We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

“Very disappointed”
Review of Coral Lodge

Best prices for -
Check In mm/dd/yyyy Check Out mm/dd/yyyy
Prices are for 1 room, 2 adults
Show Prices
Compare best prices from top travel sites
and 2 more sites!
Coral Lodge
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Santa Isabel
Reviewed January 24, 2007

As the previous reviewer, I too traveled to the Coral Lodge with a friend over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Myself and travel partner are both seasoned travelers, with a lot of backpacking and third world travel experience under our belt. The later part of the second day of our stay a massive storm hit, the largest in decades. But the problems were apparent before the storm hit.

We arrived on a Monday – a day and a half before the storm hit—and pre-storm it was obvious that the lodge was extremely short staffed. The first day our plane was met, we did the Kuna and snorkeling tour all as planned, a very pleasant day. But as the previous reviewer stated – when we arrived at the lodge- we found that the person who picked up us (Ezekiel, a very competent 21 year old) was the boat caption, in charge of transfers, the bartender, the food server, the tour guide and the only English speaker on property. No David and no official manager. The afternoon of our second day at the lodge a friend of the owner came to help as the lodge was near capacity and it was obvious they were severely down staff. Nice guy but he had no real knowledge of the lodge, and had had no hotel experience.

Prior to the storm hitting (day two of our trip at the Lodge), basic things like room cleaning and replenishing drinking water did not happen. You cannot drink the tap water in the guestrooms and you can’t flush paper down the toilet… so wanting the bathroom wastebasket, filled with soiled toilet paper, changed each day when paying $420 a night does not seem unreasonable. There were other issues (some we did not inform the staff of because everyone was already so busy) such as the ladder going from our bungalow to the water was broken making it impossible to get back up from a kayak or after snorkeling to our unit.

On our second day, we were unable to do a guided kayak tour or any of the other guided tours listed on the website because Ezekiel was busy with two more separate transfer trips. Of course the point in being so remote is to be able to chill out, relax and explore on your own, which we did. However, paying $420 per night I would have expected (especially during high season filled with guests) to have an onsite manager, a staff member who is dedicated to tours and basic guest needs, and a separate person who runs the transportation. So if the transfer person and tour person are off with guests- there is someone else at the lodge that can be available to the other guests…and there were 11 guests at the lodge over Thanksgiving. We felt bad asking for a beer or blended drink because the staff had so much to do that we didn’t want to add to their stress. We fully understood that we were booking a “remote eco lodge” but we did have certain expectations for the price point we were paying. If we went to one of the $100 night Bocas lodges, I wouldn’t have such expectations.

When the storm hit –- everything got much worse, and rather than repeat the same facts that the previous reviewer stated, I will simply say that I am in complete agreement. A major storm cannot be helped but the most basic safety needs were not met and there was no proactive response from the staff.

Worth mentioning was a poor decision that was made to take myself and travel partner on the boat to try and catch our flight while the storm was still active. We had told the staff that we really wanted to try and make our flight but made it 100% clear that we did not want to travel if it was unsafe (for ours and the crews sake). We said we would trust the staff’s judgment- but if a more seasoned manager was onsite – I would have to imagine that his/her judgment would have overridden the staff’s decision and the boat would not have gone out. It was the single most terrifying experience of my life. Huge, enormous storm waves crashing over the boat and at times the boat was going straight up into the air looking ready to flip. The crew on the boat seemed extremely nervous- and when we arrived at the dock- which had been washed out by the storm- the locals asked in amazement why we risked traveling in the storm waters. We of course appreciated getting there safely and the amazing way the boat caption handled such extreme waters but it was such a bad memory- one that I still cannot forget.

I am sure David the owner will respond on tripadvisor and dispute some of these claims as he did when he responded to our initial email outlining our concerns. But when four totally separate groups (five of the lodge’s six cabins were booked with four families that had never previously met) of well traveled and good natured people have the exact same experience – you have to think about where the problem lies. We were told by one of the staff that the lodge manager recently left his employment- but from what we could gather it was not weeks but months prior to us arriving. None of the Thanksgiving bookings were of a last minute nature so the number of guests expected was no surprise. We also requested a refund from the owner which we did not yet receive.

