My dear friend Michelle has extensive family in Panama and is of Panamanian heritage. She often travels to Panama. When I met her, just over a year ago, I told her I would love to go to Panama with her someday. Then, a few months ago, she mentioned she was thinking about going back again in October because her mom would be in town, so I jumped at the chance to join her. After spending 6 days in the city and surrounding areas of Panama, I thought I’d share a complete travel guide including the best Panama City Panama hotels. We also captured some amazing content while we were there. All photos in this post were taken by Daniel Benjamin Photo. Also be sure to check out my TikTok and Instagram for more fun moments.
Prior to visiting, I knew nothing about Panama or Panama city, other than the Panama canal. I honestly chose not to do much research before visiting because I didn’t want to have too many expectations on the trip and I wanted to experience the city and country through Michelle’s eyes and her family’s. My very favorite travel experience (until this trip) was the time I visited a friend and colleague in Argentina. He showed us all around his city of Buenos Aires, and experiencing a city through a local is unlike any other. I just knew getting to visit Panama with Michelle would offer a similarly unforgettable experience, and I was right.
I’ll be sharing several more Panama stories along the way. We were able to see and do so much in only 6 days. But to start, here is my guide to Panama City – where to stay, where to eat, things to see, and some of my favorite experiences from the 4 full days I got to explore the city and just a sneak peek of some of the excursions you can do around the country right from Panama City.
Panama City Panama Hotels
Best Panama City Panama Hotels in Casco Viejo
If you want an authentic Panama City Panama Hotels experience, I would suggest you stay for at least part of your trip to Casco. Originally, Michelle suggested we spend two nights in Casco so we could get more of that authentic city feel. However, I personally don’t love switching hotels if I’m staying in the same city, so we opted to stay the entire time at the same hotel. I don’t regret the decision, but I do wish I had done a bit more research to see what types of hotels they had in Casco.
Once we had the chance to explore Casco, I realized there were a lot of really lovely, historical, and quaintly decorated hotels that I would have loved to stay in Casco for a few nights. Casco is much more lively and compact than some of the other parts of the city, so that will definitely impact your stay. Casco is also full of great restaurants and nightlife. If you prefer a quieter area, this is probably not for you. Then I would suggest staying where we stayed.
If I ever get the chance to go back to Panama City, I will stay at Hotel La Compania. For me, this was the most stunning hotel I’ve seen, possibly ever. It had such amazing décor, and so much history filled the walls and the buildings. Every inch of the spaces I saw in the lobby and surrounding courtyard and restaurants was elegantly decorated with the finest attention to detail.
Another hotel in Casco that looked really lovely and had an amazing location is the American Trade Hotel.
Panama City Financial District Hotels
JW Marriott Panama City Offers a Resort-Like Feel
Located in the financial district on the shores of Punta Pacifica, the JW Marriott is one of the loveliest hotels I’ve stayed at in a while. We had a nice two-bedroom queen room with a great view of the shore and the resort-style pool below. Our room had a giant tub and also a large standing shower. I enjoyed a few leisurely baths while I was there. The hotel is quite large, with over 60 floors. We were on the 33rd floor, which did offer great views. Another cool thing about the hotel was the see-through glass elevator with an amazing view of the city. It was so fun to watch it transition from day to night each day.
We also upgraded so we had access to the club lounge. I’m a big fan of the concierge lounge because it offers a full breakfast daily, along with drinks throughout the day and appetizers and desserts at night. The concierge lounge is the perfect place to go to get a cappuccino or latte and light bites throughout the day. It also had the most stunning view of the water, pool, and skyline.
The pool area was probably my favorite part of the hotel. There were four separate pool areas – two with infinity edges overlooking the water and two that were set back surrounded by cabanas and lounge chairs. I also wanted to say that the pool bar food was really delicious. I absolutely loved the empanadas and patacones they served – some of the best I’ve ever had.
Best Hostel in Panama City
Our photographer for the trip stayed at Selina, a hostel in the Casco Viejo area of the city. I had the chance to visit his hostel and it was quite nice – unlike any hostel I’ve visited. They offer shared and private rooms. Some of the private rooms look just like hotel rooms and for a much lower rate. The other great thing about this hostel is that it has a lovely rooftop bar and pool. They also have group workspaces and group eating areas within the hostel. I would definitely consider staying here, even as a bit older traveler. Unlike my stereotype of hostels (only for broke college kids), it seems Selina-style hostels are much more for business travelers too.
