I was surprised to see two fairly obscure places we’ve visited on the NYTimes Travel sections list of 45 places to go in 2012. But I have to agree with them:
#1 was Panama including Panama City and Bocas del Toro. Lower down the list was Las Terrenas, a village on the Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic (although no mention of the cool, low-key place where we stayed in 1990 or thereabouts: “The Hotel Tropic Banana” in Las Terrenas, which I gather from my googling is still there – although place seems more built up than when we visited.)
Below are the details.
Go for the canal. Stay for everything else.
Among the notable development projects is the Panama Canal itself, which is in the early stages of a multibillion-dollar expansion. The project will widen and deepen the existing canal and add two locks, doubling the canal’s cargo capacity. For those who want to see the waterway as it was originally designed, now is the time. The expansion is expected to be completed by 2014, the canal’s 100-year anniversary.
Other high-profile projects include the construction of three firsts: The Panamera, the first Waldorf Astoria hotel in Latin America (set to open in June 2012); the Trump Ocean Club, the region’s tallest building, which opened last summer; and Frank Gehry’s first Latin American design, the BioMuseo, a natural history museum scheduled to open in early 2013. Even Panama City’s famously dilapidated historic quarter, Casco Viejo, has been transformed. The neighborhood, a tangle of narrow streets, centuries-old houses and neo-colonial government buildings, was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997 and is now a trendy arts district with galleries, coffeehouses, street musicians and some of the city’s most stylish restaurants and boutique hotels.
Across the isthmus, on Panama’s Caribbean coast, the Bocas del Toro archipelago has become a popular stop on the backpacker circuit, with snorkeling and zip lining by day and raucous night life after dark. FREDA MOON
2) Samaná Peninsula, Dominican Republic (although no mention of the cool, low-key place where we stayed in 1990 or thereabouts: “The Hotel Tropic Banana” in Las Terrenas.)
Unspoiled beaches, but not for long.
For years, the Samaná Peninsula on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic was one of the Caribbean’s remaining natural holdouts, largely untouched because of its remote location. But an international airport, El Catey, built near the peninsula’s base a few years ago and, more recently, a highway that shortened the drive from Santo Domingo to two hours from five, are bringing new development.
Balcones del Atláantico, a RockResort that opened last May in the village of Las Terrenas, is the newest luxury resort on the peninsula. Its 86 two- and three-bedroom villas start at $500 a night, supplying a cushy base from which to explore ecotourism. The Peninsula House, a plantation-style estate with just six suites from $580 a night, was named a 2011 Grand Award winner by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report. And Auberge Resort’s’ Casa Tropicalia , with 44 beachfront suites and an open-air spa on Samaná Bay, is to open in 2014.
There are plenty of off-resort attractions, too. Just last month, Bravaro Runners, an adventure tour operator, opened a new zip-line tour consisting of 20 platforms and 10 zip-lines.
Go now, before the crowds arrive. MICHELLE HIGGINS