Hotel Roma Plaza (Calle 33 Este and Avenida 3 Sur, www.hotelromaplaza.com, tel. 227-3844, US$55–60 s/d including breakfast) would be considered a decent two- or (on a good day) three-star hotel if Panama used such ratings. Its rooms are light and airy and have dressing tables, larger-than-normal TVs with cable, and phones. Some of the rooms smell of smoke, and a few are windowless; try to arrive early enough so you can switch rooms if you don’t like the one you’re shown.
There’s a pleasant 24-hour cafeteria, restaurant, bar, safe-deposit boxes, an attractive rooftop pool with a good view, a small gym, and free Wi-Fi. This place fills up. The hotel offers airport transfers for US$31.50 for two people, which is a few dollars higher than the average taxi fare.
The only real problem with the Hotel Arenteiro (Calle 30 Este between Avenida Cuba and Avenida Perú, tel. 227-5883 or 225-3175, www.hotelarenteiropanama.com, US$49.50 s, US$60.50 d) is that it’s five stories high but has no elevator. If you have a lot of luggage, ask for a lower floor. It offers 58 small, minimalist rooms with thin mattresses. It may remind you of a European pension. All rooms have air-conditioning, cable TV, and phones. There’s a restaurant/bar and a protected parking lot.
Hotel Vía España (Vía España at Avenida Martín Sossa/Calle 44, tel. 264-0800 or 264-2873, www.hotel-viaespana.com, US$66 s/d), which opened in 2002, is on one of the busiest intersections in the city. Buses rocket by day and night, but the rooms are surprisingly quiet, especially with the air-conditioning on. Still, try to get a room at the back of the building. This place is not the bargain it once was and it’s aging fast, but it’s centrally located and still a decent fall-back option.
The fact that it accepts euros and yen, almost certainly the only hotel in Panama that does so, suggests it’s popular with international travelers. Rooms have cable TV, safes, telephones, but not wireless Internet (though the common areas do). The hotel isn’t in the nicest location by any means and this is not a place to wander around at night, but the security is pretty tight—guests must be buzzed in and there’s a walled parking lot. The hotel has a cafeteria.
Hotel Costa Inn (Avenida Perú and Calle 39 Este, tel. 227-1522, www.hotelcostainn.com, US$66 s, US$77 d, including airport pickup and breakfast) is a seven-story hotel offering 87 air-conditioned rooms, a 24-hour bar/restaurant, a parking lot, room service, and a small rooftop pool with a good view of the city and the Bay of Panama. It was remodeled a few years back, and the rooms are now cheerful, with good beds and modern furnishings, cable TV, and free wireless Internet.
This place often has promotional deals, and the standard rates have not gone up in two years. It’s popular with Latin American businesspeople. Free airport pickup at either the international or domestic airport is included. The hotel also runs a free shuttle that drops guests off at the airport at 5 A.M., 8 A.M., and 2 P.M. Both are unusual pluses for a hotel in this category.
Well, I never thought I’d see the day: The Stanford Hotel (off Plaza Cinco de Mayo, tel. 262-4933 or 262-4948, US$44 s, US$55 d) now occupies what for many, many years had been the Hotel Internacional. You’d have sworn the old hotel hosted Balboa when he first came scouting. (For a couple of historic photos, see the hotel’s website, which isn’t quite sure if it wants to spell the new name “Stanford” or “Standford”).
The change agrees with the old girl. It’s been renovated and, though still a rather spartan place, it’s spruced up and more comfortable than it’s been in years. The beds are cheap, but new and firm, and the rooms are fairly clean except for the smudged walls, which could use a lick of paint. Service is a bit disorganized, but friendly. The hotel’s main appeal is its location right on Plaza Cinco de Mayo, at the entrance to the pedestrian section of Avenida Central. This should appeal to those who want to be in the thick of an older, commerce-driven section of Panama City and away from the more touristy areas.
In the past, this was one of the noisiest parts of the city to stay, but with so much construction everywhere else this may well end up being a comparatively calm, if hardly quiet, section of the city in which to base oneself. The view of Panama Bay and the city is also less likely to be blocked by new skyscrapers, at least on the higher floors. There’s a restaurant, a rooftop terrace, Internet-enabled computers in the lobby, and a neighboring casino.
A key to getting a good-value hotel room in Panama City is to stumble upon a shiny new business hotel before it gets discovered and the prices rise or entropy sets in. As this travel guide went to press, Hotel Avila (Avenida Perú between Calle 36 Este and Calle 37 Este, tel. 394-1155 or 225-2499, www.hotelavila.com.pa, US$76 s, US$87 d, including buffet breakfast) fit that description perfectly. It’s a clean, friendly, modern place in a new six-story building. It’s on the edge of Calidonia, close to Bella Vista, and a couple of blocks down from Hospital Nacional. Rooms are simple but attractive, with flat-screen TVs, in-room safes, and free Wi-Fi. There’s basement parking and a restaurant (7:30 A.M.–10 P.M. daily). Email ahead of time to get a corporate discount.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition