Panama: A Hop, Skip, And A Jump Away From Atlanta

It's a curious thing about Panama City, Panama: with miles of Gulf of Panama coastline, there are no accessible beaches in the city. Turns out that surrounding Panama City are mud flats and areas that are difficult to access; however, not far from town there are two resorts in Playa Bonita — about a 45-minute ride from Tocumen International Airport — with beaches at their back door.

The Westin and Intercontinental have built gleaming resorts in Playa Bonita and both properties sit on the edge of the beach. When the tide is in, one can walk about the sandy shore and pluck shells from the sand. But when the tide ebbs out, it's another story as the retracting waters reveal large rock formations otherwise hidden at the muddy bottoms. The Westin Playa Bonita Panama is home to four outdoor pools positioned within feet of the beach, giving guests pristine bodies of water to frolic in while viewing the gulf and Pacific Ocean beyond.

The resort capitalizes on the area's natural beauty with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout for non-stop views of the scenery.

Rooms are quite comfortable and those with balconies provide guests with panoramic seaside views with ships in the distance queuing up to go through the Panama Canal.

Food at the resort is diverse and good, and around the city one can easily find an array of cuisine. Try Panamanian roasted chicken or corvina, a fish found in the coastal waters of the Pacific and popular in Central and South American dishes. Panama is a cultural mixing bowl and the restaurants, many of which are some of the best in Latin America, and cuisine reflect that.

Among my top picks to dine at in Panama City is Manolo's, an inexpensive eatery with indoor and outdoor seating right next to a busy sidewalk. At Manolo's you will find both Panamanian dishes as well as American cuisine. A good thing to know is that most restaurants in Panama automatically include gratuity in the bill.

Taxis (plan to negotiate) and transportations for pre-arranged tours are available at the front door of the Westin to whisk travelers to diverse experiences such as a touring the Panama Canal (worth the trip), Casco Viejo (also known as Casco Antiguo or Old Town), where sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish and French Colonial architecture exists in various stages of renovation and disrepair, and Ancon Hill, the highest spot in the city and a nature reserve.

Getting to Panama City from Atlanta is a breeze. It takes four hours on a nonstop flight on Delta with several other carriers providing one- or two-stop service. The country is in the same time zone as the United States East Coast, and there is no need to exchange money, as the U.S. dollar is accepted — in fact, it is preferred there.

Returning home has gotten a little easier now that Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport's international terminal now has scores of automated passport control kiosks to speed American citizens through immigration.