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“Great stay in amazing and exclusive coastal resort”
Review of Coral Lodge

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Coral Lodge
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Santa Isabel
Reviewed April 21, 2009

First of all, some overview of this place before launching into a
review. I think people may have misconceptions about this place and
what to expect which has resulted in some negative reviews. Please
keep in mind that this is not a 5-star resort where you would expect
to be waited on hand and foot. The resort is located outside the Kuna
Yala zone, on the mainland. The only access to the resort is by boat,
this adds to the isolation and exclusivity of the place. Power comes
from a generator, and I think water may be stored rainwater. We never
ran out of power during our stay, and always had plenty of water
including hot water (heated by propane tanks within each cabin. The
resort is within a small bay/beach and consists of 6 cabins with
palapas, situated on the water, linked to each other and the mainland
by a wooden walkway. The cabins are comfortable and nicely decorated,
and plenty of room to move around. The resort website has many photos
of the interiors. Other buildings include the over-the water and open
air restaurant where breakfast and lunch are typically served, a large
enclosed building where dinner is served and internet access is
available, along with sofas, chairs, a modest library and games, as
well as a separate building that houses the dive shop and staff
quarters. That's it. At capacity, you'd expect to see only about 12
guests and the staff, no one else. What you do is up to you. Whether
it be swimming from your balcony, kayaking, or taking a snorkeling
trip to a nearby reef. Other options are dive trips, massage,
horseback riding and a trip to a nearby carribean village. You can
also choose to visit the Kuna and have a guided tour of their island
community as well as a picnic on a picturesque carribean island
(magical!) as part of your transfer to the resort.
Our stay at the resort was for 2 nights early in April of 2009. We
were fortunate to have great weather, no rain and little wind. Made
the boat trips comfortable and stay at the resort all the more
pleasant. Remember that bad weather would limit your options as you
may not be able to do any activities as the boats cannot venture out
in bad weather. Also remember that staff, while friendly and
available for help, do not wait on you constantly and may not be
around at certain times of the day.
The food was great, they catered to any requests and food restrictions. We had a lot of wonderfully prepared fish dishes. Our first night there even included a BBQ on the beach with fish, chicken and veggies all cooked over a charcoal pit.
This is basically an exclusive
getaway in a beautiful location where you are left in peace. There
are no TV's, phones, room service and most importantly no crowds! We
enjoyed our stay, yes, it's pricey, but for the experience of being in
a place like this, I think it's worth it.

  • Stayed: April 2009, traveled as a couple
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1  Thank KGE
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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88 - 94 of 151 reviews

Reviewed March 15, 2009

A wonderful getaway on the eastern side of Panama. A perfect time of year to be there. It is the dry season and windy season and therefore no pesty bugs. The staff and set up of this wonderful 6 hut eco lodge is terrific. Our hut was overlooking a coral reef. The huts were well appointed and very spacious. The staff were always there to be of assistance and were great company as well. We kayaked, snorkled, and relaxed in the hamocks. What more could you ask for. The food was great especially the pancakes and syrup!!!

  • Stayed: February 2009, traveled as a couple
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Thank roadtrippers9
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 31, 2008

I recently stayed two days at Coral Lodge and really enjoyed my experience. While this place is not for the budget traveler, it is well worth the expense. The location is remote and serene, and with only six bungalows (our group booked all of them), I felt very cratered to and pampered. The bungalows are situated on a board walk over the water. There are free kayaks/snorkel gear to use at your leisure, and you get three square meals included with your stay (alcohol is extra). I would totally recommend the side trip to San Blas Islands to see the islands and visit the Kuna Indians. Coral Lodge is beautiful, but San Blas is even more, plus you get to buy the Mola textiles from the Kuna Indian women themselves. The snorkeling is some of the best I’ve ever done in my life (almost as great as Phuket, Thailand) and afterwards we were served a very good picnic lunch on the beach. The San Blas side trip did cost extra, but it was so worth it. We also did some sport fishing which we learned afterwards is not included in the package price. If you plan to visit Coral Lodge, I would make sure you are clear on what the package includes and what it does not. As for the food, I thought it was very good although we could have had more of a variety. And, the customer service was done with a personal touch - Candice, Carlos and Bobby were great and gracious hosts who put a lot of effort into making sure we were accommodated. I would certainly recommend this place to anyone. I loved it!!

Thanks, Birgit

  • Stayed: July 2008, traveled on business
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4  Thank janegoodall
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed August 9, 2008

Quick Summary:
Luxury: Not Really; Eco Style: Yes Very Much So; Atmosphere: Very Relaxed, Great for Couples, Not for Kids; Food: Very Good to Very Poor, Not Enough Fresh Food/Fish; Diving/Snorkeling: Amazing Bungalows; Nice Arrival/Departure: Take Plane Both Ways!; Beach/Water: At the Hotel not great though natural, at San Blas amazing.

We went in September 2007 as part of our Honeymoon trip to Peru and Panama. We flew to Panama from Lima and stayed one night at the Bristol. Next early morning off to San Blas Archipelago by taking the small and bumpy plane ride. It provides great views over the Panamenian jungle and over San Blas.
Upon arrival friendly Indios from San Blas picked us up in their boat. No problems even though we had quite a lot of big luggage. Then a short boat ride to one of their villages on one of the islands. There we had some breakfast. Then Hernan a very friendly Indio picked us up showed us around in the village including showing the school. Then the Hotel speedboat arrived with the Captain Carlos and off to a remote island with just one hut on it. Lots of food and drinks from the Hotel were provided for. Amazing day snorkeling, chilling in the hammock and drinking/eating. Hernan got very drunk because we offered him too much of the beer which Carlos had brought in the coolers from the Lodge. Hernan spoke good English, but was not understandable at the end anymore - quite amusing!

Off to the Hotel, a ca. 40 minute ride with the speedboat, quite enjoyable even if not luxurious. There we were greeted by a guy in shorts and barefoot, whom we first mistook to be the boat guy, but who later turned out to be Eric the then Hotel manager, a former boatsman on various freight ships. We were greeted very friendly and welcoming and were brought to our Bungalow 6, the most outer one, which I recommend as it provides most privacy.

The Bungalow is nicely done, very natural, one big living room and a bathroom. First night we thought we would die as there was an amzing thunderstorm which is in such a remote location 10 times as loud as in London. Besides us there was only an older couple there doing bird watching each day, so we practically had the Lodge for oursevles.

Over the 6 days we spent there, we learned diving (first timers) and went out to the diving reef a couple of times. The whether was mixed with a bit of rain etc each day, but overall very warm and nice. We also chilled out on the Hotel beach in the hammocks or on our bungalow terrace.

The Lodge is somehow unique in what I have seen so far. There is no buffet or menu either in the morning or evening. In the morning you go to the restaurant on the sea whenever it suits you, order whatever comes to your mind - some of which may be available. During lunch, no choice really, you just get served what is on the menu. Same in the evening with sometimes pretty substandard pasta or other stuff - not enough fresh food. However, one day there were some Indios arriving in a canoo, selling lobster and other crayfish. We just asked the always super friendly butler/cook to buy two for $10 each, huge lobsters and we got them cooked for lunch - quite the feast, worthwhile to just ask them to do that more than once actually!! One more thing to note, when you arrive at the restaurant you are encouraged to sit for some time with everyone else who is at the Hotel (in our case the bird watching elder couple, Eric, the depressed diving instructor) at the sofas in the main restaurant and chat a bit. Eric always in shorts and barefoot - truly upholding the Lodge's maxime. The diving instructor was depressed as there is truly nothing to do besides chilling and diving in the Lodge and with few guests around he was not really kept busy.

Eric, the quite bizarre Hotel "manager" was very friendly, but was more the diver, killing fish for dinner with his harpune and the man for everything, i,e, helpding the boat captain Carlos to repair the water flow to the Bungalos, diving underneath the boats to repair them. He was really what one needs for this remote location, i.e. someone who maintains the place, but not a Hotel manager. He was very open to all our requests, i.e. one more day trip to San Blas, some morning trip with the boat into the mangroves etc. That is the overall style of the hotel anyway, you get what you ask for. Miguel is also always smiling and very helpful. One day they Hotel owner turned up and went diving all day with his friend and the friend's son. The owner is a quite bizarre guy himself, apparently owning various Hotels in Latin America. His compagnon bailed out of Coral Lodge, so he is the sole owner - my impression its a non profit hobby mroe than anything else - even though the prices are not really dirt cheap - $400 a night for the Bungalow!

Also, dont be afraid if some soldiers arrive fully armed on the lodge's beach as they might just be hunting some drug trafickers!

The beach at the Hotel is pretty clean and natural as is the whole Hotel. But there are these little sandbugs that bite you all the time, nothing to be worried about, just a bit annoying. The hotel staff goes around with a mask and sprays some insect repellent into the near bushed - which does not do anything I guess as you are surrounded by deepest jungle. The water is very clear, but not crystaline since its not an island. Diving into the water from the Bungalow is nice, but from the beach the water is not that accessible due to coral and plants and stuff.

We did not go back by car as suggested by the Lodge so not to loose a whole day, but were driven in semi darkness to San Blas at 5.30am to get on the plane there. Eric had his GPS with him on which he had pre-recorded the route, but given the coral reefs its not without danger in semi-darkness. He was reluctant to do this at first, but it worked, in the end we were quite early for our flight anyway. An alternative would have been to go back to San Blas and stay there for a night before flying back, but the lodges there were not recommended to us.

The snorkeling and diving I would regard as top notch (note: at San Blas no diving allowed - only at the reefs ca. 10 minutes by boat ride from the Lodge). The water is crystal clear, loads of fish and no-one else around for the next 40 km for sure.

All in all a very memorable experience, nothing for hedonistic luxury seekers, but great for a truly couples who love remote, eco style, individual, diving resorts!
Remember:
1) You get what you ask for at Coral Lodge and dont be afraid to ask for anything!
2) Go for another day trip to San Blas if you like pristine beaches, crystalline water and chilling in the sun!

  • Stayed: September 2007, traveled as a couple
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5  Thank GermanLondoners
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 23, 2008

It was my husband and my first trip to Panama - and there were highlights and disappointments. Our first one was on arriving at Sao Paulo airport at midnight to await our connecting flight on Copa Airlines at 3.30am to Panama City.
Quite surprised that even though this is the 3rd largest city in the world, the airport facilities for transit passengers are non-existent at this time. Not a cafe, coffee shop or lounge is open at this time. So make sure you take a couple of bottles of water or juice with you or you will go very thirsty!
Be warned - Copa Airlines is appalling - we were crammed into very cramped seats, and upon noticing that there were 2 empty rows at the rear of the plane, our inquiry to the air stewards, as to whether we could move to the empty seats, was met with a stern 'No, they are open for security reasons.!'
After we had been tossed a biscuit and a warm juice, the stewards promptly settled themselves into the empty rows of seats and nodded off to sleep! After about 5 hours we were handed a soggy roll with some form of egg on it, and we landed in Panama City! And don't dare ask them for a drop of water, or expect a shadow of a smile - I have never come across more surly airline staff EVER!
Our return flight back to Sao Paulo was even worse - even though we had booked and paid for our flight months previously and had to catch the only connecting flight back to South Africa from Sao Paulo the next day, we were put on standby along with 8 other passengers, and only miraculously managed to board the plane as the last very passengers, due to another passenger not having the relevant visa.
We booked to go to Coral Lodge for 3 nights and booking via internet while in Panama City was very easy. We were advised to
use their transfer package via aircraft @ $300 per person. This included a boat trip to visit one of the islands inhabited by the indigenous Kuna Indian people. We did not enjoy this leg of the journey - the loos that are open into the sea below and wash straight back onto the island , the heckling to pay "One Dollar, One Dollar' to take photos, amongst other things. There were 3 or 4 backpackers that seemed to be enjoying staying on the crowded island, so it does appeal to those wanting to rough it a bit.

Coral Lodge itself was very pleasant - the staff were great and the rooms were wonderful, perched on the reef and very quiet. We did find nearly $500 a day excluding drinks rather steep for what you get. B prepared to not be able to flush your loo paper - needs to be put in accompanying waste basket, which can be a bit off-putting!

We snorkelled on a couple of other islands nearby, and saw good reef fish, but the plastic pollution that collects on the beaches of the surrounding islands and mainland beaches is very distressing. We were told by other guests that this is a huge problem all over the Caribbean, but if lodges like Coral Lodge want their guests to return to these areas, something needs to be done about continual collection of this eyesore. The water is beautiful, but because of not being able to even enjoy a romantic walk on the beach without tripping over vast amounts of plastic strewn across almost every inch of sand, we will look elsewhere to enjoy this activity.

Even though this is not caused by the lodge itself, and as they told us - as soon as you pick it up, more arrives. But if they arent able to keep their neighbouring beaches clean, then they should rather not suggest that guests visit them.

  • Stayed: March 2008, traveled as a couple
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Thank SouthAfricaShiva
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed April 8, 2008

I have stayed in amazing places in my life, but my stay at the Coral Lodge goes to the top of the list. From the moment we arrived, we knew we were somewhere special. It's an undiscovered paradise. The staff, led by Ulf and Suzette, are there to make your every moment magical. Miguel who served as a butler/waiter and overall paradise helper was fantastic. Do yourself a favor and book yourself the vacation of a lifetime. I cannot sing my praises high enough for this truly oasis of a resort. I shaved two years worth of stress by only staying two nights. And by the way, the photos I've seen online do not do this place justice.

  • Stayed: April 2008, traveled as a couple
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1  Thank rogerad
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed March 29, 2008

Family trip of Panama
Trip starts with pickup at hotel...strongly recommend staying at their recommended resort (Bristol) for 5am pickup and transfer to Porvenir. There you are greeted by Kuna tourguide. Kunas are unfortunately tourist friendly and while it is interesting, they "play" to the tourists and I found other indian populations outside Bocas more genuine and not concerned with "making a buck". In fact they had us tour their school, and I noted within 5 minutes of leaving all the children were gone (after we were passed a box for a donation)
The island tour and beach is a lovely way to spend the day and then the boatride fun (not for the fainthearted!). The rooms are impeccable considering they are 1-2 hours from civilization. The rooms are well appointed and you can literally dive off and snorkel right from the dock. Most of the time is spent relaxing and kayaking. The daily tours are simple and the focus is really on reading a book and spending quality time with the person you are with. Food is prepared at your request and quite gourmet...which also means that the portions are a bit small for a big american appetite. They will get anything within reason. However, this is not for someone with 5 star luxury, after all, it is an ecoresort. No slippers and robes. A private beach table to eat and watch the stars and a nightime walk with noone in sight- that is for you! The guests were all very interesting people, discriminating folks who are great conversation....but the honeymooners want to keep to themselves.....and can!
I recommend flying home rather than the tour of portobello- or at a minimum take the train, the ride is awful and long and not a nice way to end the trip

  • Stayed: March 2008, traveled as a couple
    • Value
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Thank marikim
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Coral Lodge

Address: Escribano Bay, Santa Isabel, Panama
Location: Panama > Colon Province > Santa Isabel
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Beach Restaurant Room Service Suites Swimming Pool
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Santa Isabel
Price Range: $180 - $300 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Hotel Class:3 star — Coral Lodge 3*
Number of rooms: 7
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Coral Lodge. A quintessential eco-adventure lodge set in a pristine natural habitat. An isolated totally sustainable lodge that offers a variety of nature related adventures and a place to get away from it all. You will enjoy a diversity of natural environments, our charming over the water bungalows, a friendly low key service and our proximity to San Blas archipelago with its beautiful unspoiled islands and cultural heritage of the Kuna Indians.Diving, Reef Fishing, Snorkeling, Hobie Cat Sailing, Trekking, Kayaking, Horseback riding and relax are the activities. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Coral Hotel Santa Isabel
Coral Resort Santa Isabel
Coral Lodge Panama/Santa Isabel

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