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So far I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m obsessed with Panama, a passion that ignited in the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City. One aspect of my infatuation? Great design is everywhere — and at every price.

Panamericana Hostel

When Anders and I first rolled into Panama City, we checked into the Panamericana. I was relieved we had made a reservation when we saw hopeful guest after hopeful guest being turned away at the front desk due to no vacancy in any of the twenty-nine rooms.

Our first few nights were in a dorm, which had a beautiful balcony with front row seats to the nightly local’s basketball game. While it was a steal at $12 per person per night, we squealed with joy when a private room opened up. At just $14 per person per night, it represented almost obscene value. Our corner room had french doors on two walls that streamed in light and boasted views over both the basketball court we had come to love and the elegant Plaza Herrera. Murals and other painted design details around the room had me swooning. I seriously considered asking about a monthly rate.

I peeked in a few other private rooms while we were at Panamericana, and I highly recommend that you request a Plaza-facing room if you plan on staying here. They have more light, more space, and are right next to the shared bathrooms — all at the same price as the darker, more cramped quarters elsewhere.

The shared spaces in the hostel got just as much love. The kitchen was home of a pop art banana mural, perhaps an ode to the hostel’s free banana-and-peanut-butter-toast breakfast routine, while other areas had a more random array of art.

The best part of Panamericana was the location, and the rooftop terrace that showed it off. From the funky molded chairs on the deck, we could spy the downtown skyscrapers in one direction and the entrance to the famous canal in another. It was the perfect spot for sundowners, and I wasn’t surprised when I heard a rooftop bar is in the works.

We loved Panamericana — for the design, for the value, for the location and for the great group of travelers that we met there. There is room for improvement, though, as they could update the bathrooms, the staff could be friendlier and they could definitely improve the wifi! Overall though, this was one of my favorite hostels of all time.

UPDATE: Sadly, I have learned Panamericana is unfortunately no longer open. Here are other hostels in the area.

Las Clementinas

And then, just a five-minute walk but a world away, there is Las Clementinas, a luxury boutique hotel. Like Panamericana, Las Clementinas is a restored colonial in Casco Viejo. But rather than twenty-nine mostly dorm rooms, Las Clementinas has just six spacious guest suites as well as a renown restaurant, a lush courtyard and a rooftop with the best views of downtown Panama City that I found anywhere in the Casco.

I was pretty well-prepared to simply move into our suite. Really, with a kitchenette, separate living room and bedroom and dining table, it was more of an apartment than a hotel room. I swooned over details like the beautiful mosaic tiles in the shower, the wrought iron table on our wrap-around balcony, and the manager’s personal phone number left for us in a warm welcome letter.

The staff were disarmingly sweet and helpful, like we were old friends of friends that they had generously offered to host and show around town.

But did I mention those views? The stairs were a serious cardio workout to tackle, but I found myself climbing them nearly every day, drawn up by the siren song of the beautiful vistas awaiting me. One evening, after a delicious cocktail or three at nearby Tantalo, we set out to take a nice portrait and ended up with some giggly self-timer magic.

I adored both our temporary homes in Panama City. But mostly, I loved knowing that there are worthy destinations for travelers at all price points in my beloved Casco Viejo. Great design doesn’t have to be pricey or haughty. You can have design on a budget, and you can have it with personal, warm service on the menu as well.

Are you more of a Panamericana or a Las Clementinas traveler? I don’t think I could choose!

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I was a guest of Las Clementinas hotel, though I paid my own way at Panamericana. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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39 Comments...
  • Katie
    March 18 2014

    I LOVED this post… it hits close to home as I struggle with this exact decision every time I travel. Ultimately I seem to alternate between the Panamericanas and the Las Clementinas of wherever I’m going over the span of the trip. I’ve found that the right guesthouse can really make a difference on how much you enjoy an area! I’m loving all your posts on Panama now… Oh, and I’m a sucker for rooftop terraces. I chose our guesthouse in Jakarta solely on the fact that it has a rooftop terrace. 🙂
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      I’m with you — a good mix of both is good for the traveler’s soul! And rooftop anything is a yes yes yes for me!

  • Man those look nice! I remember when in Asia I switched to guesthouses from hostels and thought it was so nice and fancy but I kinda want those hostels back! Unless its a beach bungalow… I’ll pick it first!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      The funny thing is in some places, mainly big cities like Bangkok, the hostels can be fancier and pricier than the guesthouses! But regardless, you just can’t beat hostels for friend-making. There’s nothing like it!

  • Rachel
    March 18 2014

    wow it looks so beautiful! I am still definatley a grotty hostel kinda gal, but if designer guesthouses are the way to go, I could be tempted!

    Those pictures of you and Anders are so cute!
    Rachel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      Ha, they are my favorite pictures from Panama City…. or maybe Panama! Love the skyline, the fun motion blur… and the cute guy!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    March 18 2014

    Ohhhh… I can’t decide! They both look amazing! Though for longer-term stuff, I’d definitely be a Las Clementinas lady 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      Ummmmm I was literally ready to move in 🙂 Some of my friends are buying houses right now, but an apartment like that would be all I need!

