The very popular Hostel Heike (Calle 3 just west of the park, tel. 757-9667 or 757-9708, U.S. 925/465-6167, www.hostelheike.com, dorm beds start at US$10 pp, including pancake breakfast) is no longer actually owned by Heike. The current owners are a trio of guys from the San Francisco Bay Area who also own Luna’s Castle in Panama City and have a knack for giving the backpacker set exactly what it wants.
If you stay here, you’d better like company: Nearly 60 beds are squeezed into dorm rooms with 4–10 bunks. The hostel has shared hot-water bathrooms, free Wi-Fi and Internet computers, lockers, a book exchange, communal kitchen, and other handy hostel extras. Rooms are basic but cheerful—they’re brightly painted, designed to let light in, and feature lots of pretty wood. Some have air-conditioning; the others have fans. Private rooms are US$22 (double occupancy) or US$33 (triple occupancy). There’s a mirador on the top floor strung with hammocks. Guests can now make online reservations.
Mondo Taitu (north end of Calle 5, tel. 757-9425, www.mondotaitu.com, dorm beds start at US$10 pp) was until recently owned by the three guys who have Hostel Heike; now it’s owned by another three guys. It’s still a funky, friendly place with 4–8 person rustic wooden dorms. Rates are US$10 per person in a fan-cooled dorm, US$12 with air-conditioning. The hostel also has some double rooms for US$22 and a “tree house triple” for US$33.
Mondo Taitu has a communal kitchen, free loaner bikes (including a couple of tandem bikes), a bar, and a library of free DVDs guests can watch in one of the common areas. Hammocks for napping are strung around the joint; it’s hard to find one that’s not already occupied. The hostel does not take reservations.
Hostal de Hansi (Avenida D and Calle 1, tel. 757-9085, starts at US$10 s, US$22 d) is a newish two-story wooden place run by Heike, the former owner of Hostel Heike. (That’s right: Heike owns Hansi, not Heike. Confused?) Those who’ve stayed with her before will be unsurprised to find the new place is immaculate and an excellent deal.
A small single room is US$11 with a shared bathroom, or US$13 with a private bathroom. If you want a TV (local channels) it’s US$1–3 more. A double room with private bath and balcony is US$25 for the first night, US$23 thereafter. All the rooms have ceiling fans and orthopedic mattresses.
Guests are welcome to use the communal kitchen and dining area. The bar next door can get loud at night, as Heike herself points out. Heike is German and her English isn’t great, but she’s a sweet person and a good innkeeper. Note that she doesn’t take reservations.
The Gran Kahuna Hostel (Calle 3 near Avenida B, tel. 757-9038, www.grankahunabocas.com, US$10 pp) works hard to try to keep their place clean by Panama hostel standards, and it shows. A two-story, bright orange and yellow old-style Bocas house, the Gran Kahuna is hard to miss. Opened in 2008, it features 49 beds with thin foam mattresses and a veranda that looks out over the sea.
The hostel also has a little dock right across the street that’s just for its guests to hang out. There are lockers, free Wi-Fi, a washer/drier, shared kitchen, cold-water shared bathrooms, and big flat-screen TV in the common areas. It’s a mellow, friendly place. Surfboards are US$15 per day and the managers can arrange surf tours and lessons.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition