A Planner in Panama

Often called the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Panama Canal will mark its 100th anniversary in 2014. Because of the canal, Panama is an important financial hub with modern hotels and services. For those of us who tend to keep our clients’ meetings in domestic markets, I’m here to tell you that I found a gem in the new Riu Panama Plaza.

I was wowed the minute I walked into the hotel, stopping dead in my tracks to take in the cool trendy vibe. The décor has a modern, luxurious, funky look and feel with vivid colors and textures that builds in a very sexy glamour.

The 645-room Riu was built with meetings in mind. It offers 35,600 sf of meeting space with 22 breakouts, yet despite the fact that it can meet and feed over 1,300 people, it still has that boutique hotel experience throughout the public venues. I was excited by the space, each breakout decorated differently from the next. The technologies built into each room are so advanced and well thought out, from the rigging points in the ballrooms to the deftly organized storage area, your A/V and supp costs are virtually nonexistent since it’s all included in the room rental.

“We are fully dedicated to executing your meeting program flawlessly,” says Carlos Cordoba, Sales Director. “We take every opportunity to insure your comfort level in the pre-planning process as well as when you are onsite with us.” It’s all about the details and finding a venue to partner—that’s the key—and the Riu offers a team of planners to help you plan your meeting before you even get there.

Eager to explore the city, we tried the new 50-seat Maito Restaurant about 20 mins from the hotel. Try the green plantain hash with grilled prawns and pico de gallo salsa. I can still imagine it; these are the kind of dinners you remember forever. Good food and wonderful people experiencing new things….

Outside the city, Panama offers an incredibly exotic yet simple to organize group activity. We did an amazing trek out to the rainforest to the village of Parara Puru in the Chagres National Park, home to the Embera Indian Tribe. Departing from the hotel, our party of 10 hopped into a generously-sized, motorized canoe for the 40-minute journey to a secluded village where time stands still. The Embera warmly greeted us and hosted a traditional lunch, complete with their locally grown fruits/veggies.

We spent the next two hours enjoying their traditional dances (some of us even joined in) and shopping for their handmade jewelry/baskets. You can also arrange a variety of group events such as rainforest trekking and Survivor-style games to take advantage of the vaunted ecotourism product.

The return journey stopped for photos at the spectacular Rio Chagres Waterfalls, but personally, the best time was enjoying the lovely inner peace in the canoe. I thought, get Oprah on the phone, I just had my first spiritual awakening!