  • Emily
    March 18 2014

    Wow – that hostel is a dream! We’ve stayed at some hostels which are pretty hit and miss as far as cleanliness, but when you find bright and cheery ones at a steal, it feels as though you’ve won the jackpot!
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      Yeah, there isn’t a lot of consistency in the hostel scene 🙂 So when I find a great one, I’m going to sing its praises loud and clear!

  • Breanna
    March 18 2014

    So like you I want to move into the second hotel! Also loving Panama through your eyes.

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      Thanks Breanna! I am loving waking up every day and posting about it! It was so good I’m just enjoying reliving it!

  • Adrian
    March 18 2014

    Wow, the price and designs are amazing!

    It’s kind of hard to decide if I’m more of a Panamericana or a Las Clementinas girl. I think I’m a mixture of both.

    I would definitely love that banana pop art in my room!

    • Meihoukai
      March 18 2014

      It’s a pretty cool system in Latin America, actually… lots of hostels do work exchanges with artists so they can stay for free and do murals. I love it!

  • Chinye
    March 18 2014

    While in Panama i stayed in Obarrio (financial district) but LOVED going into Casco for the day/night. I’m definitely itching to go back!

    • Meihoukai
      March 19 2014

      Me too! I actually never checked out the nightlife outside Casco… but I heard there are really fun clubs on Calle Uruguay!

  • Jen
    March 19 2014

    That hostel looks like my kinda place. Its got so much charater while still remaining minimalist. Very cool! And Las Clementinas looks like something out of a magazine. Not quite me style mainly because I would be too scared of ruining it with my dusty old backpack and shoes, but beautiful all the same.
    Jen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 19 2014

      I always feel a little nervous when I arrive somewhere new and fancy and I’ve got my big, falling-apart backpack on, but I’ve never been met with a snooty welcome yet 🙂

  • Lisa - Wee Wanders
    March 19 2014

    I love the interior of Las Clementinas, with dark wooden floors and ceiling fans it’s exactly what you would expect to find. However I also love the quirkiness of Panamericana Hostel…so in short, I can’t choose!

    If I ever have the chance to visit, I guess I’ll just have to stay in both too 🙂
    Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 19 2014

      So we’re on the same page them 🙂 I like a nice mix of the socialization of a hotel with the great service of a boutique hotel.

  • Taylor
    March 19 2014

    Las Clamintinas looks fabulous, it would definitely be nice staying there. You and Anders look adorable 🙂
    Taylor recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 19 2014

      Thanks Taylor! Definitely my favorite photos of us 🙂

  • Kristen Noelle
    March 19 2014

    I’m a best-of-both-worlds type of gal through and through, so I would most definitely appreciate that beautiful and more budget-friendly hostel, just as much as I’d love the guesthouse…which looks DREAMY! The rooftop pics are soo cute…love the blur effect!

    • Meihoukai
      March 21 2014

      Thanks Kristen! We just threw the self-timer on and tried out the “night effects” setting, which I had never used before. Love it!

  • Kelsey
    March 19 2014

    Both places look beautiful! I love the colored stairs of Panamericana, and what is that wall behind the bar at Las Clementinas? Gorgeous! But the best park of this post.. the slow shutter-speed nighttime pictures at the end! 🙂
    Kelsey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 21 2014

      It was a photo-wall wallpaper, I believe. So cool! Yup, style in spades 🙂

  • Aditi Giasotta
    March 19 2014

    That hostel is to DIE for! So beautiful and colorful! I have heard a lot of awesome things about Panama although I haven’t been myself yet. Where else have you been to in Central America? 🙂
    Aditi Giasotta recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 21 2014

      Hey Aditi! I’ve been to Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, and Honduras! Belize and my first Costa Rica trip were in my pre-blogging days though, so you won’t find out about them here 🙂

      • Aditi Giasotta
        March 21 2014

        That is awesome! I can’t wait to go to all of those places as well! P.S. love your videos! The music and the creative angles you use – props! 🙂
        Aditi Giasotta recently posted..

  • Jo
    March 20 2014

    Oh gosh I would move into that second place and then never ever leave. It is so gorgeous. Also, love the photos at the end. Very sweet 🙂
    Jo recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 21 2014

      Thanks Jo 🙂 I would put one on the wall… if I had a wall.

  • tammyonthemove
    March 21 2014

    I love the look of both places to be honest. I like the quirkiness of the first hostel, but the calm elegance of the second place too. That last photo of you and Anders is so sweet by the way.
    tammyonthemove recently posted..

  • Frank
    March 23 2014

    Those views are stunning … my budget is at a hostel level, but my desire and heart is in places like Las Clementinas!
    Frank recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 24 2014

      Champagne taste on a craft beer budget… I know how that goes 😉

  • Rashaad
    March 25 2014

    I’m more of a Panamericana Hostel-type. I love the paintings. Did you catch any of the basketball games? Also, how was the breakfast at the hostel?
    Rashaad recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      We watched many basketball games from the balcony 🙂 Breakfast was coffee, bread, bananas, and peanut butter — not the best I’ve ever had but I enjoyed the DIY toast!

  • Olivia
    June 13 2015

    Hi

    Would love to include your photo of the Las Clementinas bar/restaurant to accompany a feature in Food & Home Entertaining magazine in South Africa. Please let me know what your policy is. Thanks!

    • Meihoukai
      June 14 2015

      Hi Olivia! Feel free to email me for my print rates. You can reach me via my page!