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.
- 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