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Reviewed January 2, 2017

Increíble place, great staff. strongly recommended
We hd a fantástic time, relaxing place, very good and nice hotel, managed on a very professional way, Chill out in the pool, kayak around the island, dinner at the beach watching the stars, it was really a very good experience for the whole family.

Stayed: December 2016, traveled with family
Review collected in partnership with this hotel
Thank sduran_594299
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
PopaManagers, General Manager at Popa Paradise Beach Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 3, 2017

Thanks guys, for the time spent with us and for the wonderful review. It was great to have you here; we enjoyed in particular the European flavor of our conversations, bringing a bit of our own home to Popa for the holidays.

Despite some typical rainy periods that one can expect at this time of year, we are pleased that you could also enjoy some wonderful days of sun and fun during your stay.

A big hug to all the family and see you soon, maybe in Spain next time!

Elena and Daniele

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 1, 2017

There are some great things about this spot: it is really out of the way, and you will never feel like you have bought into a chain resort/big box trip. Having a pool and beach is a bonus. Staff are lovely and helpful. Yoga and massage options were great. Drinks were solid. Nice to have open common space with pingpong, pool and darts, especially given the amount of rain. Having said that, there are some serious issues.
First and foremost, the food was actually terrible. Caveat - we are vegetarians, so perhaps meat eaters had slightly better options. Breakfast was passable; OK fruit,granola (seemed like it was out of a box), scrambled eggs and yogurt. Bread (like Wonder Bread white/whole wheat) and the equivalent of Kraft slices for cheese.
Lunch:So-so. fish sandwich on a bun ( 2 days of 3). Tasted like soap. They made quesadillas for us when we asked.
Dinner: a disaster. Fish polenta first night was awful. Second night "vegetarian" lentil soup had bacon in it. Fish was so unappetizing looking we didn't try it. Rice was gone by the time we got there. Vegetables from the previous night were obviously recycled into "vegetable gratin". Third night - Fish (actually made "just for us") was terrible. Plantain/feta pudding was unspeakable. Rice was gone again.
Dessert was basically ice cream x 3 nights. Coffee was lousy.
They did make some efforts for us, such as pasta for my husband and daughter who aren't fish eaters. By morning 3 they had out soy and almond milk as options. They attempted salads, which were mostly romaine and tomatoes and flavourless.
I'm sure it's hard to get things to the island, but that can't be an excuse for bad food.
Beach is pretty but short. No drink service down there. Sand fleas are vicious.
Lots of (costly) day trip options but very little to do on the resort- no snorkelling on site, nowhere to walk. Sea kayaks were OK but life jackets in short supply.

Room Tip: Pretty but basic. Can't leave the doors open because there are no screens. Be prepared - ALL paper products go in the trash bin - no flushing anything on the island.
Stayed: December 2016, traveled with family
Review collected in partnership with this hotel
Thank jnmma
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Vincent R, Owner at Popa Paradise Beach Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 7, 2017

We are very sorry that your stay did not live up to your expectations. We tried hard to accommodate your food restrictions; but clearly we failed to do so. Thank you for giving us some notice regarding your requirements, which were as follows: "One thing I’ve been meaning to tell you - we are a bunch of somewhat picky eaters. None of us eat meat. 5 of the 6 of us eat fish but no shellfish. There are other little things (like a daughter who eats vegetables and no carbs and a husband who eats carbs and no vegetables) but those are the big ones." Our chefs tried their best, but in truth, we were unable to meet your needs, in part due to being completely full and some temp staff not showing up for work, but to a greater extent due to your group being more demanding and picky (your word) than the rest of our guests combined.

I was happy to assist you with your travel plans, through the 40+ emails we exchanged before your arrival. We arranged ground transport for you and paid for it ($250), but you showed great initiative in scheduling alternative arrangements, without telling us, leaving us with only the bill to pay.

It is seldom that we get to meet people that are so picky, while simultaneously being completely unaware of how difficult you are, and the toxic atmosphere you create.

Having said all that, it was a genuine pleasure to see you on your way, a treat enjoyed by our staff and other guests alike.

Thank you for your advice and for spending some time with us.

Vince - owner

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Reviewed January 1, 2017

We had the Most Amazing Time with the perfect spot to Really , Really Relax and have not a worry in the world other than possibly missing the Freshly Prepared Meals or what to order from the Open Bar!!!! Tough Decisions!!!