From the glowing tripadvisor reviews I have to imagine that when the owner was at the lodge and it was staffed properly the majority of the trip advisor reviews ring true. But this was not my experience, and I can only go off of what I personally experienced. Bottom line is--great concept and physical structures- but so not worth what they are charging unless major staff changes are made and service issues are addressed.

Stayed: November 2006
27  Thank crwolff
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Write a Review
Reviews (151)
There are newer reviews for Coral Lodge
See the most recent reviews
Traveler rating
Traveler type
Time of year
Language

126 - 132 of 151 reviews

Reviewed January 22, 2007

We stayed here over Thanksgiving 2006 and to say our stay was a complete disaster would be an understatement. This is a resort with big problems that won't be solved overnight. The reason it has taken us so long to post a review is that we took our concerns up with the owner David Wroughton in person, and then via email, in fairness, before posting them on this board. Almost two months later, he sent us an arrogant and defensive reply stating, "I realize more than anyone, that Coral Lodge isn’t for everyone. Unfortunately, our great reviews in Trip Advisor are creating exorbitant expectations that no eco-lodge can meet. I’m sure you will help correct that inbalance."

First let me preface that part of our stay was affected by extremely adverse weather conditions - a really bad storm that pounded the Atlantic Coast of Panama. While this was unusual, it happened, and since the resort had only been open a few months, it was the first test it received of extremely bad weather during the rainy season. The resort took a complete beating, and the handful of junior staff running it did not have the experience or skill sets to deal with it.

Second, let me also say that we were one of four groups of guests staying at the resort - two other couples and one family with kids. They all shared the same miserable experience as us, but I'll leave it for them to tell their own stories.

Okay, so where do we begin. Let's talk about before the storm. We were met at El Porvenir by Ezekiel and his crew and taken for our snorkeling trip in the San Blas Islands. Ezekiel is a jovial 21 year old boy who made us feel welcome and overall we had a great time with good weather snorkeling off the islands. Yes, we were taken to a private beach like it says in the web site and fed a decent lunch. We then got back on the boat and traveled for about 60-90 minutes to the Lodge.

When we arrived at the Lodge, we were expected to be greeted by a manager, if not by David himself, as many of the other reviewers here have mentioned. It soon became apparent that there was no one else. Ezekiel was it. And this was Thanksgiving, and the resort was booked to capacity. Think about it, we're paying over $400 a night and this is what we get - Ezekiel (the only fluent English speaker) backed by two cooks, one housekeeper and two handymen. It just didn't add up.

That night we had dinner and met some of the other guests. They were all like us in that they had read the glowing reviews on TripAdvisor, had traveled extensively and had realistic expectations about coming to a remote lodge in Panama. I mean, you have to be pretty adventurous to consider coming here, which we all undoubtedly were. We were not expecting the Ritz.

Dinner was interesting. One person got a beautiful crab, while everyone else got chicken. Why? One guest had requested no seafood. There was a miscommunication so only one person got seafood. No big deal, but a sign of things to come. Again, there was no-one "in charge" of the place. We laughed it off, enjoyed the company of the fellow guests and retired to our room.

The next morning after breakfast my wife and I decided we'd try snorkeling off the deck of our room. We asked Ezekiel for some snorkeling gear. He said to go to the makeshift diving shop to get it. We searched the dive shop but found nothing. After a bit more looking around, we tracked down Ezekiel who was about to leave the Lodge to pick up more guests on the boat. He checked with one of the staff and then confirmed that all of the snorkeling gear was taken to the San Blas Islands that morning for the snorkeling trip catering for two arriving guests. So even though Lisbeth (Panama City Lodge office manager who has since left) asks each guest what their shoe sizes are, etc, the crew takes the easy way out by taking all the gear on these trips, leaving nothing for the guests on the ground at the lodge. The funny (or not so funny) thing is that the arriving guests did not get the sizes they did request so it is not clear who did benefit from the snorkeling gear.

Again, we didn't let this deter our enthusiasm so we jumped in the kayaks and spent the morning paddling around. Then we had lunch at the open air restaurant pictured on the website. At this time we met a young American called Jay who said that David had sent him to the Lodge to "keep an eye on things." He said that the other Panama staff don't follow orders from other Panamanians like Ezekiel very well so he was there to keep everything in check. Okay, so still no David or manager, but hey, at least there's someone else who speaks English and can help us communicate.

While we were having lunch it started to rain. We finished lunch and it was still raining. We waited for a couple of hours then bolted through the rain back to our unit. Our afternoon plans of snorkeling were dashed, but hey, so what. At least we weren't doing the snorkel tour and boat trip that day like another couple was. The water was brutally rough and the wind relentless. Something wasn't right. This wasn't your run of mill rainy season day.

When we returned to the room we noticed debris from the roof in our bed and all over the floor and shower. We alerted Ezekiel and Jay on Tuesday afternoon that the rooms were being flooded and that we had mopped and cleaned to the best of our ability.

That night we had dinner in the main dining room again and commiserated with other guests about the weather. But again, we got to know each other better and didn't want to let it interfere with our good nature and the fact that we were on vacation after all!

When it was time to leave the dining room after dinner, the weather was even more brutal. Ezekiel, Jay and the other staff were watching a video, appearing relatively unconcerned, as we were prepared to walk back to our units. Ezekiel said to use the walkie talkie if we had any problems. We asked if we could have some clean towels, at the very least, since the towels in our room were used and soaking wet from clean up. In response to our request, Jay and Ezekiel just looked at each other blankly. It was not clear if they did not want to go out in the rain or there was an issue between them. We then said that we saw towels in the dive shop and could stop in ourselves on the way back. Jay offered to come with us. We found the dive shop locked and Jay offered no alternative suggestion for getting towels. We all returned to our rooms without towels and of course found the rooms flooded again.

Making matters worse, you know that beautiful walkway you see pictured on the website in perfect weather conditions? Well, guess what, it doesn't have handrails. As we were walking back to our units in the high winds and rain, one of the other guests fell over on the walkway to the villas as the winds were so strong. We immediately got on the walkie talkie to alert staff and were ignored for over an hour. Still with no response via walkie talkie, eventually 90 minutes later, Ezekiel, Jay and other staff came over to our room to check on us. They said they could hear us, but they couldn't talk back on the walkie talkies, despite this being such a pressing manner. I later confirmed with Jay that the walkie talkies don't work.

Needless to say, it was a long night. My wife and I slept fully covered, protecting our faces from the debris falling out of control from the thatched villa roof. Meanwhile the floor became more and more flooded, dirty and disgusting.

It rained and howled wind throughout the night and into the morning. When it was light Jay came around to our room to say that breakfast would still be served in the main dining room. We asked him for more towels and had some questions about the weather and emergency plan. He didn't have any answers beyond breakfast being served shortly.

After trying to clean up the room we made our way to breakfast. The walkway was covered in branches and debris. The beach was littered with trash that had been swept in by the storm - disgusting syringes, waste products and other potentially disease carrying debris was everywhere. Several huge trees had fallen, one narrowly missing the dining room.

When we arrived, we found out several bits of crucial information. First, we were told that the resort had run out of clean towels and there was no more available for the rest of the week. Clearly this was not good news. Even more concerning was the fact that the staff had failed to tell us that the resort was running low on towels so we would know we had a choice. We could choose to have 1) a wet floor in our room and a “useable” towel or 2) a dry-ish floor and a dirty, wet and unusable towel.

Secondly, and more importantly, the only form of communication was the mobile phone connection at the outside bar over the water and it was not working. And, due to the high seas and wind, was in a dangerous location. We did not even know that there was a satellite phone on the boat until Thursday (two days after the start of the storm hit). We have no idea why Ezekiel did not try using this earlier when the cell phone service was down for so long and we were out of communication.

So here we were, stranded at the Coral Lodge, with no way of contacting our families. We knew nothing about what was happening in the outside world. We had no emergency plan and no assurance by someone "in charge" that things would be okay.

