The adventures of the island interns

The Adventures of the Island Interns is a new online travel video series following the life-changing journey of Ben Brown and Luke Hansen, winners of the first-ever Island Intern Contest.

Held last Spring and hosted by Amble Resorts, the eco-development company searched for an intern to live on the site of their flagship eco-development, Isla Palenque, a 400-acre private island/ecotourism playground featuring twelve beaches, volcanic bluffs and abundant wildlife.

This week, the first episode, “The Opportunity of a Lifetime,” shows the excitement and life-changing outcome of the Island Intern Contest that sent Hansen and Brown to live on tropical Isla Palenque, Panama for six weeks last summer to document their experience.

This contest is part of Amble’s mission to shine a light on emerging destinations like Panama’s Chiriqui province while emphasizing the importance of preserving the world’s most spectacular natural and cultural wonders.

The 12-part online travel video series will be released Mondays.

Photo: Amble Resorts

Westin opens first hotel in Panama to the tune of $100 million

Panama, ranked the number one travel destination by The New York Times and an emerging destination by pubs like Fodor’s and Travel + Leisure, has just gotten a little hotter with the opening of its first Westin hotel.

The newly-opened Westin Playa Bonita Panamá is 20 minutes outside Panama City, flanked by both rainforest and beach. The hotel boasts 611 luxury rooms and suites, six fine dining restaurants, four bars and an open-air VIP Lounge on the 19th floor, which boasts panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, rainforest and Panamá Canal.
While 600-something room hotels aren’t always our preference, it’s a great way to get a tropical escape on the calendar for a reasonable price or for a moderate number of SPG loyalty points.

This opening falls on the heels of other major hotel announcements in the fast-emerging must-visit destination, including the opening of Trump Ocean Club Panama earlier this year.

Exclusive video: Archaeologists discover 17th century shipwreck believed to be from Captain Morgan fleet

Archaeologists have discovered the wreckage of a 17th century ship they believe to be from the famed Captain Henry Morgan’s fleet, lost off the coast of Panama in 1671.

The shipwreck was found on the Lajas Reef at the mouth of the Chagres River. The wreck is believed to be one of the boats lost as Morgan stormed Panama City in an attempt to take the Castillo de San Lorenzo, a Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and the capital city. Although his men ultimately prevailed, Morgan lost five ships to the rough seas and shallow reef surrounding the fort.

In the 17th century, Morgan sailed as a privateer on behalf of England, defending the Crown’s interests and pioneering expeditions to the ‘New World.’ Today, Morgan is perhaps best known as the inspiration for the famed Captain Morgan’s rum.

Check out the video below to see the archaeologists in action

The team uncovered roughly 52×22 feet of the starboard side of a wooden ship’s hull and a series of unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral. The artifacts were buried deep beneath a thick layer of sand and mud.

Ballast stones and iron concretions (the hull’s ‘ribs’) were also found. The ship was found with the help of a magnetometer survey, an underwater archaeological technique used to locate anomalies in the magnetic field below the surface of the water. The funding for the expedition was provided by Captain Morgan rum.

“For us, the real treasure is the shipwrecks themselves, which can give us the ability to accurately tell the story of a legendary historical figure like Captain Henry Morgan,” said Frederick “Fritz” H. Hanselmann, underwater archaeologist and Research Faculty with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University. “Discoveries of this nature allow us to study these artifacts and teach others what life was like for these famous privateers more than three hundred years ago.”

Due to the shallow waters and close proximity to the coast, treasure hunters have stolen many of the artifacts of monetary value, like gold coins, from the surrounding areas. In an attempt to help save the historic site from looting, the dive team is working closely with the Panamanian government to study and carefully preserve artifacts, which are an integral part of Panama’s history and heritage.

In September 2010, the team recovered six iron cannons from a nearby site also believed to be from one of the notorious Welsh privateer’s ships. Six more were found in March 2011.

Artifacts and future relics will remain the property of the Panamanian government and will be preserved and displayed by the Patronato Panama Viejo.

