The area just over the Bridge of the Americas is beginning to see tourist development. This is particularly true of the area that used to be known as Fort Kobbe, a U.S. Army base now known simply as Kobbe (sometimes spelled “Koby,” which is how it’s pronounced), which hotel developers are trying to recast as Playa Bonita.
A big, fancy resort has gone up here, and another one is in the works. Nonguests are not allowed to set foot on the grounds of the current resort. Locals and the backpacking crowd hang out instead in Veracruz, right next door, which has a few basic places to eat and drink and not much else.
These are the closest proper beaches to Panama City , and the only ones you might feel safe sticking your toe into without the fear of pollution dissolving it instantly. The shoreline is pretty here, but note that the beaches are rocky and small, so don’t expect vast expanses of gorgeous sand.
The 300-room InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort and Spa (tel. 206-8880 Panama City reservations, tel. 316-1463 at the hotel, www.playabonitapanama.com , US$250 s/d), which opened in December 2005, is a fancy resort hotel in a spectacular spot near the Pacific entrance to the canal. It’s part of a hotel group that includes the InterContinental Miramar  and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort  and has others in the pipeline.
This one is on a beach just west of the Bridge of the Americas. Guest rooms are in two five-story buildings designed so each room has a view of the sea, the ships waiting to transit the canal, and the islands of Taboga  and Taboguilla in the distance. The beautifully landscaped grounds include a terraced fountain that flows down into five lagoon-shaped swimming pools of various sizes. These end in a small, rocky, half-moon beach. Now called Playa Bonita (formerly Kobbe Beach, when it was on a U.S. military base), the beach is not the greatest but it’s pleasant. This is the closest beach hotel from Panama City. It’s an appealing, if pricey place.
Standard rooms are attractive, with two double beds or one king bed, a safe, minibar, balcony, cable TV, coffeemaker, and wireless Internet access (US$15/day).
The resort has three restaurants, including one in a large rancho by the beach. Bars are in the lobby and by the pool. A large, modern gym with plate-glass windows facing the ocean is open 24 hours a day. There’s also an elegant full-service spa with a Southeast Asian tropical motif.
The resort is a short drive from Panama City , but it’s quite secluded and there’s nothing much around it. Only guests are allowed through the gatehouse, which is guarded more zealously than Panama’s border crossings.