Originally built as a private family retreat near the historic Caribbean enclave of Portobelo, today El Otro Lado welcomes guests to “the other side” of Panama, a world away from the bustle of city life, where time moves at a slower pace and invites visitors to linger, explore and relax. From the thick fortress walls that once protected Spanish galleons from marauding pirates to the vibrant art and pulsating drum music of the Congos, the area vibrates with a rich history and culture.
Bordered by rainforest and ancient forts, the waterfront hideaway is a work of art in and of itself. Architecture and design reflect the colors, magic and whimsy of the Congo culture and rooms are adorned with original artwork and striking portraits by renowned Panamanian photographer Sandra Eleta (cousin of El Otro Lado’s owner.) The retreat now operates as a nonprofit extension of the Bahia Portobelo Foundation and offers guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the surrounding nature, culture, history and flavors unique to this part of Panama’s Caribbean coast. New in 2019, the El Otro Lado experience includes guided hikes through the rainforest, story-telling walks to UNESCO fortifications, boat trips to nearby beaches and reefs, wellness activities and dance performances or drumming lessons with the community troupe to help guests connect with the essence of Portobelo.
3 One-Bedroom Suites (Forest House, Sea Hose & Sun House), 1 Two-Bedroom Suite (Spirit House), & Casa Grande, a 3-Suite Villa ideal for private rental
Yes, Wifi throughout and complimentary
Open Year Round
Virtuoso, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Design Hotels
Infinity pool, beach access by private boat, kayaks, SUPs, paddle boats and an assortment of complimentary on-site wellness activities (Yoga & Meditation),
Number of Rooms:
Dates of Operation:
Casitas from $840 per night, Casa Grande from $2220 per night (up to 6 adult & 4 youth)
Casitas from $990 per night, Casa Grande from $2670 per night (up to 6 adults & 4 youth)
Casitas from $1190 per night, Casa Grande from $2970 per night (up to 6 adults & 4 youth)
LOCATION: Bahía de portobelo, PANAMA
Closet Domestic Airport:
El Otro Lado is about 90 minutes from Panama City, which features both the domestic Albrook Airport (PAC) and Tocumen International (PTY) airports. Air Panama flies via Albrook and Copa Airlines flies via Tocumen.
Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City is 90 minutes from El Otro Lado by car.
Guests can choose to reach “the other side” of Panama by car (all paved highway driving), the train along the Panama Canal, helicopter, or, with the assistance of a DMC, via a private Panama Canal transit that concludes in Colon.
We recommend that guests take at least a half day and explore with a guide on their way to El Otro Lado from Panama City. The Canal Locks, kayaking on Gatun Lake, e-bike trips to spot rainforest wildlife and visits with the Embera indigenous community are all possibilities.
Closest International Airport:
Unique Arrival & Departure Options:
WHEN TO VISIT
El Otro Lado is located on Panama’s southern Caribbean Coast, in the tropics and close to the equator, with consistent temperatures year-round: highs typically hover around 90F/32°C and lows around 75F/24°C. However, weather patterns vary over the course of the year and can be divided into three distinct seasons:
Dry Season: mid-December to mid-April
Green Season: mid-April through mid-September
Rainy Season: mid-September through mid December
The Dry Season brings four months of glorious sunshine and very little rain - between 0-5 days per month on average - and many of the colorful Congo festivals occur during this time.. During the Green Season, days will often be sunny or partly cloudy, with an afternoon or evening “warm” storm that typically lasts a few hours. In the Rainy Season you will have some downpours but this time of year brings lots of celebrations to Panama and Portobelo. The Festival of the Black Christ on October 21 draws tens of thousands of pilgrims and spectators to Portobelo and the Church of San Felipe every year.
El Otro Lado is an excellent destination for families, combining easy travel logistics, a multitude of adventure and cultural experiences with luxury accommodations that are fun rather than fussy. Flights to Panama City are under four hours from many major US hubs (and often very affordable), making El Otro Lado a viable option for a long weekend or school break trip. And the vibe of the resort embodies whimsy and fun, offering everything from wake boarding & Scuba diving to Congo dance lessons.
Through the Bahía Portobelo Foundation, young guests of El Otro Lado can meet local students at La Escuelita del Ritmo (The Little Rhythm School) and participate in drumming circles or music and dance workshops that promote the local culture and art through music education. Families can also visit the onsite wood shop and artist’s studio at the Casa de la Cultura Congo where they are invited to learn about the inspiration and techniques behind the Congo style from local artisans and then create their own pieces to take home.
Accommodations also cater to families. Right along the water, the Spirit House is perfect for a family of four or five with two separate bedrooms and the option for a third bed in the living room. Larger groups will likely prefer the three bedroom Casa Grande, which features two loft suites. Recommended for full buyout, the Casa Grande can accommodate a private group of 6 adults and 4 children or teenagers.
RECOMMENDED LENGTH OF STAY
The minimum suggested is three nights. Four nights is ideal which will allow guests to participate in all of the included experiences in the Portobelo community, surrounding rainforest and nearby beaches, but still provide for some down time at the property. El Otro Lado also works with an excellent local catamaran operator & guide; guests with a keen interest in diving, snorkeling or exploring the real history behind the “Pirates of the Caribbean” will want to charter the catamaran for a full day at sea.
UNIQUE SELLING POINTS
El Otro Lado is a passion project spanning three generations of the Eleta Family, well known in Panama for their long patronage of Panamanian arts & culture and for the renowned photography of Sandra Eleta. Read more about Sandra Eleta’s work and the family connection to Portobelo in this piece from the Guggenheim.
Simple logistics make this an easy sell to get travelers to discover Panama beyond the City and Canal, and the unique vibrancy of Portobelo and El Otro Lado is often an unexpected highlight of a trip to the country.
The Afro-Caribbean Congo Culture - which was just recognized by UNESCO as an essential part of the “Cultural Heritage of Humanity” - is richly celebrated at the hotel and through drumming and dance performances in Portobelo. Guests traveling during Carnaval and after Easter have the opportunity to attend two unique festivals, Pollera Conga and the Festival of the Congos and Devils. Through elaborate costumes, music and dance performances, these festivals re-tell the history of the Congos, their arrival from Africa as slaves and how they rebelled against the Spanish and won their freedom.
Lovers of interior design will be in heaven here; architectural details at the hotel pay homage to historical buildings in Portobelo and the colors reflect the bright hues favored by Congo artisans. Each casita and room houses a treasure of original photography, artwork and unique furniture collected from the owner’s personal travels to Africa.
New for 2019, inclusive “El Otro Lado Experience” rates (excluding alcohol) offer more opportunities for guests to discover the history, culture and nature of Portobelo through both small group and private experiences, offering greater value.
El Otro Lado is affiliated with the nonprofit Bahia Portobelo Foundation. Founded by the Eleta Family, the foundation focuses on promoting on and celebrating the local people and culture through different forms of artistic expression, offering educational enrichment programs to the community and providing employment opportunities for local people.
BEST COMBINED WITH
Combining a three night stay at El Otro Lado with two days in Panama City makes a perfect quick getaway to Panama and an easy stopover to break up a longer trip further south to Chile or Argentina. Travelers with more time can combine El Otro Lado with the untouched beaches of Isla Palenque and rich marine life in the Gulf of Chiriquí, and the cloud forests surrounding Boquete in the Chiriquí Highlands, home to the resplendent quetzal and the world's most expensive variety of shade-grown coffee.