Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Panama: Digs 

On February 3rd, athletes will swim  within the banks of  The Panama Canal, known as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” It’s also listed as one of the seven wonders of the world, which is pretty odd but, hey, who’s counting?

Ironman 70.3 Panama, the first Latin American Pro Championship in the global Ironman 70.3 Series, will begin with a 3.86 km swim at the very mouth of the famous canal. Set against a varied backdrop of ocean, forest and city, participants will swim in the Pacific, bike across the Bridge of the Americas - that little bit of real estate that connects Central and South America - and travel a 13.1 mile double loop run through the tourist-laden Amador Causeway, all the while viewing ships from all over the world as they journey their way through the Panama short-cut that connects one side of the world to the other. 

Panama has undergone extensive changes since the 1980s. The success of the canal and the restoration of a democratic government has driven extensive tourism-oriented infrastructure in the form of hotels, resorts and restaurants.  U.S. currency is accepted so there is no need to deal with the hassles of money exchange and the Tocumen International Airport has been redeveloped into a more travel-friendly entity.

The seventy-story iconic Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower is this year’s featured hotel and acts as a race headquarters. The entire hotel will house athlete check-in, the Expo and the Awards Ceremony along with holding court for all TV, media and press related issues. The event rate is $155 plus applicable taxes. 

In true “Trump” style, the Ocean Club International is the tallest, probably the grandest, building in Latin America. Were you surprised? The hotel has a state-of-the-art fitness center, wireless internet access and a full service business center. Located only five minutes from the financial district, it has a lot of things going for it with Punta Pacifica’s unique shopping and nightlife nearby and easily accessible.  

Unfortunately, visitors rank service very low and, from the plethora of bad customer service marks on most trip advisory sites, The Donald has earned a “your fired” from unhappy customers.

In stark contrast is the more modest, but further-from-the-Ironman-event, Toscana Inn Hotel. Ranked as Trip Advisor’s best Panama hotel, it is located in Panama City’s prestigious El Cangrejo district, close to Via EspaƱa, Multiplaza Pacific and Multicentro Panama. The Toscana sports a roof-top terrace with spectacular vistas of Panama City. Numerous restaurants are within walking distance, not to mention easy access to the Metropolitan Nature Park and National Bank House Museum. The hotel even offers free Wi-Fi in the room and throughout the hotel.

Another choice is the Intercontinental Miramar Panama located on Avenida Balboa in Panama City. The views of the Bay of Panama are supposed to be spectacular and guests can see, right from the room, ships waiting to enter the canal. If you get lucky enough, get a room at the end and as high up as possible. End rooms have wraparound windows giving you a panoramic view as you lie in bed…recovering from the race…or whatever. Oh, and the hotel has a nice spa with floor-to-ceiling windows and heated beds, and there is a fitness center too.

Whether you choose the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower or one of the non-featured hotels, getting around at the Ironman 70.3 Panama event is relatively easy. Remember that taxis are usually cheap, and cheaper still if you get them yourself instead of having the hotel concierge arrange it.  And, in some areas, you can get around via a hop-on/hop-off bus. 

There are some fantastic restaurants such as the Cafeteria Manolo, Machu Pichu, The Wine Bar, Istmo Brew Pub and the Martin Fierro Steakhouse.

We’ll write up an update as we get closer to the event and explore other things to do in Panama as well as give more details on some fun places to dine. Until then, fire up some Van Halen on your iPod!