Stayed: December 2016, traveled solo
Review collected in partnership with this hotel
1  Thank dnick03
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
PopaManagers, General Manager at Popa Paradise Beach Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 2, 2017

Dear Xandy and David,

We are delighted to have received these short but wonderful comments on your part.

It is a great honor to host guests who have chosen Popa Paradise for their honeymoon, following the advice of a family member who was already our guest.

Thanks very much for bringing to us the wonderful photo album taken during the visit to the indigenous community Sandubidi, created by another of our previous guests, Mrs. Linda.

Hugs to both of you,

Elena and Daniele

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Reviewed December 31, 2016 via mobile

So, let's state the clear positives of this resort. First, the island and shoreline are beautiful and it is nicely secluded. Having both the sea and a true rain forest is a plus. The staff and managers are very nice people. But....
The food is horrible. My family and I are seasoned world travelers and we rank the food here at one of the lowest levels we could assign. The chef and staff try hard but the food was almost inedible. We were never so happy to get back to Panama City and have good food. Second, the resort is somewhat run down and really needs a face lift. Third, the place is just horribly managed. This is complicated as the managers are nice and involved people but are in over their heads. The boat taxi from the resort forgot about us on Colon island when we arrived and we had to wait over two hours for a pick up that was planned months in advance. Then we had a snorkeling trip with another family but after the first snorkel we had to wait at a shoreline restaurant on a sunny day as the other family ate lunch. We already had lunch which was what you are supposed to do on these trips. The management when called were unable or unwilling to rectify the situation, so we spent much of that beautiful afternoon waiting for the others to eat. Lastly, the "guides" are really just nice local people but have no expertise on the flora or fauna of the area or the island. Summary: Great location but we would Not recommend going here.

Stayed: December 2016, traveled with family
Thank Roger P
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
PopaManagers, General Manager at Popa Paradise Beach Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 2, 2017

Dear guest Roger,
We read your review with great disappointment, and we are very sorry you did not enjoy your stay at Popa Paradise. It is highly regrettable that we never heard any of this from you during the course of your stay with us, despite checking with you several times if everything was satisfactory. I remember your replies received on several occasions when I asked how your tour went, or snorkeling, or a dinner: "We had a great time" or "all is fine." Your son in particular complemented the tour. Consequently this hostile review is perplexing and wholly unexpected.

If we knew you did not like the food, we would have made changes to your liking; definitely one of our three chefs would meet your tastes and expectations. Had we known that there was a problem with a tour, or in the case of any misunderstanding, we would have repeated it at no cost, or found some other solution. Unfortunately, we cannot be everywhere at the same time; we need feedback from our guests to rectify any shortcoming, as explained to you when we showed you to your Junior Suite.

Regarding the delay at Cayo Coral, which you visited with other guests, why not take the time while the other guests were eating as an opportunity for some extra snorkelling - the area is rich in coral, colorful fish, and other aquatic life. If that was not to your liking, then our boat captain would have gladly returned you to Popa and returned to Cayo Coral for the other guests. This is another example where clear communication would have prevented an unsatisfactory experience.

Regarding your arrival, it is true that the arrival time had been planned months in advance by your travel agency: 1:00 pm, exactly when we were there for you. We do not know why you arrived two hours early, which we only discovered when we arrived at the meeting point at the agreed time.

We do everything we can to meet every incoming guest promptly after their arrival in Bocas, but there are limits as to what we can do with our three boats. When there are last minute changes, as occurred with your group, it is very difficult to respond instantly without impacting other guests, tours, and the transport of supplies that are essential to keep the hotel running. Please keep in mind that your transfers are free (for stays of three nights or longer) - other island hotels charge hefty transfer fees, and only come to Bocas at two set times per day.

In any case, thanks for the feedback, unfortunately received only via this strange review after departing the resort, giving us no possibility to improve the outcome.
We are always willing to improve and never stop doing it, a continuous task and challenge. We ask all visitors to bring any problems to our attention, so we can find immediate solutions. We count on the collaboration of our guests in helping us to do a better job, by personally communicating their needs, frustrations, and also our mistakes.

Happy New Year.

