Recently opened, this beachside resort just outside of Panama City was built on land that was once a favorite bonfire spot for U.S. soldiers. In addition to lots of sandy beach and sweeping Pacific Ocean views from all rooms — you can even spot ships waiting to enter the Panama Canal in the distance — the resort has over 37 event spaces and venues, making it a top spot for weddings. Ceremonies can take place in the garden or on the beach, while receptions often happen in the courtyard, in one of the dining venues or in the ballroom. A VIP Lounge on the 19th floor featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace is popular for the cocktail hour (signature drinks include blueberry Mojitos). Dinners can be set up for up to a whopping 900 guests, and menus mix European classics with Latin flavors; favorites include Chiriqui-encrusted beef roast with a Port wine glaze and crab-and-shrimp bisque with a touch of brandy. The three on-site event planners have accommodated such requests as importing entertainment from out of the country and building a marina just for a wedding. They recommend scheduling outdoor weddings for January through April (wedding packages start at $9,000 and include site fees, photos, limo transfers, special room rates for guests, a wedding-night suite and more. Buffets start at $40 per person; starwoodhotels.com).
Photo courtesy of the Westin Playa Bonita
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Though it’s just 30 minutes from Panama City, this peaceful resort feels a world away thanks to its lush setting near the Chagres River and Soberania National Park Rainforest. Along with a charming main building, where tall windows showcase all the greenery, the property includes an Orchideary (orchid greenhouse), numerous gazebos, a two-level pool, riverboats and even an aerial tram running into the rainforest — making for plenty of indoor and outdoor wedding choices. Popular spots include the Grand Ballroom, topped by an ornate domed ceiling, and the Los Lagartos restaurant, which overlooks Chagres River (it’s particularly lovely in the evening). Buffets can be prepared for up to 250 people, seated meals for up to 350; the brunch buffet option, with pasta, ceviche, carving, seafood and dessert stations, is one of the most requested. Activities like a group boat ride to Monkey Island (home to mischievous capuchins) or chilling in the Clarins Spa are awesome wedding weekend additions (wedding packages start at $8,000 and include site fees, a cake, champagne, limo transfers, some spa services and ice sculptures, a night in the honeymoon suite and more. Buffets start at $29.50 per person; gamboaresort.com).
Photo courtesy of Gamboa
Panama: Destination Wedding Hot Spot
It seems like suddenly, everyone is buzzing about Panama. Though the Central American country has always enjoyed close ties with the U.S. (you can even use dollars there), it’s only recently that it has hit the tourism radar, as more people are discovering Panama’s lively culture, tasty cuisine and relatively undeveloped natural assets — think wide Caribbean- and Pacific- fronted beaches and lush tropical forests. With a slew of new hotel openings, a one-to-one exchange rate and direct flights from several U.S. cities, Panama is an ideal spot for a sunny (and wallet-friendly) destination wedding.
A favorite with visitors, Panama City’s vibrant Casco Viejo (Old Town) neighborhood is a lively mix of old and new, with traditional squares, historic churches and colorful residential alleys set alongside trendy new bars and restaurants and edgy street art. And now the area is home to a cool new hotel that celebrates this eclectic vibe. Opened in March 2012, Tántalo’s 12 rooms were each designed by a different local artist, and feature bold artwork along with the latest modern amenities and comforts. Showcasing tables made from locally harvested wood, the sleek rooftop offers some of the best views in town, while in the restaurant called Kitchen, the chef draws on international infl uences to create dishes like sea bass fish cakes, corn ceviche and banana cake — all washed down with cotton-candy mojitos. The hotel is ideal for intimate weddings; up to 80 guests can be seated on the rooftop or in the restaurant. Ceremonies are held on site or next door in the 18th-century church (rates for sit-down wedding meals start at $32 per person; tantalohotel.com).