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Cala Mia Panama

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Written by Matt   
Monday, 12 October 2009 13:59
Cala Mia PanamaA single dirt road runs through the Chiriqui village of Boca Chica, nurse and, depending on which direction you come from, prescription either the first or last thing you pass is a little concrete dock down by the water. It's this rather unremarkable dock of tangled fishing nets, empty gas tanks, and fishermen sleeping in hammocks that one might be tempted to call boring were it not the launching point to one of Panama's best kept hotel secrets. Now, if there was ever a hotel website that more inaccurately reflected the quality of its accommodations to the extent of seriously misleading potential clientele, Cala Mia would undoubtedly be it, and I mean that in the most flattering sort of way. Representing the precious hotel online is a goofy assemblage of HTML with graphics so remedial and font so comically small that they come close (albeit fall just short) to out-trumping the hotel's main motto displayed prominently on their homepage. "Most likely the nicest island resort in Panama."

The first time I read this I admired its modesty, meant to say that while yes, Cala Mia is a very nice resort, there's a slight possibility that something else better is out there.

After a ten-minute boat taxi through the open sea and past a series of volcanic outcroppings, visitors see it before they get there: a compound of quaint bungalows, blooming flora, and wildlife that's been all but displaced from Panama's overdeveloped hubs. Cala Mia is set on an elevated finger of land jutting out into the Pacific, and the views from any particular spot on the property are as expansive as the breezes are kind. Two private beaches, a photogenic infinity pool, and a cliff-top spa. Most guests depart with their shoes upon arrival.
Beyond the hotel's craftsman and artistic charm lie the intangibles of Cala Mia hospitality, anomalies to Panama's otherwise nascent service industry. A staff that recognizes you by name, for instance, or restaurant operations so impressively, almost invincibly, smooth.

The relatively unknown coastal area of Boca Chica has always had something of a frontier mentality with regards to development. Its pioneers, which is to say those who are actually doing stuff, are almost exclusively foreigners with a seemingly united vision for low-impact, authentic tourism. They appear to quite like being outsiders, successfully avoiding the behemoth, quickcash development trend common elsewhere on Panama's coasts. Boca Chica's small handful of boutique hotels ooze of nature, luxury, sport fishing and in some cases, all of the above.

Even people knew about Cala Mia, it was, to an almost ludicrous degree, unique. While neighboring Costa Rica has favored the sustainable tourism model for years, the concept is still relatively new and curious to Panama where the incentives to build small or eco-friendly are next to non-existent. Employing members of the local indigenous tribe, growing one's own organic fruits and vegetables, running entirely on solar power. These things simply don't exist in Panama, which is, of course, what makes finding them at boutique hotel Cala Mia so unusually cool.

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Last Updated on Monday, 12 October 2009 14:01