When it comes to a romantic vacation, it's crucial to pick a place that has the right mix of hotels, fun activities and places for private time together. Panama is that kind of place.
I am a professional matchmaker and here's what I know about romance in Panama...
1. Panama is a direct flight from many major US cities, which makes it a very desirable travel destination. Many of the major airlines fly there direct. Copa Air, part of the Continental family, is the official airline of the country and flies there many times a day.
2. Panama City is a great vacation destination because you can literally experience city, beach and countryside/adventure all within 2 hours of the city center.
3. If you want a city hotel with a killer romantic view of the Panama Bay, I found the Miramar hotel to be terrific; it is the best place to stay in the financial area of Panama. Make sure to ask for a room with a water view and for the Club floor so you can have access to the Club lounge and a private pool, which is never crowded. From the pool deck, you get a straight shot view of the Bay which truthfully rivals views in some of the best cities in the world.
4. If you want a City Hotel with a trendy feel, the recently opened ManRey is the choice for you. The hotel looks like its straight out of Miami with every modern amenity known to man in the rooms. This hotel's location is on one of the party streets of Panama, Calle Uruguay, but the hotel makes up for that by creating faux gardens in the rooms so you feel like you are in a much more picturesque locale. Additionally, they have an over-the-top sexy rooftop pool with lots of bed-size loungers and comfy cabanas where you can have some private time.
5. If you want more of a resort hotel still within Panama City proper, The Playa Bonita Hotel is the perfect spot. You can get a room with a balcony that looks right out onto the water where you can actually see the lineup of the steamer ships waiting to go through the Panama Canal. Additionally they have an infinity pool that literally looks like it's pouring into the Canal itself. And their Lighthouse restaurant was delicious and very intimate for a couply dinner.
At this hotel don't forget to ask Alexander, the very knowledgeable activities director to take you on a boat tour at sunset- this was the most romantic thing we did here because the panoramic view was so expansive that we almost got to touch the streamer ships lined up to go on the canal. Additionally make sure Alexander takes you out for a hike through the vast expansion of jungle around the hotels property which ends with kayaking. This is great couples activity in that the girl can wear a bikini and the guy can protect her from all the species in the jungle!
6. For historical activities. of course, the most important thing to see is the Panama Canal. Usually this is much more exciting for the male counterpart of any couple but once you get there, anyone male or female will be fascinated. In terms of how you visit the Canal, there are several ways to go depending upon just how enraptured you are. The most basic yet thorough way to do it is to go to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center. You can get a yellow taxi to take you there for under $10 and then there is a $6 for an entrance fee. While you are there, you will get to see the locks opening and closing and real steamer ships go through the canal. The canal is in operation 24/7 but the Visitor Center closes at 4:30pm.
While there, you can take in an English speaking movie that gives you great history of the canal and they also have a museum. Even though this is a visitor center, it was still an excellent way to see the canal. If you need or want a more interactive visit to the Canal, they offer Partial transits. Keep in mind that regardless of what anyone tells you, these are only offered on Saturday and Sundays and in some months only on Sundays. With a partial transit, you are on a big boat for about 6 hours and you go through the canal, experience the locks and eat and drink a lot. It's a very cool experience but you need to want to use a full weekend day to do it.
7. Inside Panama City itself, there are several must do romantic things to do. Casco Viejo, not to be confused with Panama Viejo is a gentrified old area of town where there are a lot of romantic and quaint restaurants on a few different squares. Don't be alarmed by the not yet modernized streets in this area; the area overall is very up and coming. In this area, you can check out La Scena, a quaint jazz bar on the square or Ego, a fun modern wine bar. Or if you just prefer a romantic stroll, have someone point out how you get onto the walkway along the edge of the water -- there are benches and stopping points along the walk and you can see all the modern buildings and lights of the city; it's a breathtaking view.
Additionally, in another part of town, you can head up to Ancon Hill -- this is the best view of the entire city and tres romantique. And make sure to take in the finance district where all the modern buildings are being built including a new Trump Tower. In this area, you can gamble all night long, if you so choose, with the most popular casino being the Royale Casino.
8 . Panama has a lot of great restaurants with a broad selection of food types. I would highly recommend La Posta, one of Panama's most noted restaurants. It is located on Calle Uruguay and it cozy yet chic with very yummy food. Additionally there is Signature LT, part of the United States BLT family of restaurants where if you are homesick and jonzing for one of Laurent's popovers or the Tuna Tartare appetizer, you can have it there. Lastly, when you hit the Casco Viejo part of town, make sure to check out Mostaza restaurant which is very romantic with its dimmed lights and live singers performing nightly.
9. Panama has some of the best shopping in Latin America. If you didn't bring a gift with you for your sweetie or you want to buy him or her something extra, you will have no problem doing that in Panama. The Multiplaza is the designer mall and let me tell you, every major designer is represented there either in their designer department store that looks like Neiman Marcus or with their own free-standing boutique. You will find Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, among many others. There is also a more local Panamian mall called the Multicentro where you can pick up some fun Panama designer things, especially shoes and jewelry.
10. Your most romantic day in Panama will be when you venture out to the jungle and take in some real adventure activities. The best thing to do is to get in touch with a tour company like Panama Travel Corp and ask the very knowledgeable and English speaking owner, Leo to plan some wonderful adventure days for you. He will send you a private car and driver or an organize a group tour for you and take you everywhere you want to go. The guides are English-speaking and can provide you with quite a history lesson on Panama.
Then, keep in mind that nothing stirs up romance more than when your adrenaline goes into high gear at a place like Gatun Eco Adventures canopy zip line tours. Here you will fly through the jungle, and see Toucans or Howler monkeys on the Gatun Melia property. Gatun Eco Adventures claims to be the best company in all of Panama for the zip lines because their safety standards are higher than any other company yet they still provide a thrill-seeking adventure; they use 2 cable lines instead of one and for those of you who are bigger men, they claim the harnesses can carry an elephant! And the owners, Frank and Melissa will organize a whole day for you with a hike through the jungle, a boat cruise and lunch.
Then on the way back from the ziplines, I would recommend that you make a pitstop at Fort Lorenzo after you go through the Gatun Locks (the second most famous Locks in Panama). This is one of the most picturesque spots in all of Panama because it sits on the waters edge but is a manicured as a golf course; the whole effect makes you feel like you have been transported back in time.
Samantha Daniels is a well known professional matchmaker, President of Samantha's Table Matchmaking and the author of Matchbook: The Diary of a Modern Day Matchmaker" (Simon & Schuster). You can read more from Samantha on her personal blog, Matchmaker in the Know.