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Panamonte Inn & SpaBy Charles Conn
The Panama Canal is not the only institution celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. The Panamonte Inn & Spa in Boquete, Chiriquí, is also turning 100. To mark the occasion, the Casa Esperanza charity will be holding a Gala Night fundraiser on Saturday, May 17 at 8 p.m. at the iconic, historic inn. The theme for the night is “100 Years of History and Gastronomy.”
The Panamonte Hotel was founded in 1914 by Joseph Wright, a retired railroad conductor from Texas. Known as “Pop Wright’s Hotel,” the five-room bed and breakfast played host to weary travelers who arrived in Boquete from David by train, horses, ox cart or on foot, as there was no road. To lure guests, Wright would offer a complimentary cold guava and rum cocktail. In the decades that followed, the boarding house saw a host of notable visitors, including Teddy Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh and Admiral Richard Byrd.
The hotel, along with the land on which the Caldera hot springs are located, was purchased by Hans and Vera Elliot in 1946. The Swedish couple expanded the hotel to ten rooms. With Vera’s impeccable sense of taste and attention to detail, the Panamonte soon garnered an esteemed reputation throughout the country.
The hotel has since become a destination for diplomats, the Panamanian political and business elite and international movie stars. The Shah of Iran visited once as did Richard Nixon who came for lunch. Ingrid Bergman, the reclusive Swedish actress, visited twice and even Sean Connery has been a guest.
In the last 20 years, the hotel began seeing a new breed of visitor, birdwatchers and eco-tourists. A pioneer of the eco-travel market, Panamonte was one of the first places to offer adventure trips in the area. The hotel’s current owner is Inga Collins, daughter of the Elliots, along with her son Charlie Collins, who is an award-winning chef focused on creating a memorable dining experience for his guests.
To commemorate its 100 years as an iconic institution, the Panamonte is opening its doors to the Casa Esperanza (House of Hope) charity, the non-governmental agency working to uphold the rights of children in Panama for the last 22 years. A staunch opponent of child labor, Casa Esperanza offers education to those who have been deprived the opportunity of receiving schooling. The Gala Night is the organization’s main fundraising event of the year.
A gourmet dinner will be served, prepared by Panamonte’s own Charlie Collins with the help of other celebrity chefs including Andrés Madrigal, Edna Cochez, Cuquita Arias de Calvo. Chef Collins will also launch his much-anticipated cookbook during the event.
Musical entertainment is scheduled, with presentations by the Zafiro Orchestra, Osvaldo Ayala and Los Rabanes. Tickets to the event cost $200 and can be obtained at the Casa Esperanza offices with locations in Panama City (282-4214/13) and Chiriquí (774-5193, 774-7158 or 730-2853). To learn more about the charity, visit Casaesperanza.org.pa.
The Panamonte Hotel can be reached by calling 720-1324 or visiting Facebook.com/Panamonte.