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.
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.
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!
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.