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El Otro Lado, Portobelo

El Otro Lado, meaning "The Other Side" in Spanish, is a luxury private retreat consisting of four uniquely decorated casitas sitting on the calm Portobelo Bay.

El Otro Lado, meaning "The Other Side" in Spanish, is a luxury private retreat consisting of four uniquely decorated casitas sitting on the calm Portobelo Bay. Surrounded by the lush tropic forest of Portobelo National Park, the Sun House, Forest House, Sea House and Spirit House each blends traditional African-influenced local art with modern design details to evoke what is called "color feeling" inspired by the yellow of the sun, green of the forest, blue of the sea, and purple of the Portobelo spirit. The spacious houses have one to two bedrooms, a private bathroom, a living room area, and a private front and back porch, and have thoughtful touches that add to the overall mood, like personal iPods with world music playlists. There is also a "Casa Grande" up the hill from the casitas, with several private suites (some multilevel).

The boutique hotel's gazebo is the retreat's gathering place and feels gallery-like in function due to its artistic elements and eclectic

collection of items. From the mosaic-tiled ceiling to the detailed wooden figures made in the on-site carpentry workshop to the African masks protruding off the walls to the over-sized photography of local people gracing the space, the entire area evokes a truly funky vibe. The gazebo is where guests enjoy their wholesome breakfast and Caribbean-influenced meals later in the day; it is also the perfect place to get lost in a coffee table book while looking out onto the property's outdoor swimming pool, which faces the bay.

While the accommodations are truly remarkable, relaxation is not the only option at this naturally calming place. El Otro Lado has a unique menu of activity offerings, many with a cultural focus. The hotel can arrange an art workshop with a young local artist; a private Congo Dance show, which is a typical Portobelo tradition incorporating rhythmic drums and song; and a visit to an Embera indigenous community on the Chagres River. Other options include visiting nearby beaches 10 to 30 minutes away by speedboat; a sunset river excursions in a private barge, complete with a ceviche-tasting session; hiking through the rainforest; kayaking through mangroves; or a tour of a nearby fortress. The property itself has manicured grassy areas, huge tree swings with various perspectives, a carpentry workshop where you can watch carpenters at work, a small waterfall, and a dam.

El Otro Lado is located an hour and a half from Panama City and 45 minutes from Colon, where the historic train ride along the Panama Canal ends. From Portobelo, the retreat is just a 15-minute boat ride across the bay.

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