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Panama City Travel Guide

About Panama City

It might be a modern, developed metropolis, and the capital of one of Latin America's fastest growing economies, but Panama City has never been much of a destination - until now.

The 500-year-old city is enjoying a present-day tourist boom, with visitors soaking up its cosmopolitan atmosphere, flourishing arts scene and intriguing history.

In 1997, Casco Viejo (the old town), was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and nearly a decade on, it is finally the vibrant, restored colonial prize that it ought to be. The contrast with the glittering skyscrapers of the financial district across Panama Bay sum up this city of starkly divided fortunes, which have long pivoted on a certain waterway.

When the US unveiled the Panama Canal in 1914, there was a sense of fulfilling the country's geographical destiny. Through much wrangling and controversy, it finally came under Panamanian control at the turn of the millennium. Apart from propelling the country's economy and bridging the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, its sophisticated engineering through scintillating rainforest make it a key tourist attraction.

The slender Panamanian isthmus is not just a bridge between oceans, but also continents. There’s near-unparalleled biodiversity in the Metropolitan Natural Park, a vast limb of pulsating jungle stretching north from the city all the way to Lake Gatún.

With such natural wonders and a charming old town, as well as a cultural melting pot stirred with indigenous, Caribbean and European ingredients (which gives rise to an exciting contemporary culinary scene), it's surprising that Panama City hasn't always been on the tourist map. Part of that has to do with chronic criminality linked to a huge wealth gap – until recently Panama City was ranked amongst the most dangerous cities on Earth.

But in a sign of changing fortunes, even the criminals are being rehabilitated thanks to the work of organisations like Esperanza, which help ex-gang members develop restaurants, galleries and tours in previously no-go areas. Problems won't be solved overnight, but this Latin capital is looking forwards.

Panama City's moment may be now, but it promises a prosperous future, too.

Key facts

Population:
439,642 (2010).
Latitude:
8.954367
Longitude:
-79.539037

Featured Hotels

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Toscana Inn Hotel

A modestly-sized boutique hotel in Downtown Panama City, Toscana Inn comes equipped with air conditioning and Wi-Fi in every room. Café Los Girasoles restaurant serves up Panamanian cuisine for dinner and a complimentary buffet-breakfast spread in the morning.

The Westin Playa Bonita Panama

A luxury, beachfront hotel with six restaurants, a full-service spa, business centre, kids club and three infinity pools, each kitted out with a swim-up bar. Located approximately 20 minutes outside of the city centre, flanked by rainforest, the resort has 611 luxury rooms and suites, many offer views of the Pacific.

El Machico Hostel

Situated in Panama City's Marbella district, this lively hostel fosters a laid back atmosphere with courtyard swimming pool, open air cinema nights, pool games and a small bar.

Hotel DeVille

This is one of Panama City’s top-end boutique hotels, located in one of the city's most romantic spots. Each of the 33 rooms are individually (and impeccably) decorated. The difference here is in the details right down to the antique furniture that graces each handsome room. Beautiful and classy, with rooms and suites available at rather high prices but you won’t be sorry.

Hotel Riande Continental

Centred on a palm tree-fringed swimming pool, this sophisticated Panama City hotel is an excellent choice if you're searching for low-key luxury. Spacious rooms offer modern furnishings and sweeping views of the Panama City skyline. All rooms have a mini-bar and cable TV, and there is a surcharge for the Wi-Fi which is available all over the hotel.

Las Clementinas

Las Clementinas is another Casco Viejo charmer, in a fully-revamped colonial building in the most beautiful part of town. They have gone for understated elegance and style here, and have definitely succeeded. Furnishings are either original antiques or perfect replicas. Las Clementinas also has a bar and cafe with great food.