We made the best of the rest of the day with the other guests by playing games, telling stories and generally trying to comfort each other and keep our spirits up. We stayed in the main dining room all day. Prior to dinner, we asked Jay if our rooms had been cleaned. He said no, and we asked if we could at least have access to a mop to clean our rooms in preparation for sleeping that night. He said that he and the other crew would do so after dinner and they did. I have no idea what happened to the maid at the time. Later I found out from David in his written reply that she had "drank herself to sleep" because she "was frightened to death by the storm" and "was sick the next day." Okay, well props to Jay and crew for making an attempt to clean our rooms that night, which was, by the way, the last time they were cleaned during our stay. There were no more towels as I said before. Clean drinking water and other amenities that were meant to be replaced daily throughout our stay? Forget about it. Yes, the conditions were bad, but it was like the staff had just given up and weren't doing their roles. Again, there was no one in charge.

What made it even worse is that David's friend Jay began talking about how if the weather cleared up enough to take the boat out again, he had planned to leave the next day to go to Panama City for a Thanksgiving celebration. So Jay had never planned to stay throughout the entire week during this fully booked Thanksgiving period. And when the chips were down he still planned to bolt and leave us behind with no one in charge.

The following day (Thursday) the weather was still awful. Debris (tree branches, broken glass, syringes, general rubbish) progressively collected on the beach over the week in higher quantities due to the storm conditions. There was no attempt by staff to clear a safe walking path across the beach. One staff member spent a morning chopping up a fallen tree (that was causing no immediate danger). If the resort had a manager perhaps his time would have been better directed.

That afternoon, the rain stopped for a brief period. My wife and I took a walk outside to survey the damage along the beach. When we returned we learned that Ezekiel had left with a full crew, including, inexplicably, the cook, to take two guests back to Mirarmar so they could make their flight home the next day. While I know what happened next I don't believe it's my story to tell so I'll leave it to them to tell their own story. Ezekiel had promised to return that night after dropping them off. We waited all night and he never returned. We were sick with worry.

The next morning (Friday) the weather had cleared up some more, and Ezekiel had returned to the Lodge. Because there wasn't enough life jackets for the boat, we had to divide into two groups to make it back. We let the family travel on the first boat in the morning then waited hours for it to return even though Ezekiel said they'd be straight back. Eventually it did return, after picking up supplies, more people and running errands. It was frustrating, but eventually we made it back.

When we arrived at Mirramar we were amazed to see David waiting there at the dock. He seemed genuinely surprised that we were unhappy with our stay and when we did mention areas that we felt needed addressing he got very defensive. We suggested to him that he seek feedback from the other guests that were at the Lodge during this time, including the family who had left that morning and the girls who had left the previous day (who, thank God, arrived safely, but I'll leave it to them to tell their story). And we suggested that he take a look at the condition of the Lodge with his own eyes before responding to us. We said we'd send him a letter with our concerns and he said he'd reply.

We sent him that letter on December 5. We received his belligerent response on January 17. If I was allowed to post it word for word here on TripAdvisor I would. If you read the letter and sensed the tone of the author and still wanted to stay here, you are a braver person than I. It was a piece of work to say the least.

The only positive, and it's not a small one, is that the other guests made the best out of what was a horrifying situation. My wife and I feel like we've shared an amazing experience with some very special people, that we'll never forget.

We really wanted to like the Coral Lodge and knew that it was in a remote location before we booked it. We also read the many glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and did as much research as we could have beforehand. It's a great concept with a very poor execution. I only hope that someone will get this right in this beautiful (in 'normal' conditions) part of the world.

One final note, as other reviewers have stated here, the chitras (sandflies) are a major problem. We were all eaten alive. I still have scars on my legs from the bites - see uploaded photos.

Sincerely,

The Craigs
San Francisco, CA
USA

Stayed: November 2006
25  Thank Coral_Lodge_Survivor
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
PanamaDave, Owner at Coral Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded January 28, 2007

It is hard to take Mr. Craig’s review seriously when he starts it with such an incredibly sensationalist fallacious statement. “I shouldn’t be alive!” At no time what so ever was there ever any danger to his life, not even a little. All the same, we do take the review seriously even though he as made little concession for what was Panama’s worst storm in recent history. I have been in the hotel business for over 15 years and have never seen a more un-forgiving review nor have I encountered a more dejected and demoralized staff. When I finally made it out to the lodge after the storm I could tell by the look on the staff’s faces that something other than the storm had caused it.

