Deciding where to stay in Panama City is a matter of budget and taste; this interesting metropolis will suit everyone from backpackers to jet-set travelers; the key is to learn a little about various districts that have been emerging as tourism destinations in recent years.
This guide will describe some of the best neighborhoods in Panama City where you can enjoy your stay as you plan to explore the rest of this magical nation.
Where to stay in Panama City: Best areas to stay in Panama City
The northern and southern boundaries of the city happen to be the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean; the metropolitan area actually extends beyond the Panama province and sprawls into the Colon province.
Four very large national parks, Arraijan, Camino de Cruces, Soberania, and Chagres, surround the city, and the incredible Panama Canal that connects the Caribbean with the Pacific cuts right across the capital.
Eclectic would be the best word to describe Panama City. The first thing you will notice is the imposing skyline, which is even more stunning than that of Miami and could compete against Sao Paulo. You will have to keep in mind that the grand skyscrapers that can be seen from various neighborhoods in Panama City were recently completed.
With the above in mind, here are some of the best areas in Panama City for smart travelers to enjoy:
1. Casco Viejo – The Old Quarter
Located near the southern tip of the capital, this historic district has come a very long way over the last couple of decades. Towards the end of the 20th century, this was one of the worst neighborhoods in Panama City; these days, however, it is an excellent option where to stay in Panamá City for travelers who wish to become immersed in Panamanian history and culture.
Casco Viejo, also known as Casco Antiguo, is not to be confused with old Panama City, which in Spanish is called “Panama la Vieja” or “Panama Viejo.” The Old Quarter features one of the best collections of Spanish Colonial architecture in Latin America, and it is a reminder that Panama was once an important center of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included all of Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
Hands down, Casco Viejo is among the most interesting places to stay in Panama City. The vibe is eclectically bohemian, trendy, hip, international, and historical.
There is plenty of nightlife in this district, but not all of it can be recommended to tourists. It should be noted that smaller sections of Casco Viejo can be a little rough for tourists; the rule of thumb is to not stay in areas where you do not see police officers on foot patrol.
The new Panama City Metro does not run within Casco Viejo.
The lodging options range from extremely affordable backpacker hostels to long-term apartment and lofts that have been lavishly decorated to attract tourists with deeper pockets.
Most of the hotels are low-rise structures, but you will want to stay in a second or third floor whenever possible to get a view of the Pacific Ocean and the skyline.
2. Bella Vista
In Spanish, the name of this district means “beautiful view,” and it is very appropriate. Located a short taxi ride away from Casco Viejo, Bella Vista is that part of Panama City that you see in most skyline postcards and travel brochures.
High-rises galore and luxury condominium towers are the main attraction of Bella Vista; this is a place that has developed through the wealth provided by foreigners who acquired real estate with suitcases full of cash between the years 2000 and 2010.
Although terrible gridlock is a staple of daily life in Panama City, you will not feel as much it if you stay in Panamá City in Bella Vista, which is often shortened to Bellavista; the key is to choose a hotel that is at least two blocks away from Via Venetto.
Surprisingly, this district has about a dozen budget inns, known as pensiones, that will not break the bank. Convenience is at the heart of staying in Bella Vista; here is you can find everything from fast-food restaurants to upscale bistros, public transportation, tour operators, casinos, shops, and even a few bars.
This waterfront district is one of the most luxurious areas in Panama City, and it is a haven for high-end shopping. Marbella feels a lot like the high-end South Beach district of Miami; it is home to foreign embassies, international banks, fashion boutiques, luxury restaurants, lavish condo towers, and spectacular hotels.
The nightlife in Marbella tends to be trendier and more expensive, and so are most of the accommodations. Backpackers can afford to stay in the northern part of this district, close to Fifth Avenue and the Margarita de Vallarino Street. The hotels closer to Balboa Avenue and the waterfront are all-inclusive luxury resort towers.
4. Obarrio and El Cangrejo
These two districts, which are located to the northwest of Bella Vista, can be good options to stay in Panama City for travelers who would like to see a more residential and traditional part of Panama. El Cangrejo and Obarrio are separated by Via España; the latter is the more refined of the two as it features a few four-start hotels and many casinos.
Between Obarrio and Cangrejo, there are probably hundreds of restaurants, bars, casinos, and nightclubs where salsa and reggaeton blare until late hours of the night. Budget inns and backpacker hostels can be found in both districts, sometimes next to expensive boutique hotels.
It should be noted that seafood is a major ingredient in the local cuisine of Panama City, and El Cangrejo is where you can find plenty of seafood restaurant where fresh catch is brought from both the Caribbean and the Pacific on a daily basis. The refinement in Obarrio extends to the hostels, some of which offer air conditioning and even swimming pools.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Calidonia was a neighborhood preferred by sailors and members of cargo ship crews crossing the Panama Canal, but this should not convey the image of a rough part of town. In reality, Calidonia has always been a very international part of Panama City, and it is also a shopping haven.
Part of this district is ultramodern, but the most charming areas feature architectural styles from the 1970s. To this day, sailors continue to stay here, and they do not spend too much on lodging, but they demand cold air conditioning, clean rooms, and quiet nights; where they will spend their money is on great food, which can certainly be found all around Calidonia.
A smart tip for backpackers would be to skip hostels, pay a few dollars more and stay at the more comfortable and very reasonable hotels of this district. You can still find luxury inns in Calidonia; they are located closer to Balboa Avenue towards the southern end, which is a more historic and picturesque part of Panama City.
6. Costa del Este
In every major Latin American city, you can always count on finding a place that sits further away from the metropolitan area, where the ambiance is quieter and more upscale. In Panama City’s case, Costa del Este is such a place.
Costa del Este is one of the best places to stay in Panama City if you are looking for that vibe and it is highly recommended to travelers who do not mind spending a little more for a refined lodging experience.
There are not too many hotels in Costa del Este, but they tend to be the type that are managed by major luxury brands in Europe and the United States.
This is a part of town where you can expect to run into celebrities, and this is because they may own high-rise condos with panoramic views of the skyline and the Pacific Ocean; as you can expect, you will not find hostels here. Even though Costa del Este is farther from the downtown area, traffic can get heavy at times.
7. Punta Pacifica
If you are in the Casco Viejo district and look towards the east, your eyes will likely stay affixed to the imposing high-rises of Punta Pacifica, home to the extravagant Bahia Grand tower, formerly known as the Trump Ocean Club.
This imposing building, which looks like the Burj Al Arab of Dubai, used to be managed by one of the companies owned by United States President Donald Trump, but he eventually lost it in a nasty legal dispute.
Punta Pacifica is all about luxury; the ambiance is a mix of The Bahamas and Miami Beach, and the accommodations are spectacular. The re are many luxury hotels in this part of town, and they tend to be pricier than in other districts because they are all-inclusive resorts with a lot to offer.
Punta Pacifica is where you can board ferries to the nearby Pearl Islands, which are worth visiting. Even if you do not stay here, Punta Pacifica is a great place for dining, sightseeing, dancing, gambling, and people watching.
8. Tocumen Airport Area
Located about 30 minutes away from Casco Viejo, at least on a day without heavy traffic, the area surrounding Tocumen International Airport offers a nice mix of luxury resorts, budget inns, boutique hotels, and long-term apartments.
The lodging options around tend to be the priciest because they offer direct access to the airport; however, if you stay closer to San Antonio and Camino Real, lodging becomes more modest, more affordable and quieter since this area is not directly below a major flight path.
Many districts surrounding Tocumen are residential and industrial, but you can still find restaurants, shopping malls filled with both Chinese and luxury goods coming from the Panama Canal, nightclubs, and some casinos.