Photo of the day – Panama on skateboard

Skateboarders get a bad rap: they travel in packs of (usually) teenage boys, gravitate towards public buildings and spaces, and redefine the word “loiter.” But this shot by Flickr user aaroncolorado taken in Panama City, Panama is graceful, almost balletic. No doubt the no-goodniks were promptly chased away from their hangout spot, but looks like they had a good afternoon skating.

Have some great action shots to share? Add them to our Flickr pool and we may feature it on a future Photo of the Day.

Scared to visit Mexico? How about Panama?

News reports of ongoing crime and attacks on travelers in Mexico have land vacationers looking for alternative destinations and cruise ships headed in the opposite direction. Sure, those beheadings, murders and shootings are happening in remote areas of Mexico for the most part, but stories of such activity combined with travel warnings by trusted sources are enough to shift our focus elsewhere.

A look farther south, past Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua finds the welcoming and relatively-safe-compared-to-Mexico nations of Costa Rica and Panama.

Checking in first with the US Department of State for travel warnings or alerts, Costa Rica has the higher rating of the two.

“Adventure tourism is popular in Costa Rica, and many companies offer white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jungle canopy tours, SCUBA diving, and other outdoor attractions. U.S. citizens are urged to use caution in selecting adventure tourism companies.” says the Department of State, adding “The Government of Costa Rica regulates and monitors the safety of these companies, and registered tourism companies with operating permits must meet safety standards and have insurance coverage.”

Still, the murder of an Argentinian tourist on Thursday raises the question of security and safety for tourism in the Central American country which receives every year more than 2 million visitors.

It seems there is danger anywhere if we look hard enough.

Maybe we should look at this whole security issue a bit differently by seeing where construction of new tourist destinations is happening. With the idea that surely no responsible company would build a multi-million dollar property someplace unsafe to travel, let’s take a look at Panama.

The Westin Playa Bonita Panamá, the first Westin in Panama, is set to be unveiled in October of this year. Currently under construction, the 100 million dollar beach hotel will offer the largest meeting and banquet space in the Republic of Panamá and is being brought to life by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and Bern Hotels & Resorts.

“We believe the first Westin in the Republic of Panamá is one of the most exciting new prospects the destination has seen in decades. Our goal is to create an exclusive lifestyle beach hotel that showcases the Republic of Panamá’s natural beauty and redefines the nation’s travel industry,” said Herman Bern Jr., President of Bern Hotels and Resorts. “The beach hotel will cater to the luxurious demands of a diverse set of international consumers that visit the destination. With our premier location, accommodations and amenities, we will provide guests with an inimitable business or leisure experience.”

Conceived as what the operators call “a contemporary luxury oasis”, the 611-room Westin Playa Bonita Panamá will offer beachfront views of the Pacific Ocean through the lobby’s massive floor to ceiling windows along with seven restaurants, four bars and 65,000 square feet of meeting space.

A 20-minute drive from Panamá City, the beach hotel is also in close proximity to various attractions, historic landmarks and national parks. Known primarily for the Panama Canal, Panama also lists world-class surfing, a low risk of hurricane problems and use of the US dollar as it’s currency among other reasons for Americans to visit the southernmost Central American country.

Panama may be just far enough away from Mexico to avoid crime problems that spill over the borders of neighboring countries yet positioned quite nicely to be a good choice for secure travel in a warm-weather climate.

22-year-old Ali Philbrick thinks so and will call Panama home for the next six months as she teaches English to middle or high school students in the Central American country’s capital reports

“While I’m young, I might as well help people,” said Philbrick, who earned an undergraduate degree in math in 2010. “The ability to speak English is really important to [Panamanians] because with the Panama Canal, their economy is changing.”

Panama is the newest program opened by WorldTeach, a nonprofit organization that provides about 500 volunteer teachers annually to meet needs identified by foreign governments.

Companies building, non-profits sending in people to help, these are all non-typical, documentable indicators of a safe destination to visit. While travelers are urged to be aware of security alerts and warnings and pay attention to news reports, it seems there is often more to the story of travel security.