How to Get Around the City
Uber vs. Taxis in Panama City
When we first arrived in Panama City, we took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. For the rest of the trip, other than one time, we used Uber. Ubers are the preferred method of transportation for several reasons. First, taxis only accept cash, and they overcharge tourists. They tend to charge 2-4 times more than you’d pay in an Uber. If you do have to take a taxi in Panama City, never pay more than $10 within the city. If you’re going to the airport, you shouldn’t pay more than $30.
Ubers are preferable because they are much cheaper than taxis, plus they are safer with the built-in Uber technologies to ensure you’re getting in the car of the person who is supposed to pick you up and billing is all done right through the app. It’s also easier if you don’t speak Spanish since you don’t really need to communicate much with your Uber driver since you type in the address through the app.
Ride Bikes in Panama City
There are some areas of the city where you can ride bikes pretty easily. On Sundays from 6 am – 12 pm, they also close down the causeway and Cinta Costera so that you can bike freely around the city. The weekly event is known as Ciclovia Panama and it is being organized by the Alcaldia de Panama and the group Movimiento Ciclistas en las Calles de Panama (MCCP).
Panama City Panama Restaurants
Lo Que Hay was probably my favorite meal in Panama City. They offer modern Panamanian food. The corn empanada was probably my favorite thing I ate on the entire trip. I also loved the crispy rice we ate.
Azahar Panama is an upscale restaurant along the Cinta Costera. The menu skewed Italian, and we tried a few different appetizers and also a pasta dish. For me, the best part about this restaurant was the skyline patio views. The food was tasty, but not my favorite meal we had in Panama. Nonetheless, I would go back there, as the appetizers were good and so was the pasta.
CasaCasco I also talk about below in my review of nightlife. I really liked this bar/restaurant because it has an amazing rooftop with comfortable seating and great views. The food we had here was quite yummy and I’d definitely eat here again. We got some classic Panamanian appetizers and I enjoyed them all.
Blue Moon Taphouse was such a nice restaurant. The décor in this place just really blew me away. We had drinks and an appetizer here. The food and drinks were good, but I didn’t try enough of the food to really give it a good review. They had a great beer and drink selection though, and I just really love the ambiance of this place.
Mercado de Mariscos is the place for seafood if you’re in Panama City. There are lots of different places to get ceviche or cooked fish options. It is all very fresh and local to Panama.
Rooftop Bars Panama City Panama Nightlife
Tantalo had my favorite rooftop bar because they had this separate deck you could walk up to be even higher. It gave breathtaking evening views of the city and this is definitely the bar to go to if you want to dance.
CasaCasco had a lovely rooftop where we enjoyed appetizers one night before the sunset. This is a more low-key vibe if you’re looking for a lounge-style bar to chill at night.
Selina Hostel and Hotel La Compania also have lovely rooftop bars that I really enjoyed. The views were amazing and the drinks were good too.
What to Do in Panama City Panama
Thai Massage in Panama
A completely unexpected highlight of my trip came on our first day there. We were jet-lagged and tired, so we decided to get massages. My friend Michelle found this Thai Massage place in Casco called Casa Thai. It was literally the best massage I’ve ever had. It was such an amazing experience. I can’t even really place my fingers on why it was so good, but there was something about her technique that was just really amazing. It was also reasonably priced, I think $75 for an hour.
The Amador Causeway is a green space that was created from the rocks that were extracted from the Panama Canal built between 1904 and 1914. It is a nearly 4-mile stretch of road that extends into the Pacific Ocean, linking the mainland of Panama City to the Islands of Naos, Perico, and Flamenco. A military base used to sit on the Islands to protect the southern entrance of the Panama Canal, but after 1980 many of those military buildings were turned into today’s restaurants and shops. There is a lovely view of the city skyline from the Causeway and there is a walking trail all along it. It was definitely a nice way to spend an afternoon stop at the museum and then enjoy a seafood meal at one of the restaurants at the end of the Causeway.
Biomuseo in Panama City Panama
We stopped by the Biomuseo one day, however, it was already closed. Although we didn’t get to go inside, we still had the chance to walk through a few of the exhibits that are external to the museum and enjoy the amazing architecture of the building, designed by Frank Gehry. We also walked around the external gardens of the museum which instantly transported us to a tropical jungle feel. It was also really nice to walk along the causeway and enjoy the amazing views of the city.
Do you Need a Passport to Go to Panama?
Yes, you need a passport to go to Panama. You don’t need a visa or any other special items to travel to Panama from the U.S. Also, there is no covid testing or any other requirements to travel.
If you’re looking for other advice on Panama, please follow my friend Michelle on Instagram. She would be thrilled to share her heritage and tips about Panama.
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