It is always interesting to me to get the story behind a destination boutique hotel. These aren’t large franchise chains owned by a mega-corporation. Small boutique hotels have style and flair, with usually one or a few owners, and often in creative places.
Take for instance, Hotel Laguna Azul in the southern Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago of Panama. How on earth did a man from Buenos Aires, Argentina find this little piece of paradise in the Caribbean Sea between two lagoons and a mangrove forest on remote, scarcely populated Popa Island?
That’s the story of Jorge Benatuel. In 1998, Benatuel and his wife traveled from their homeland of Argentina to Bocas del Toro, Panama on vacation. They spent 15 days traveling around Bocas del Toro’s nine major islands and 200-plus islets by boat, looking for a property to build their own house.
“They were looking for peace and relaxation and being away from noise and hubbub,” explained Hotel Laguna Azul general director Fernando Quevedo.
The couple found their paradise on Popa Island, one of the more distant and least populated islands of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. The only population of Popa Island now is Hotel Laguna Azul and two small indigenous communities on the other side of the island. The site faces the open sea, surrounded and protected on three sides by untouched mangrove forest.
The couple returned to Argentina, but before they could build their dream home, Benatuel’s wife sadly passed away. In 2010, Benatuel elected to build an eco-boutique hotel on the property, with associates Hugo Badareotte and Jorge Santillan of Argentina, and Ruben Navarro from Panama. The eight-room luxury hotel opened in 2011.
Hotel Laguna Azul is like being on your own private tropical island. Away from all of the other hotels in Bocas del Toro, this is a place where you can relax and enjoy without sacrificing comfort. Service is attentive with a personal concierge. All-inclusive meals provided by their professional chef are delicious and fresh – as in, just out-of-the-water fresh. The hotel also has a Spa, TV lounge, pool table, table tennis, a fully-equipped gym, and complimentary Wi-Fi in the lobby.
The Caribbean island hotel is built right over the translucent blue Caribbean Sea on 70 concrete pillars. There is nothing between you and the sea. When sitting on the infinity deck you look out over an active coral reef with water so clear you can see the bottom. The area around Popa Island offers some of the best snorkeling in Bocas del Toro.
Located very close to the border with Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro is outside the Caribbean’s “Hurricane Zone”. “This is the true southern Caribbean,” said Quevedo. “At any moment it could rain, but the rains are short and intense. What we don’t have are dangerous storms.”
Your next vacation needs to be to the Bocas del Toro Archipelago in Panamá. Easy to get to from North America and Europe via Panama City, or combine with a trip to Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro has everything you want in a Caribbean vacation – without the crowds.
How to get there: From Panama City, Air Panama flies to the Isla Colon International Airport on Colon Island. From there it is a 35-minute ride by private boat to Popa Island to Laguna Azul Hotel.
From San José, Costa Rica, you can fly Nature Air to Colon Island in Bocas del Toro.
Article by Shannon Farley