Sierra Llorona Panama Lodge (tel. 442-8104, cell 6614-8191, www.sierrallorona.com, starts at US$75 s/d, including breakfast) is a lodge south of Colón that’s popular with bird-watchers: Approximately 200 species of resident and migratory birds have been spotted in the surrounding forest.
Sierra Llorona means “crying mountain,” an apt name for a place that sees rain 286 days a year. Expect predawn rains even in the so-called dry season here. The plus side of all that precipitation is evident in the lushness of the 200 hectares of private primary and secondary rainforest surrounding the lodge.
There are four kilometers of well-maintained trails that start about a 10-minute walk from the lodge. Scientists frequent the area to study its flora and fauna, some of which is not found elsewhere. A new species of frog, Atelopus limosus, was discovered here in 1995. This is its only known habitat.
The “lodge” is really a sprawling private house with a separate building a short walk down the hill. There are seven rooms of various sizes; none is anything fancy, but they’re clean and comfortable. They do not have air-conditioning, TV, or telephones. The lodge sits on a ridge 300 meters above sea level. Even this modest elevation is enough to give the place pleasant breezes in the morning and evening and views of the Caribbean, Limón Bay, and, at night, the lights of Colón.
There is also a campsite in the private reserve with a rancho, outhouse, and rustic camp stove. Campers must bring their own tents. Rates are US$45 during the week, US$75 on the weekend per night for up to five campers. Day-trippers can walk the trails for US$10 per person. Meals at the lodge cost US$12–15. The lodge offers all-inclusive packages, sightseeing tours, birding trips, and transfers to and from anywhere in Panama, including the airports and Colón train station.
Sierra Llorona is near the small community of Santa Rita Arriba (not to be confused with nearby Santa Rita). If you’re coming from Panama City, it’s reached by a right turn off the Transístmica a couple of kilometers before Sabanitas.
The Hotel Meliá Panama Canal (Avenida de Las Naciones Unidas, tel. 470-1100 or 470-1916, www.meliapanamacanal.com, US$126.50 s, US$148.50 d), a Spanish-owned 258-room resort, is a prime example of Panama’s undying faith that if you build it they will come. So far, they haven’t. The hotel has a striking location on the forested banks of Lago Gatún near the Área Protegida San Lorenzo in Espinar (formerly Fort Gulick), close to Colón and Gatún Locks. But it’s not yet an area that attracts many tourists, and the base itself is still largely a ghost town.
The hotel was built from the remains of the U.S. military’s notorious School of the Americas, which had a reputation for training Latin American dictators and torturers. Its parentage notwithstanding, it’s quite an attractive hotel, with bright and cheerful Spanish-Mediterranean decor that tosses in a splash of Italian rococo. Rooms are large, with Spanish tile floors, cable TV, tasteful decoration, lots of dark wood, a minibar, and incredibly hard beds. Guests have also complained of wafer-thin walls and musty, poorly maintained rooms. Amenities include an impressive swimming pool, pleasant restaurant, piano bar, casino, business center, and so on. It’s restaurant is inconsistent, in experience.
The hotel also offers tours to Gatún Locks, motorboat and kayak rentals on Lago Gatún, fishing trips, and other activities. Package deals, especially on the weekend and during the rainy season, are often available.
The hotel is not far from Gatún Locks. To get to the locks from Panama City, turn left before the Cuatro Altos overpass outside Colón. Stay straight on this road, which snakes to the right, then back left, for about 1.5 kilometers. Take the second left onto Avenida de Las Naciones Unidas. Look for the Sol Meliá sign.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition