Opened in 2002, the Purple House Hostel (Calle C Sur and Avenida 6 Oeste, 774-4059, www.purplehousehostel.com, starts at US$7.70 pp) is a true hostel in a—you guessed it—purple house. Though it’s 10 hot blocks from the heart of the city, it’s within easy walking distance of a commercial district with all kinds of services and good transportation connections.
The hostel offers 21 spaces in a configuration that’s constantly changing. The house is simple but clean and comfortable and totally geared toward the budget traveler. There is a backyard garden with beach chairs and sprinklers when guests need to cool off. Its owner, Andrea, a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer from New York, is a great source of useful area information and travelers’ tips.
Staying here gives guests access to lots of extras, including a book exchange, lockers, use of the kitchen, luggage storage, free wireless Internet access and use of a computer terminal, all the fresh orange juice you can squeeze (in season), free coffee and tea, and discounts on some area services, restaurants, and transportation. Note that all these amenities are available only to guests. English and Spanish are spoken. There’s no curfew, but quiet time starts around 11:30 p.m. This is not a wild-party kind of place. The house is in a residential neighborhood, and hostelers are guests in Andrea’s home.
Rates are US$7.70 per person in a fan-cooled four-bunk or six-bunk dorm room. A private room with fan and orthopedic mattresses is US$20 s/d. Air-conditioners are available in the private rooms for US$5 at night or US$10 all day. Hot water and laundry service are available for an extra fee. Note that availability is limited in October; call ahead if you plan to be in David at that time. Guests can use the pool at the nearby Plaza Mirage Hotel and Casino for US$2 a day.
With advance notice, Andrea will try to arrange dance (salsa, merengue, and típico) and Spanish language lessons for guests. The Purple House also sometimes offers a free or discounted bed in exchange for volunteering at the hostel. Andrea can sometimes arrange transfers to Boca Chica if there’s enough guest interest.
Bambu Hostel (Calle de La Virgencita, San Mateo Abajo, tel. 730-2961, www.bambuhostel.com, starts at US$8.80 pp), which opened in 2008, is in a rather bare house with a big backyard close to the Interamericana. It offers 8-bed and 12-bed dorms with thin mattresses and floor fans as well as four private rooms with air-conditioning (US$27.50 s/d). Some rooms have private bathrooms.
The best thing about this place is the swimming pool in the backyard, which measures about 4 by 6 meters. There’s free Wi-Fi, Internet computers for guest use, a shared kitchen, and a barbecue in the backyard. Camping is available in the backyard for US$5 a night.
The management is new to the area and Panama in general, so local information and insider tips are sparse, though this may change in time. Guests seem to be largely left to their own devices here, which may suit some people just fine. The hostel is a little tricky to find. It’s close to the Santa Rosa sugar factory.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition