could also include a visit to the Amador Causeway (Calzada de Amador), which used to be part of a military base. It has great views of the canal and city skyline and is very popular for walking, bike riding and skating, with many restaurants and hotels in the area.
If you have more time, I’d recommend visiting a nearby beach or island. The Pacific Coast beaches are only one hour’s drive from the city.
Can you suggest one or two places to shop?
Albrook Mall is the biggest shopping center, with a mix of very good shops and some very inexpensive ones. The Multiplaza is a high-end center with more exclusive retailers and brand-name stores.
What are the must-buys in Panama, if I were to bring something home?
You definitely should buy a Panama hat as well as a good Panamanian rum, such as Ron Abuelo Añejo. If you like art, the “mola,” which is a colorful sewing art made by kunas (native Indians), would be a good option.
What safety measures do you recommend people take when they visit Panama?
I’d definitely recommend being very careful of the traffic in Panama whether as a driver or a pedestrian. I’d also recommend carrying a card from the hotel with the address and telephone number in case you should need assistance.
I have many meetings in the city. What is the best way to get around?
The best way is a tourism cab. They are totally safe. Many of the drivers speak English as well as Spanish, and they know the city extremely well to get visitors to meetings quickly.
What is the appropriate amount to tip a taxi or other driver and in restaurants?
In restaurants, it is common to tip 10 percent, but if you received excellent service, you could give a larger percentage. There is no established rate to tip drivers, but if you think you received good service, a gratuity is appreciated.
What is the strangest request that you have received from a guest?
To arrange a helicopter to pick up the guest at the hotel, fly the guest to the San Blas Islands just to take some pictures and come back to the hotel in less than an hour.
Filed Under: On the Road
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