EL OTRO LADO
Bahia de Portobelo
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ARCHITECTURE / DESIGN
Architect and Interior Designer: Jorge Zarak
Geography has been kind to El Otro Lado. For starters, it’s right in the middle of Panama’s Portobelo National Park, a vast and steamy rainforest fringed by brilliant coral reefs. Add to this its proximity to the Caribbean islands, and the presence of nearby Fort San Fernando – originally built by Spanish colonialists more than 400 years ago – and you have an inspiring location for a tropical retreat. No wonder that El Otro Lado does everything it can to integrate itself, and its guests, with the local environment.
This approach is seen everywhere, but particularly in the architecture. The hotel’s four villas and the central ‘Gazebo’ have been designed to blur gently into the surrounding forest, letting guests get closer to the hum of the jungle’s native fauna. By the infinity-edge outdoor pool, which appears to flow gently into the pristine bay, the choice for visitors is simple: while away hours getting lost in literature borrowed from the hotel’s library, or relax to sounds that have been curated by renown broadcaster Gladys Palmera.
Each of the four villas are individually styled, with particular attention given to color and the integration of objéts d’art from the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. Among the villas on offer is the green Forest House, tucked between a waterfall and the jungle, which uses emerald-colored decorative fabrics and a quaint collection of Turkish caps all designed to attract relaxation, tranquility, and assurance. African masks made from recycled plastic, the yellow Sun House, which houses pieces by Sandra Eleta, one of Panama’s most successful photographers, and the purple Spirit House decorated with a mix of indigenous handicrafts and contemporary photography.
Black-and-white prints glance back from the walls of the Gazebo, a rotunda-shaped building that functions as the hotel’s all-in-one restaurant, bar and entertainment space. Here, an unlikely medley of wooden sculptures and Carnival masks combine with white sofas, splashed with pink and flowing linen drapes to create a sociable space where guests can kick back and learn about the surrounding ecology. The food – think tropical ingredients with a colonial twist – perfectly balances colors, quality and quantity.
Should guests decide to get out and explore, El Otro Lado’s varied activity program allows the local environment to make a lasting impression on visitors. Staff can provide guests with transport to nearby beaches, or offer them the chance to watch a lively Congo performance, a traditional Afro-Panamanian dance accompanied by rhythmic drumming, singing and handclaps. Alternatively, local guides can lead guests out into the rainforest for an educational walkabout. Talented artists from nearby Portobelo can even offer to guide guests in painting and decoration of hand fashioned woodcrafts in made in the hotel's 1,500 sqm carpentry workshop.
However, guests can also opt to do nothing at all, whiling away hours gazing over the infinity-edge pool, which appears to flow seamlessly into the pristine bay.