Elena and Daniele

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed December 30, 2016

I rarely write bad reviews, but after our poor experience here, I felt it was necessary. Let me also preface this review by saying that my husband and I travel frequently/widely to many countries around the world. We often stay in small “off the grid” resorts and lodges, mainly in Africa and the Caribbean. Most are accessible only by air or boat, and several bear a resemblance to Isla Popa (mangrove islands off the coast). All had no source of electrical power or water, and the ones in Africa were 100% solar. Our 3-day stay at Popa Paradise was the worst holiday experience we have had in decades. The food was unacceptable, the rooms were poorly lit with little/no hot water, and the manager (Elena) was simply not interested in either listening to guests or improving their experience. The boat trips to/from the mainland did not meet basic safety standards.

We arrived during the tropical depression that became hurricane Otto, and the port of Almirante was closed by the Panamanian port authorities, even though the sea conditions were actually fine. The Isla Popa resort apparently had no way to get us there, so our Costa Rican guide negotiated with some indigenous boatmen to load us and our luggage on board small boats anchored in a creek several km to the east, down a muddy embankment. The life jackets provided were in very poor condition (non-functional zips, missing ties), and there were not enough for everyone to wear. We were charged for this trip when we checked out, although we wonder if the indigenous people actually got any of the money. On the trip back to Bocas Town, we left at 5:30 am in the pitch black, with no lights on the boats (same indigenous boatmen as the out-bound trip). The first boat that left, with Elena on board, did not have a single life jacket. We declined to get on it. We had noticed floating logs and wood debris on our trip out to Popa, and our excursion to the cacao plantation, and if the boat had hit one of these, everyone would have been thrown overboard in the dark. The resort needs to ensure that guests are not subjected to unsafe conditions. Minimum safety rules require that everyone wears a fully functional life jacket. Don’t assume that an accident will not happen to you; well-maintained boats capsize and people drown on a regular basis in Canada (and these were not well-maintained boats).

When we finally arrived at the resort, lunch was hot dogs, iceberg lettuce, and corn chips out of a bag. At lunch the following day, we were treated to hamburgers with Kraft single-serving cheese slices (still in the cellophane wrapper), plus a few French fries to share with others, and the final day, breaded chicken nuggets (likely from a frozen packet). Vegetables consisted of iceberg lettuce. This was gourmet food? We don’t eat junk fast food or iceberg lettuce at home, and did not expect to have no other choices here. There were several vegetarians in our group, and there was little for them to eat. At the end of the first day (it was clear then that the food was poor), two of us approached Elena and asked that protein choices be provided for vegetarians. The solution was to cut a block of Kraft “plastic” cheese into chunks and put it out on a plate so far in advance that it had sweated and partially melted by the time lunch was served. The other meals were incredibly overcooked, and had no flavour to speak of. The first night’s dinner, we were served beef stroganoff where the meat was barely chewable. The last night, we had requested fish/seafood, and the meal that was served was truly awful. Everything was probably frozen, and overcooked to the point that it was inedible. The tuna, instead of being seared and served medium rare, had been boiled in a stew until it was hard and grey, the squid ring texture resembled car tires, white fish had been marinated in pineapple juice until it disintegrated, and the mussels looked so awful we did not even try them. They need a chef who knows how to cook to international standards. Vegetables and fruit were in very short supply throughout our stay. Isolated lodges in Africa pride themselves on serving delicious 4-star meals with lots of fresh locally sourced ingredients, and there is no reason why Popa Paradise could not do the same. The managers of off-the-grid resorts in Africa do this by forging mutually beneficial relationships with local tribal communities to supply them with fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and meat. Clearly this was not happening here. When we mentioned the lack of vegetables/fruit to Elena, she indicated very defensively that very little was obtainable locally. However, on the final day when we were flying out of Bocas Town, our flight was cancelled, and we spent some time walking around the town. We saw several produce stores with a plentiful supply of leafy green (and other) vegetables, fruit etc, so this was simply not true. Good quality produce is indeed available, but they are choosing not to buy it for their guests.

