If it hadn’t been for my dad’s stringent sleeping requirements and zero tolerance for nighttime noise, there’s no doubt that we would’ve stayed in Panama City’s Casco Viejo neighborhood during our recent visit. After all, Casco Viejo is the vibrantly colorful old part of town where many Panama City tourists stay. But in Panama City, we’re not tourists – we’re locals, as I came to discover despite the fact that we hadn’t stepped foot in the city in 28 years.
So with my dad’s inability to fall asleep just anywhere in mind and with a desire to relive our local experience, I decided that Dos Palmitos would be the perfect home base for our short 4-night family trip back home. Given Dos Palmitos’ location in the Ancón Hill neighborhood – a neighborhood on a hill that’s easily recognizable since the hill is the tallest point in the city – I was kind of surprised by the fact that many taxi and Uber drivers had no idea of how to get there. But at the same time, the B&B’s seemingly incognito location confirmed that we were truly in for a repeat local experience.
Our host, Jacques, arranged for our driver, Rogelio, to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the B&B. After greeting us and showing us to the bedrooms upstairs, each couple claimed a room of their choice: my brother and his girlfriend chose the blue room in the front, Jave and I chose the yellow room towards the back, and my parents chose the red room in between the blue and yellow rooms. We later found out that another guest was staying for a night in the fourth and final room upstairs, but we barely heard a peep from him, so it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.
Jacques, who lives downstairs, was extremely attentive and always around to give us directions, help us with reservations, and of course, to prepare breakfast.
“Will fruits be okay for breakfast in the morning?” Jacques asked our first evening in town before we headed out to dinner.
Although I said “yes”, I was hoping that our morning meal would offer a bit more sustenance to keep us energized during the hours of exploring we had planned. To our delight, each morning, we were greeted with an assortment of the most delicious tropical fruits including the sweetest pineapple ever, as well as a variety of fresh muffins, yogurt, coffee, and juice. And a few mornings, Jacques even made us the most delicious banana pancakes ever; I don’t even like banana pancakes.
After reading somewhere that we could go to el Mercado de Mariscos, buy a bunch of fish, and have it prepared at one of the restaurants near the market, that’s exactly what we set out to do. So imagine how disappointed we were when after buying a heap of fish, we discovered that none of the local restaurants would cook it. Desperate and hungry, we resorted to ordering off a nearby restaurant’s menu although they agreed to keep our fish on ice as we ate.
Following our fish market debacle, we headed back to Dos Palmitos with several pounds of seafood in hand (think: fish, shrimp, and lobster), not knowing what to do with it. So I knocked on Jacques’ door downstairs and told him that we brought him a gift and that he should cook it and enjoy it for himself.
“You did what?!” my brother asked when I told him that our seafood wouldn’t go to waste after all.
But my brother didn’t have the chance to stay mad for long because soon enough, Jacques came upstairs and in his heavy French accent announced, “Tomorrow night, I cook zee seafood for you. Is curry okay?”
“Oh, we love curry!” I nodded enthusiastically in response.
True to his word, the next evening, after our day spent gallivanting around Panama City, we returned to Dos Palmitos to find the table set for dinner. Jacques really outdid himself and proceeded to bring up dish after dish of curry shrimp, lobster, rice, and fresh French bread.
“Did you go to culinary school?” my mom asked him.
“I knew it!” she exclaimed when Jacques replied that he had, in fact, studied culinary arts. “I knew it from the first morning when you brought us perfectly round banana pancakes,” my mom continued.
Of course we invited Jacques to sit and eat with us. Upon discovering that Jacques is from the South of France, naturally, my dad told Jacques about our adventures through Provence last spring. We talked travel, politics, reminisced about Panama – you know, the usual – as we sat enjoying Jacques’ company and his food.
While Dos Palmitos has everything you could ask for in a B&B in terms of convenience and comfort, looking back, that night at Dos Palmitos made our stay there that much more memorable. Our stay at Dos Palmitos reconfirmed why I absolutely adore boutique hotels and B&Bs: the intimacy, the personalized touches, doting hosts like Jacques.
And looking back, I’m so glad that I know my dad well enough to know that he wouldn’t have been able to sleep a wink in noisy Casco Viejo where cars constantly zip down the narrow streets and where salsa blares with abandon; otherwise, we likely would’ve passed on the opportunity to stay at the incredible Dos Palmitos.
For availability and rates at Dos Palmitos, check their website. Our stay during the low season was an incredible $78/night (breakfast and WiFi included)!