Planning to visit Panama? There’s a good chance that, however the chips may fall, you’ll end up spending a least a day or two in the country’s namesake capital, Panama City.
As the transportation hub for the country, Panama City is, more often than not, a necessary stop, whether you have 10 days in Panama or two weeks. And like so many cities in Central America, choosing where to stay in Panama City isn’t necessarily going to be super straightforward. (I’ll explain later.)
Got some time to get your accommodations sorted out? Do it with ease by following along with this guide to the best places to stay in Panama City…
Where to stay in Panama City: A complete guide to the best neighbourhoods & areas for travellers
Decided to spend at least one day in Panama City on your latest Central America trip? One of the first things you’ll need to suss out is where to stay in Panama City.
And, of course, since this is Central America, the answer isn’t always going to be a clear-cut.
Unlike in other world cities, you shouldn’t just willy-nilly choose a hotel in Panama’s capital. Although safer than nearly all of its Central American peers, there are areas of Panama City that you simply should stay away from.
Need an idea of where to start? Here are my quick recommendations for best areas to stay in Panama City for travellers:
- Casco Viejo: Panama City’s historic Old Town and the most charming area in the city. For travellers looking for a typical Panama City sightseeing experience, this is the best, if not necessarily safest, area.
- Obarrio & El Cangrejo: A pair of neighbourhoods in the downtown area that offer Panama City’s top selection of mid-range & luxury hotels. Hotels here offer better value for the money than in Casco Viejo. Combined with the area’s better reputation for safety, these districts are a great choice for accommodations in central Panama City.
- Marbella: A seaside neighbourhood on the fringes of downtown that offers a more local flavour than other city centre locations. There’s a good selection of budget-friendly accommodations in this area for travellers looking to save.
✓ Best area to stay for history & culture
Searching out the most charming area in Panama City? You don’t need to look any further than Casco Viejo, Panama City’s Old Town. This historic quarter features a lovely collection of old colonial buildings housing some of the city’s best restaurants, museums & bars.
Yes, Casco Viejo is quite the head-turner, enough so for UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage site in 1997. Since then, Panama’s filtered in funds to improve the area and restore it to its former strapping self.
While Casco Viejo (also known to locals as San Felipe) sits undoubtedly among the best places to stay in Panama City, it’s worth noting that it’s not exactly the safest area in town—even if it’s come a long long way.
At night, be sure to stick to well-lit streets and avoid wandering off into the fringes of the district. Some of the bordering areas like El Chorrillo, Santa Ana, and San Miguel don’t have the greatest reputation.
Attractions in & around Casco Viejo: Arco Chato, Church of Santo Domingo, Plaza Bolivar, The Panama Canal Museum, History Museum of Panama, Plaza de Francia, Metropolitan Cathedral, Iglesia de San Jose
Where to stay: The best hotels in Casco Viejo
With the compact nature of the area, there’s isn’t a massive selection of accommodations in Casco Viejo. Most of what you’ll find are small boutique hotels & guesthouses. For the picturesque location, expect to room prices to tend towards the upper-end for Panama City especially during tourism high season.
Ready for the perfect room? Here are a few of the best hotels & places to stay in Casco Viejo:
- Magnolia Inn: One of the better budget choices in Casco, this guesthouse occupies a lovely renovated colonial manor with the interior to match its stunning façade. Both dorms and private rooms with private bathrooms are on offer. Hang out on the graceful terraces for winsome views out to Old Town.
- Hotel Casa Panamá: An charming boutique hotel with rustic touches that give it a unique vibe out of the Central American norm. The views and the cheap cerveza at the hotel’s rooftop bar are worth the stay alone. (And let’s not forget the year-round outdoor to beat the oppressive Panama City heat!)
- Las Clementinas: In a region where space is sometimes lacking, the gargantuan suites in this mid-ranger come as a massive (no pun intended) surprise. Even if you opt for one of the smaller double rooms, the leafy & relaxing shared balcony and terrace will more than make up for the lost space.
- American Trade Hotel: For the outside, this enchanting colonial hotel seems like just the type of place where a lonely early-20th century writer could scrawl their Great American novel. Looks are a little deceiving as the handsome old façade of this luxury hotel leads into a thoroughly hip & modern interior. The contemporary vibe continues into the rooms where dark wood grains add a dash of elegance and sophistication while reminding guests of Panama City’s seaside roots. Cool down with a dip in the pool or relax to a spa treatment to get the full American Trade Hotel experience.
Obarrio & El Cangrejo
✓ Best area to stay for mid-range & luxury travellers seeking out a safe, central location
Located in the downtown core, the adjacent districts of Obarrio & El Cangrejo are among the top areas to stay in Panama City for travellers looking for a little more quality selection for their accommodations in a central neighbourhood.
Unlike Casco Viejo, Obarrio and its neighbour El Cangrejo lean towards the modern rather than historical. Even so, there’s plenty to warrant a stay in these downtown areas from beautiful parks to superb restaurants.
In a Central American urban hotspot like Panama City, safety is also often a concern. One of the bonuses of Obarrio & El Cangrejo are that they slot among the city’s most secure areas. As long as you take the usual precautions, you shouldn’t run into any trouble here unlike districts elsewhere in Panama City.
Attractions in & around Obarrio & El Cangrejo: Parque Andres Bello, Via Argentina, The Roof, Mordida del Burro, El Trapiche
Where to stay: The best hotels in Obarrio & El Cangrejo
Thanks to their location in the financial district, Obarrio & El Cangrejo deliver some of the best mid-range & luxury accommodations in Panama City. Overall, the hotels around here offer better value than the more popular sightseeing district of Casco Viejo with a much larger selection of options to choose from.
On the hunt for the perfect room? Here are a few of the best hotels & places to stay in Obarrio & El Cangrejo:
- Eurostars Panama City: An ultra-stylish hotel that delivers well beyond its budget-friendly price point. Unwind in the 6th-floor sauna & Turkish bath or to skyline vistas on the 27th-floor outdoor pool to get the most out of your stay.
- Hyatt Place Panama City Downtown: My own personal favourite, this excellent mid-range hotel occupies a great location in the centre of town with extras like an outdoor pool and breakfast buffet. The mega skyline views onto the financial district from some of the rooms are simply jaw-dropping.
- Global Hotel Panama: Another superb choice for downtown, this 4-star hotel features large comfortable rooms with more than a dash of contemporary. Cooling down in the outdoor pool to tremendous views over Panama City might well become one of the highlights of your trip.
- W Panama: Another home run from one of the world’s top luxury chains, this delectable 5-star hotel is ritzy and stylish and pulls out all the stops to ensure your stay in Panama City is magical. Splurge for one of their spacious Fabulous King Rooms to catch the hotel (and the skyline) at its best from your own private balcony.
✓ Top pick for a local feel in a safe central neighbourhood
Located at the bayfront southern fringes of downtown, Marbella is one of the top neighbourhoods to stay in Panama City for travellers looking for a more local vibe in a central location. The area is popular with expats who love the quiet residential feel of the district while still being steps from the heart of the city.
Unlike the more developed city centre areas further north, Marbella still has hints of old Panama. There’s quite a bit of colonial-style architecture that managed to escape the building boom.
Those looking for typical tourist attractions won’t find much in Marbella, but there’s plenty of local restaurants, shops & bars to while away your time here.
Attractions in & around Marbella: Panama Bay, Megapolis Convention Centre, Avenida Balboa
Where to stay: The best hotels in Marbella
With its compact size, there’s a limited selection of accommodations in Marbella. You’ll see a little of everything though, whether you’re looking for from budget-friendly hostels & guesthouses to mid-range & luxury hotels.
Get your search started with a few of the best hotels & places to stay in Marbella:
- El Machico Hostel: A hostel that raises the bar among Panama City budget accommodations with a rare outdoor pool. Both dorms and private rooms are available.
- Hotel Sercotel Panama Princess: Another pick that won’t break the bank, this 3.5-star hotel offers simple comfortable rooms (even if a bit tired at times) and extras like an outdoor swimming pool, spa & sauna.
- Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis: A stylish high-rise hotel with views over Panama Bay, this 4.5-star hotel electrifies in a way that only a Hard Rock could. The rooms are spacious and colourful, but the real treat here is the host of rockstar-worthy amenities including an outdoor infinity pool, sauna, spa & rooftop lounge along with ten on-site restaurants & bars.
- Waldorf Astoria Panama: A luxury property that’s among Panama City’s best, this 5-star hotel takes full advantage of its seaside location to deliver million dollar views from its spacious modern rooms and outdoor infinity pool.
Summary: The best places to stay in Panama City
- On a tighter budget? Marbella’s El Machico Hostel is one of the best budget-friendly choices in Panama City. The outdoor pool puts these accommodations well ahead of others in the price range.
- Looking for a great mid-range hotel? I can’t recommend Hyatt Place Panama City Downtown enough. Combining superb service, amazing skyline views, and an excellent central location, it’s hard to do much better than this gem.
- Craving the ultimate in Panamanian luxury? You can’t go wrong with W Panama. This 5-star luxury hotel features spacious rooms with über-modern furnishings and decor that accent the incredible skyline views. The outdoor pool area is simply fantastic.