The rooms were spacious, but so poorly lit that we kept losing things when we put them down and had to use a flashlight to locate them. It was impossible to read a book or use a laptop after sunset. Hot water was only obtainable for ~3 minutes (just enough time to wet your hair and get the shampoo on), then it ran cold. After some experimentation we found that if we shut all the taps off and waited 5 minutes, we could get another 3 minutes of hot water, just enough to rinse off the shampoo. This made showers an unpleasant experience. In 100% solar places we have stayed at in Africa, we have never had an issue with hot water supply. The main beach had only four shaded loungers, which was insufficient for the number of guests. Several of us dragged loungers through the water from a nearby smaller beach area, but there was no shade for them. These things are all easily remediable, so why not fix them?

At the end of our stay, I tried to talk to Elena about all of this (especially the food) in a calm and constructive manner, but she became angry and refused to listen. Her solution was to “take us to another island if we do not like it here”. In the end, she stamped her feet like a spoilt child and walked away very rudely. She is clearly not manager material; if you do not sincerely listen to your guests, then you will never improve their experience. Anyone who has looked at the responses to negative reviews can see the angry, defensive attitude that any small criticism engenders. I suspect that many of their guests are unsophisticated travellers who are used to typical American food (minimal veggie/fruit/fish content), and accept her statements that this is the best they can do.

Popa Paradise is expensive and 1-star at best; there are many places to stay in other countries around the world that can deliver a highly enjoyable 4-star experience for a lot less. We would never return here, even if it was free; we did not enjoy our stay at all. Our guide and the other members of our group (16 altogether) were also very disappointed.

  • Stayed: November 2016, traveled as a couple
    • Location
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
1  Thank OntarioPacked2Go
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Vincent R, Owner at Popa Paradise Beach Resort, responded to this reviewResponded January 13, 2017

We thank this writer for her review, and for the extensive descriptions of her experiences in Africa and elsewhere – she is clearly an experienced, sophisticated and demanding traveler. Far superior, evidently, to the hundreds of satisfied guests that have had a great time at our hotel, enjoyed the food and left positive reviews.

As owner of the hotel, I took a little extra time to do some fact-checking of the claims made in this review, and so we spoke with our Managers, the tour guide, and other guests that were at the hotel during this stay. While parts are certainly true, my overall assessment is MOSTLY FALSE (any Snopes fans out there?).

It is true that there was a very significant upset to start this groups’ stay, when the Port Authority banned all commercial boat traffic, due to the possible effects of TS Otto, about 300 km to the north of Panama. Consequently, the charter that we arranged for these guests from Almirante to Popa was cancelled, but we quickly adjusted and sent our own boats and captains to collect these guests – had we not done so, they would have spent two very uncomfortable nights in Almirante. The transport was hastily arranged, possibly resulting in an inadequate number of life jackets; nonetheless the voyage was completed safely and without incident, continuing our record of zero boating incidents over the past five years of operating the hotel. The lifejacket issue was immediately rectified, prior to the return trip to Bocas, contrary to this reviewer’s claims. Incidentally, at the time this group left Popa for the first Air Panama flight, the sun was already rising – it was beautiful, and quite adequate daylight for a safe journey, as our spotless record attests.

I would agree, based on the feedback obtained, that the food was not up to our normal standards during the first half of this three day stay. For that we apologize. While no excuse, I can only attribute this failing to the fact that this period was the first time our chefs Cindia and Nesver were facing a full house, since they joined us last July. Adjustments to the menu were made in consultation with the guide and other members of the group, and most were happy with the meals thereafter. By this time, however, our reviewer “smelled blood”, and was determined to punish the hotel and Elena personally for the rocky start. Far from being “constructive criticism”, this reviewer subjected our Manager to a constant diatribe of complaints, and while I don’t condone Elena walking away from this guest during one of her rants, there was nothing to be gained for anyone by prolonging a one-sided and self-serving tirade. It was some consolation that other members of this group apologised to Elena on several occasions for this reviewer’s aggressive and offensive behavior.

A few other minor issues (lighting, inconsistent hot water, location of loungers) could have been easily rectified had they been brought to our attention, or to that of the tour guide; unfortunately, they were not.

It is patently false for the reviewer to state that “Our guide and the other members of our group (16 altogether) were also very disappointed” – I received credible and consistent feedback that 80% were happy. I wonder how many more would have been satisfied, without her peculiar style of leadership?

Despite the overall unsatisfactory interaction with this individual, we do welcome feedback, and are always striving to improve.

Vince - owner

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