The whole coast of Colon was declared a state of emergency, the locals said it was the worst storm in their lifetimes, the major ports in Colon suffered serious damage, the Bananas Resort, not too far from Coral Lodge, had two cabins totally ruined and as far as I know is still closed for damage repairs, several of our staff members couldn’t get to work, one of our maids, an Indian girl from the Darien interior, who is scared of the ocean to begin with, drank herself into a stupor to sleep the night the storm hit and was useless for several days and the staff had to deal with keeping the boat from washing up on shore and damaged plumbing. One of the boat’s engines suffered serious damage when it broke loose from the dock.

The group that was there over thanksgiving did have a very disappointing experience and our staff did make mistakes under a stressful situation but the great majority of the problems they encountered were directly related to the storm. According to the staff, Mr. Craig who wanted to leave the same day he arrived, even before the storm. I’m the first to admit Coral Lodge isn’t for everyone.

Some of the things that make a place like Coral Lodge very attractive will create problems in storm of this magnitude like the over the water villas flooding with the huge wave action or the beautiful thatched roofs shedding in strong winds. A clean room would be a mess in minutes under those conditions.

I’m not sure what to make of his comments on snorkeling gear since the conditions were not remotely suitable and the sand flies since they can’t even come out with strong winds. He may have been attacked on the islands and developed a reaction at the lodge which happens often.

I’m sure things would have been different if our manager hadn’t resigned just before Thanksgiving or if I had been able to make it out as planned. If any readers are interested in a more detailed response, questions, assurances or information on the storm please contact me through the email address in our website.

On a more positive note, our new managers, Rob and Laurie, are doing a fabulous job, better than I ever did, from what many of are recent guests are saying. Both are experienced in hotel management, eco and adventure tourism, forestry, boating and Laurie is a dive master. They have developed some great new activities like a new bird watching tour, a river excursion, a booze cruise in the mangrove bay at sunset and new hiking and horseback riding trails. We also now have a great satellite internet system with reliable VOIP communication for you email junkies

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 2, 2007

  • Stayed: December 2006, traveled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
3  Thank cookielikestotravel
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 29, 2006

  • Stayed: November 2006, traveled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
17  Thank TravelLuver2006
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
PanamaDave, Owner at Coral Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded September 25, 2007

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 20, 2006

  • Stayed: October 2006, traveled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
2  Thank kipnead
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 29, 2006

  • Stayed: June 2006
    • Value
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
13  Thank soundist
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed June 14, 2006

24  Thank recharged
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Hotels you might also like...
Also consider these accommodations in or near Santa Isabel
13.0 mi away
Hotel El Porvenir
Hotel El Porvenir
#2 of 2 in San Blas Islands
40 reviews
21.0 mi away
Cabanas Naranjo Chico
Cabanas Naranjo Chico
#2 of 3 in San Blas Islands
44 reviews
15.2 mi away
Cabanas Coco Blanco
Cabanas Coco Blanco
#7 of 29 in San Blas Islands
76 reviews
Show Prices
Show Prices
Show Prices
0.0 mi away
Cabanas Demar Achudup
Cabanas Demar Achudup
#1 of 1 in Masargantupo
9 reviews
21.4 mi away
Dolphin Lodge Uaguinega
Dolphin Lodge Uaguinega
#14 of 29 in San Blas Islands
26 reviews
0.0 mi away
Macondo Hostel Isla Grande
Macondo Hostel Isla Grande
#1 of 3 in Isla Grande
40 reviews
Show Prices
Show Prices
Show Prices

Been to Coral Lodge? Share your experiences!

Write a Review Add Photos & Videos

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 
Reservation Options:
TripAdvisor is proud to partner with Orbitz, Hotels.com, Travelocity and Cheap Tickets so you can book your Coral Lodge reservations with confidence. We help millions of travelers each month to find the perfect hotel for both vacation and business trips, always with the best discounts and special offers.
Also Known As:
Coral Hotel Santa Isabel
Coral Resort Santa Isabel
Coral Lodge Panama/Santa Isabel

Is This Your TripAdvisor Listing?

Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.

Claim Your Listing