Less than an hour east of David and six hours west of Panama City is the tiny town of Las Lajas, bordering one of the most beautiful, pristine coasts in Panama. This white-sand beach stretches for miles in either direction and it’s here that a stunning resort has been built. The owners are proud to claim it as the only hotel directly on the beach.
Here, Peter McNamee and Scot Kluser found their ocean-front property and built a tranquil, inviting boutique hotel.
With former lives respectively in the San Francisco stock exchange and restaurant business, Peter and Scot eventually ended up running a pizza kitchen together in the bay area and found they enjoyed working as a team. They decided to make that their next chapter.
The odyssey to search out not only a new home but a new profitable business began in 2000. Peter took a 19-month trip around the world on an old square rigger sailboat. Says Scot, “I met up with him in Tahiti and Bali where open-air bars and restaurants are the norm. We liked that concept and thought we would return to Bali to build our own. Then 9/11 happened… we turned our search to Mexico and Latin America instead.”
After three years of diligent boots-on-the-ground research, they arrived at the Panama border. Deciding they preferred not to be near Panama City or the City Beaches area, replete with resorts and tourist amenities, they chose the Playa Las Lajas area, renowned as the best beach on the Pacific side. This would be home.
Unfortunately, this was the start of a frustrating ordeal. Explains Scot, “Our first attempt to buy property ended when the seller from Texas did not show up to accept payment. This proved to be a stroke of luck, though, because it turns out neighbors nearby would block road access to that property before long. We wouldn’t have been able to build our resort if we had gotten that property.
“We next persuaded the owner of a large beach property to sell us a piece. It was actually a better location than the first lot we looked at. This also ultimately failed, though, this time thanks to someone claiming rights to the property—it was ultimately tied up in court for almost seven years.”
After a year, the family offered Peter and Scot an alternate piece of their extensive property, which turned out to be nicer and more suitable than the first. In 2006, the purchase was completed and the work began.
Having previously formed a corporation, Peter and Scot proceeded to interview contractors while “jumping through Panamanian hoops” with regards to permits and other necessary paperwork. In 2008 they broke ground.
Explains Scot, “We went through two contractors. The first one built quickly… but ran out of our money after syphoning off materials for another project. Having signed a contract with one of their many dummy corporations, and our lawyer being their relative, we were unable to sue and recover our remaining money.”
Not ones to be discouraged, Peter and Scot hired another contractor to complete two projects. Said Scot, “He failed at both, but at least had the professionalism to walk away and not charge us anything.”
In the end, they finished the project on their own with a little help from construction contacts they had made over the course of this saga. “The project was challenging due to bureaucracy and people expecting bribes… Our least favorite things were dealing with the red tape of local and federal government agencies.” Conversely, though, “everything from construction costs and labor to rent and purchases are much cheaper in Panama,” Scot is quick to assert.
Thinking of this kind of business yourself? Their advice is to always get references and hire a reputable lawyer when tackling a project of this magnitude. The unscrupulous live all over the world… no matter where you do business, make sure you do your due diligence.
Although it was a difficult project plagued with setbacks along the way, the finished resort is beautiful and welcoming, the setting magnificent. The architecture of the hotel lends itself perfectly to the lush surrounding grounds. Rolling emerald lawns meet the beach’s soft, mocha-colored sand before dissolving into azure ocean. Tropical flowers and palm trees sway lazily in the warm breeze. Thatch-roofed palapas dot the area, providing shady havens to relax and sip an ice-cold beverage from the nearby open-air bar.
The hotel boasts 12 extra-large guest rooms, all are on the ground floor so you can walk right to the beach, each with an incomparable view of the 50-foot swimming pool and the surf beyond. The rooms are simple and colorful, impeccably clean, and include air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and cable TV. Upstairs are two semi-private beachfront suites complete with covered decks.
The restaurant serves exotic drinks and international meals delivered by friendly, accommodating staff who all speak at least basic English.
Besides the beach and the ever-changing weather, Peter and Scot enjoy hanging out with their many Panamanian friends. Scot golfs once a week and likes to spend a night in nearby David every now and then for a change of scene. When not busy with upkeep and management, they kick back and enjoy their new adopted country. No regrets.