’s diverse art scene is a direct reflection of the country’s multicultural environment,” says Ramón Zafrani.
An architect and contemporary artist from Panama City who has helped curate major exhibitions in Panama and Central America, Zafrani joins me on a walk through the town of Portobelo, located around 60 miles north of Panama City. The informal tour is offered by El Otro Lado
, a playfully decorated boutique hotel that sits across the town’s eponymous bay (its name means “the other side” in Spanish) within the jungled Portobelo National Park.
El Otro Lado seems to naturally attract an international arts crowd; during my stay, I share cocktails and conversation with a German musician and DJ, a Russian model, a Canadian painter, and a Venezuelan who works at a music club in Casco Antiguo (Panama City’s Old Quarter). I also meet a Spanish photojournalist and close friend of famed Panamanian photographer Sandra Eleta, whose extended family has owned El Otro for generations.
Such an inspired guest list makes perfect sense to Marisa Costa, a Virtuoso travel advisor
. “El Otro Lado is a gorgeous, off-the-beaten path retreat for travelers interested in arts and culture,” she says. “It appeals to those who desire a Caribbean experience that’s different from the typical beach vacation: more authentic, with a focus on community.”
The hotel takes this notion even further, playing an integral role in bringing attention to – and helping sustain – Portobelo’s vibrant, Afro-Caribbean arts heritage.