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Panama City, the capital of Panama, is one of the most exciting cities in Central America and certainly the most metropolitan. Old world charm still exists on the cobbled streets and in the facades of colonial buildings, but it now fights for attention against the growing expanse of skyscrapers, casinos and downtown glamor.
You simply have to visit the world famous 50-mile Panama Canal, but be sure to also check out the old Spanish quarter, Casco Antiguo, a designated World Heritage Site, which was settled in 1673 after pirates destroyed the original city and is now home to the Presidential Palace, as well as some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Not sure where to retire to after you're done exploring? See our picks for the best hotels in Panama City.
Best Overall: Global Hotel Panama
The Global Hotel mixes boutique elegance with value and allows you to pamper yourself without putting your bank account in the red. It’s centrally located in the Twist Tower minutes from the financial district and high-end stores. A standout feature of this hotel is the elegant rooftop plunge pool that has amazing views of the city skyline, a trend that is also repeated in the 60 guestrooms. Other amenities include 40-inch LCD HD televisions and iPod/iPhone docking stations. The luxury bathrooms also impress with walk-in rain showers, fluffy bathrobes and fancy products. Once you are all relaxed and ready for bed, check out the pillow menu (yes, seriously) where you can choose the perfect place to rest your weary head before a new day of adventure in the city tomorrow.
Best Budget: Hotel Acapulco
The price at this simple hotel in the Calidonia district sure is hard to beat. Located close to metro stops, restaurants, nightclubs and cafes, there is always something going on in this neighborhood, which means that it's not really suited to guests who require quiet surroundings. Recent visitors remark on the friendly staff, comfortable rooms and the chance to see “real working class” Panamanians. Double Rooms have a writing desk, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning and balcony views of the city.
If you plan to spend more time touring the city than sitting in your hotel room, the Acapulco could be a great choice.
Best Boutique: Casa Sucre Boutique Hotel
The Casa Sucre truly is a unique hotel (and if you love the little individual touches apparent in boutique hotels, then you will be impressed here). A renovated five-bedroom, three-apartment guesthouse built in 1873, the Sugar House offers individually decorated rooms and abodes all with cable TV, free Wi-Fi, mini fridges and microwaves. Known for their friendly staff and good customer service the Casa Sucre knows how to make guests feel at home. Be sure to try their coffee, from the Boquete and Vocan region of Panama, as it’s often complimented by guests. This hotel is within easy walking distance of the canal museum, restaurants, markets and more.
Best for Families: Riande Aeropuerto
Airport hotels are often the most convenient choice if you are traveling between cities or catching regional flights, but the three-minute commute from the tarmac is not the only reason the Riande is a great choice for families. The spacious rooms are decorated in modern colorful schemes and feature either a garden or pool view. Speaking of the pool, this one is spectacular and will likely be the highlight of the trip for kids. Surrounded by tropical gardens, this large cabana and pool will keep the whole family busy with a swim up bar, bridge and water side games. Challenge your family to a game on the giant oversized chess board. There is also a separate kids' pool, as well as a playground with a wooden treehouse. For teens, there is a game room with billiards and foosball. Once the kids are asleep, you can arrange a babysitter and take a walk down to the spa and casino.
Best Romance: Waldorf Astoria Panama
The Waldorf Astoria has 130 rooms, suites and 23 apartments decorated in classic muted tones with super comfortable plush bedding, a 40-inch HDTV, a minibar and Nespresso coffeemaker – everything you need for a night in. Couples will also enjoy the deluxe spa and the sexy rooftop pool that is illuminated at night in different colors. After your dip, you can enjoy poolside snacks and drinks courtesy of the Bungalow Terrace Bar. Order the Panamanian Black Mojito (Abuelo rum, mint leaves, a quarter sugarcane and Sprite) before moving onto dinner at the Brio Brasserie, which serves modern French and American inspired dishes.
Best Luxury: Le Meridien Panama
Le Meridien is a cool, funky hotel with a mission to take visitors on a visual journey through culture and art. Interesting modern artwork is featured in the 111 rooms and 29 suites and throughout common areas of the property. Each room also has complimentary guest bathrobe and slippers, as well as a nightly turndown service to make you feel right at home.
The Saril kitchen and lounge serves authentic Latin American dishes and international cuisine from breakfast to dinner. Try the Cuatro Leches De Bailey’s for dessert, a vanilla sponge cake bathed in Irish cream liqueur.
One of the highlights of this hip four-star hotel is the luxury Sensory SPA by Clarins, which has hydrotherapy facilities, a sauna, a steam room, a whirlpool and a relaxation room. Check out the pool and Aqua Terrace, overlooking Panama Bay, which is accessed from the sixth floor and offers stunning views best enjoyed with a cocktail or two.
Best Nightlife/Best for Singles: Panama Marriott Hotel
Just across the road from a nightclub and in sight of restaurants and bars, the Panama Marriott is well positioned for those seeking exciting nightlife. Even if you can't be bothered to leave the property, the on-site casino, Corvina Y Caña Rum bar and a sports bar all inside the hotel will provide you with plenty of entertainment options. The Marriott is a large hotel with 366 rooms and 23 suites spread over 20 floors. The rooms feature spacious accommodations with living areas outfitted with sofas and comfy oversized armchairs. Room service is available 24 hours, so if you come back after a great night out feeling a bit peckish, you can have a delicious meal or snack delivered right to your door.
Best Business: DoubleTree By Hilton Panama City
Corporate travelers will be impressed with the central location of the Doubletree by Hilton, which is close to the financial district and transport connections. Reliable Wi-Fi is provided throughout the hotel, so you can catch up with your work in your room, using the large desk provided or in the sunshine at the outdoor pool and terrace.
Flexible meeting spaces with state-of-the-art audio and visual allow you to host other professionals and give presentations, while the spa and fitness amenities help you to unwind at the end of a long and busy day.
The hotel’s City Cafe restaurant serves buffet breakfast, lunch and evening meals to keep you well fueled for a day of meetings.
Best B&B: Casa Anita
With free Wi-Fi, customized dinners and airport transfers available, this B&B really knows how to treat its guests. Owned and run by a German/Panamanian couple who offer a warm welcome and plenty of practical travel advice, Casa Anita is an inviting yet basic base for exploring Panama. All rooms include AC, cable television and private bathrooms, and there's even a small swimming pool. The hosts also offer tours of the area and recent guests suggest they part as new friends at the end of their stay.