The Gran Hotel Nacional (Calle Central between Avenida Central and Avenida 9 de Enero/1 Este, tel. 775-2221 or 775-2222, fax 775-7729, http://hotelnacionalpanama.com, starts at US$74.80 s, US$85.80 d) was for decades the fanciest place in David, with 75 rooms and suites, a swimming pool, a casino, a poolside barbecue restaurant, a cafeteria, a pizzeria, and a six-screen theater that shows first-run movies. It’s designed to vaguely resemble a Spanish-colonial hacienda, with red-tile roofs, white-washed walls, and breezy corridors.
This place inspires strong opinions. Some hate it, usually because they’ve encountered rude service. The hotel is an institution that for decades could rest on its laurels as the place to stay in western Panama, which has given some of the staff the people skills of grumpy government bureaucrats. Others rave about it, though one suspects they’re unaware of the other lodging options in David these days.
Rooms are large but rather spare, with cheap furniture and beds that can feel like padded planks. Try the mattresses before committing to a room.
The Gran Hotel Nacional is definitely more gran than most of the competition, but it’s overpriced and needs a makeover. Everything but the swimming pool is open to the public, so there’s no reason to stay here just for the movie theaters and so forth. There are more comfortable places to stay for almost half the price.
Hotel Best Western David (Calle 3 between Avenida A and Avenida B Sur, tel. 777-0000, bestwesterndavid [at] email [dot] com, www.bestwestern.com, starts at US$88 s/d, including breakfast) is an eight-story, 108-room hotel in what for several years was the derelict Hotel El Rey. It’s been thoroughly refurbished and reopened in November 2009. Rooms are simple but pleasant and modern, with flat-screen TVs and expansive views of the not terribly photogenic David downtown, with a glimpse of the mountains in the distance.
An extra US$11 buys a “suite,” which is a somewhat bigger room with a bathtub. There’s an Italian restaurant, a wine bar, a business center, and a gym. The hotel is managed by an English-speaking couple from Florida.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition