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“The best restaurant in Portobelo”
Review of El Otro Lado

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El Otro Lado
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Portobelo
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed 6 April 2013

Well that may not be saying much, but this is a very nice restaurant by any Panamanian standards. We ate lunch, a 3 course set meal with no choices. It was fine and certainly excellent value at around $30 a head.

You need to book a few hours in advance because it's such a small outfit and also find a way across the bay from Portobelo, though I expect they'd send a boat over if you asked them.

A lovely piece of tranquility in what otherwise is a pretty gritty place!

  • Stayed: November 2012, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank samarangba1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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52 - 58 of 104 reviews

Reviewed 3 April 2013

El Otro Lado was a disappointment. We felt like could be a nice place, and is certainly in a beautiful setting, but right now just isn't the relaxed and private retreat we had hoped it would be. The one thing I assume won't change, and which visitors expecting a 'private retreat' should know, is that two of the houses, the Sea House and the Forest House, are set at the edge of the pool and seating area, so for us (in the Forest House) people were walking by, swimming and sitting just in front of our windows. For privacy we therefore had to close our blinds (and thereby block our view of the water). We were moved to a room in the main house up the hill after asking if we might switch houses, but since the rooms in the main house have no windows facing the water and the deck is a common deck shared with three other rooms, the only privacy there also was to close ourselves in our room.

More generally, there are things they are getting right, but then at the margins it is just off. For instance, the gazebo is a nice setting for sitting or reading and plays soft resort-y music, but the staff then plays its own music in the open kitchen and sings along, so the result is a bit of cacophony. Or for instance, we took the sunset ceviche boat tour and, because I was pregnant, I asked if I could have crackers or something instead of ceviche. They got crackers for me, but then didn't serve any ceviche to my husband, so we both ate crackers. And there is a nice deck by the pool but the chairs weren't wiped down and set up until mid-morning, so after finishing breakfast we had to wait around (or in some cases just sat on the wet wooden slats) until one of the staff members got the cushions out and wiped down the slats, all of which could have been done before breakfast, or during breakfast by asking one of the multiple staff members serving breakfast to divert ten minutes to get it set up. None of this is catastrophic of course, but just less polished than you would expect for the price. A couple specific tips: (1) no one other than the manager speaks English, so if you do not speak Spanish, things just aren't that smooth and you have to interact with the manager a lot, and (2) if you are particularly susceptible to bug bites (mainly no-see-ums), take a big can of bug spray -- the hotel provides little squirt tubes but the coverage is light and you go through it fast.

Last, on the price and the additional costs, we felt like a re-work the cost structure would make things a bit smoother -- in part so you don't have to think about individual costs while you're there, and also just to decrease the amount of interaction you have to have with the manager if you don't speak Spanish. Because Portobelo effectively has nothing in it, guests are nearly 100% at the resort, eating every meal there and using it as a base for activities. That it costs $25 per person per trip to go to the nearest beach, that each lunch and dinner is about $30 per person, and that all activities big or small have a separately scheduled cost, means that you are daily making determinations about how much to spend. For a rather expensive place, you feel quite nickeled and dimed, which just isn't that relaxing. Plus, without speaking Spanish you have to go and find the manager every time you want to arrange something, and that again just isn't that relaxing.

Overall we felt like El Otro Lado was just a disappointment and not worth the money.

  • Stayed: February 2013, travelled as a couple
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14  Thank lizcharisma
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 16 March 2013

This was one of the most unique and beautiful properties I have ever stayed at. From the moment you get off the boat that picks you up in Portobelo, you enter a beautiful property with a spectacular view of Portobelo bay, exotic and lush flora and fauna with artwork greeting you in every pathway. The room (Sun House) was designed beautifully, with every gadget you can imagine, luxurious linens, an extremely comfortable bed and spectacular art and photography. The room had two private decks fit out with lounge chairs, rockers and hamocks. The pool is beautiful, the food, very good and the staff couldn't be more accomodating. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here despite the disappointing weather we had and would definitely make a return trip.

Room Tip: I would highly recommend the Sun House if you are two people.
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  • Stayed: March 2013, travelled as a couple
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1  Thank Terri J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 4 March 2013

What a breathtakingly beautiful place the EOL topped only by its exquisite personal service. The appointments are all first rate, food excellent, the top notch service is individual and personal in a jungle waterfront setting that frankly makes the many other places we have visited in Panama now seem not so impressive anymore. Our deep appreciation to Jim Peeples, his excellent staff and crew - and to the Countessia who shared her wonderful property with us commoners. The staff "gets it here". I had read many glowing reviews of this 4 villa resort - but frankly those reviews paled in comparison with reality. It's extremely difficult to concentrate on work now thinking about this place. I'm saving up for the next trip. BTW: the Sun House is the place to be. We enjoyed a personal excursion to a remote private beach with staff member Luis and a wonderful sunset river mangrove cruise complete with feeding sloths! I cannot wait to go back to this wonderfully private retreat.

Room Tip: any of the 4 but the Sun House was special for us
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  • Stayed: February 2013, travelled as a couple
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1  Thank cvhjr
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 19 January 2013

We visited El Otro Lado for a couple of days during a 3.5 week visit to Panama over December / January, visiting Boquete, Panama City, and the Bocas Islands. Portobelo is a unique and special visit, made so for us by Jim Peebles and the retreat. We returned to Panama City via Colon and the Canal railroad which added another super experience to the trip, well worth while. El Otro Lado is a beautiful location, the design of which is very special indeed. Absolutely unique and everything is done to the highest standards. Certainly by a long way the best place we stayed in Panama. Offers a lot of extras if you are wanting them, but for us three days / two nights at the resort were filled by just exploring the estate, Portobelo town and its developing artisan offerrings (with Jim's special help) and enjoying the pool, bar (great cocktails) and restaurant. We really liked too the way the retreat supports and sponsors local development. Definitely a great stay.

  • Stayed: January 2013, travelled as a couple
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Thank Smikey2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 January 2013

My husband and I took a trip to Panama, which spanned December 20, 2012, through January 3, 2013. We stayed at El Otro Lado Retreat on the following four nights: December 28 through 31. You can see my reviews of the other hotels as well as the tour company that helped us plan our trip.

We were very pleased with the hotel. We were in bungalow 3, the Sun House. I really recommend it as it is on the far end of the complex and has a lovely deck, which wraps around two sides of the building. They even provide a hammock, which you can hang IN the room.

The grounds are lovely and they have a pretty infinity pool, which is well kept, so you can take a nice a swim.

Also, be sure to walk the path up the hill to the man-made lake. There is a cute cabana structure with comfortable chairs where you can wile away the hours. If you go around 10:30 AM, you may see these unusual birds fishing. They swim with their entire body under water except for about seven inches of their neck and head above water. When I first saw it, I thought it was a snake swimming in the water.

The hotel brings in local entertainers some evenings to entertain the guests -- a nice touch that we hadn’t expected.


Beaches
If you decide to go to one of the beaches, I recommend going to Playa Blanco; it is the nicest. I’d skip the others; Playa Blanco isn’t huge and the others are even smaller. Playa Blanco is a nice way to spend the afternoon. The hotel will prepare a picnic lunch for you. I don’t recommend getting a club sandwich for this outing; it gets soggy.


Jungle Hike
My husband and I are pretty adventurous; we’ve rafted class 5 rapids, climbed sand dunes, rappelled up and down a 400 foot cliff, slogged through caves, mucked through jungles, and trekked through deserts; and in the 27 years we have been doing this, I never once got creeped out until this hike.

It was sort of like Indiana Jones meets the Navy Seals. I’m not kidding; if creepy things scare you, don’t go on this hike. If you are not in physically good shape, do not go on this hike, which takes approximately four hours.

If you ARE nuts enough to go on this hike, be sure to wear heavy gloves and duct tape them around your wrists. You know those heavy rubber gloves that you wear to wash dishes; those would be good. The hotel will loan you a pair of clomp boots for this insane journey. BYOG & DT – Bring your own gloves and duct tape from home.

We booked the hike through the hotel. Our guide was Senior Mono, AKA Mr. Monkey and his machete. They don’t even know how old he is, because no one has a record of it—we’re thinking probably somewhere between 70 and 110. As we are slogging through the jungle, I’m thinking that if Mr. Monkey has a heart attack; he, my husband and I all three are going to die out here. They will never find us.

Mr. Monkey can’t speak a word of English and my Spanish is rudimentary at best, so he really couldn’t communicate to us what we were looking at. Basically, it was just this big wall of green, because the jungle was so thick that he had to continually hack a path for us with his machete. With all of the hacking he was doing, he was always waiting for us to catch up. And I thought we were in good shape; evidently NOT.

We started out walking through a bog-type area to get into the forest. Once we got to the forest, the incline of the ascent quickly increased to about 45 degrees, maybe just a skosh more. The ground was soft and slick from all of the rain; and, because it was so steep, I fell a lot. I lost count after about the first 10 times. Many times when I fell, I slide about six feet before I could stop and drag and myself up to start climbing again.

After the first few falls, Mr. Monkey took mercy on us and cut walking sticks for us. That helped a lot.

If I had had gloves, it wouldn’t have been so creepy, but each time I fell, I didn’t know what my hands were falling into: spiders, ants, snakes. I sliced my finger at one point, and hypochondriac that I am, I’m thinking, “Flesh Eating Bacteria.”

We did see a family of monkeys overhead, which was pretty exciting.

We also walked, no, actually, we ran through a nest of army ants. Luckily, we didn’t get bit, because those little suckers are nasty.

At one point, my husband very calmly call to me, “ah snake.”
“Where,” I asked.
“Uh about a foot from your head,” he replied, and calmly pulled me to safety. It was actually a very pretty, bright green snake, which was sniffing the air to see if I would make a good meal.

Near the end of our hike, we ended up at the ruins of the fort, which is at the edge of the hotel property. That was really neat to walk through.

Once we finally made it back to the hotel, we opted for a nap rather than tooling around in a kayak as originally planned.

BTW, my thighs were sore for the next two days. Also, if you do this hike, take some water. Mr. Monkey never took a sip, but I was sucking water like a camel.

Would I recommend this hotel to a friend and would I stay there again? Yes.
Would I take the rainforest hike again? Don’t think so! Least ways, not without a pair of dish washing gloves.

Room Tip: Bungalow #3 - The Sun House The bungalow is quiet and gives you a greater sense of seclusion than t...
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  • Stayed: December 2012, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank mah1066ban
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 9 January 2013

The title of this review was spoken to me by my girlfriend every morning while we were at El Lotro Lado, and I can’t say that she was wrong. El Otro Lado is a very special place, and a hotel that you’ll have a tough time finding similar anywhere else in the world.

The hotel’s name in English means “the other side,” and true to name it sits on “the other side” of the historic ruins and city of Portobello. This means that cars can’t get to the resort – you’ll be picked up from Portobello by boat, and boats will be your only means of transportation while you’re at the hotel. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s kind of incredible as these boat rides all occur within one of the most beautiful ports in the world (Christopher Columbus even felt so when he named it Portobello – or beautiful port).

Speaking of incredible, the hotel is fully sustainable; meaning that the food they serve is grown/ sourced locally (many fruits/ vegetables are grown onsite), 95% of the staff are local from Portobello (they take a boat into work each day as well), and most of the beautiful art and furniture in the rooms and public areas of the resort are made onsite by local artisans. Of course like everything about El Otro Lado, these pieces are also unique and beautiful.

Our room was the Sea House – one of four private villas that make up El Otro Lado. To call it spectacular would be an understatement. It was full of local art and color, views to die for, private seating areas overlooking both the pool and nearby forest, and every type of accoutrement one would expect from a 5-star resort.

But then there’s the service. Other hotels may say that they offer personalized service, but with only four rooms everyone at El Otro Lado knows who you are. This means that when you order anything, food, drinks, scuba diving excursions…there are no checks to sign, no receipts to keep – the staff simply knows who you are and bends over backwards to make sure your needs are met. They even go so far as to send a waiter with you when you take their boat to the beach who makes sure your beach chairs/ towels are set, lunch is served, and you’re never without a Panamanian beer if one is so desired.

Speaking of food, there aren’t any restaurants per se in Portobello, so all meals will be prepared by the in-house gourmet kitchen. Considering that the ingredients are local, the food is simply amazing, and served on fine china with gracious hospitality.

In sum, if it hasn’t come across already, El Otro Lado is a unique world-class retreat that is unlike any hotel I’ve ever stayed in before. There is no question I’ll be coming back at some point in my life, and you should experience it for yourself as well.

Room Tip: There are four world-class villas here, you can't go wrong.
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  • Stayed: January 2013, travelled as a couple
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3  Thank Theate3541
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about El Otro Lado

Address: Bahia de Portobelo, Portobelo, Panama
Region: Panama > Colon Province > Portobelo
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beach Free Breakfast Free High Speed Internet ( WiFi ) Free Parking Kitchenette Restaurant Room Service Suites Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Portobelo
Price Range: £380 - £563 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:3.5 star — El Otro Lado 3.5*
Number of rooms: 4
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
El Otro Lado is a private retreat situated in an exceptional enclave of Portobelo Bay, mixing design, culture, nature and luxury in a unique manner in order to offer its guests authentic, exclusive and custom-made experiences.Situated just over an hour from Panama City, and surrounded by the National Park of Portobelo, El Otro Lado is the perfect place to relax and disconnect while contemplating the exuberant vegetation. With views of the sea, its four exclusive houses of eclectic tropical design integrate simple details with traditional handicraft of the Atlantic Coast.A streak of truly unforgettable experiences, El Otro Lado will take you to a harmonious and dreamlike place which is equipped with all the comforts of modern life. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
El Otro Lado Hotel Portobelo
El Otro Lado Panama/Portobelo

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