Reached only by boat, El Otro Lado is an ultra-romantic retreat set across the water from the Unesco-protected town of Portobelo.

This corner of the Caribbean was once ruled by pirates and conquistadors - all the big names were here, from Sir Francis Drake to Christopher Columbus - and crumbling 400-year-old forts line the bay. Nestled in 270 acres of rainforest encircled by coral reefs, El Otro Lado has a main house of suites and four colourful cabins. Most idyllic is Sun House, surrounded by palm and banana trees, with yellow walls, Afro-Caribbean artwork and a huge private deck overlooking the pool and bay.

At the heart of the resort sits a glass-walled gazebo, a vibrant restaurant-cum-bar-cum-lounge. Days are spent fishing, trekking, snorkelling and scuba diving (there are some great shipwrecks), learning about the region's Afro-Panamanian heritage, and perhaps trying a spot of Congo dancing. Food is top-notch; chefs Juan Ríos and Mirna Chavarria mix Caribbean and colonial flavours, making mouthwatering seafood - picture buttered clams and fresh ceviche. Don't miss private dining in the torch-lined gazebo by the reservoir.

WOW FACTOR Champagne and ceviche cruise on a launch through the mangroves.

GO Rainbow Tours www.rainbowtours.co.uk offers eight-night Panama trips from £3,095 per person, B&B. Includes seven nights at El Otro Lado www.elotrolado.com.pa, a night in Panama City, flights and transfers

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