Where to stay in Panama City First Time: 9 Best Areas

The best areas to stay in Panama City for both first time and returning visitors are the neighborhoods of Casco Viejo, Obarrio & El Cangrejo, Marbella, San Francisco, Bella Vista, and Calidonia. In this guide, I will help you to decide where to stay in Panama City, Panama for first-time tourists and tell you about safe neighborhoods in the Panamanian capital.

Located between Costa Rica and Colombia, halfway between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, The Republic of Panama is the southernmost country in Central America. Panama City is the capital and largest city in the state of Panama. Panama City is famous for its Panama Canal and the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Panama Old Town.

The city is lively with a rich architectural heritage, landmarks, culture, and history. This metropolis is a bridge between two worlds of North America and Latin America. In Panama City, the modern is intertwined with the historical, and this acts as a magnet for thousands of tourists each year. 

The emblem of the city is the huge skyscrapers and the beautiful parks around them. The American influence on urban culture is palpable and evident in all aspects of life in Panama City. It is advisable to choose the places where you can stay after you have researched the area in which they are located. This is true for every metropolis like Panama City. 

Unfamiliar areas and remote neighborhoods are not a good idea for accommodation despite their low prices. If you are a couple or a family, choose the central areas there are many things you can see and very good conditions for accommodation. 

Do not stay in private homes or places that are offered to you by random people on the street, frequently encountered in Panama City. It is advisable to avoid the neighborhoods of Surundu, El Maranon, and El Chorillo, which are known for high crime and drug trafficking. Although the main streets and squares are safe at night, tourists need to be careful. Most of the places where you can stay are well equipped, and the service is friendly and welcoming. 

Depending on the type of your visit to the City of Gastronomy, choose the most suitable accommodation. If you are a sightseeing tourist choose the central areas, there you have well connected public transport. The same goes for street food tourists who will definitely be satisfied with the food in Panama City.

💖 Best Area for first-timers:Casco Viejo-Old Quarter
💎 Best luxury hotel:Central Hotel Panama Casco Viejo
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:Magnolia Inn 
💰 Best budget hotel:Selina Casco Viejo Panama City 

9 Best Areas to Stay in Panama City, Panama

1. Casco Viejo-Old Quarter, where to stay in Panama for first time

Where to Stay in Panama City: Casco Viejo

Panama City’s historic district, Casco Viejo, also known as Old quarter, San Felipe, or Casco Antiguo, is one of the most famous and beautiful neighborhoods in Panama City popular as the Old Town.

The foundations of the Panamanian capital were built in this area during the Spanish colonial rule. The unique architecture, the historical and cultural atmosphere take the breath away of every tourist.

Casco Viejo is under the auspices of UNESCO a World Heritage site and has been restored to its old form. Established in 1673 by the Spanish, after the Pirate Henry Morgan attacked and destroyed the original Pacific settlement (Panama Viejo) in 1671.

You can visit the ruins of the original Panama City where you can find Old Panama Cathedral, City Hall, churches, abbeys, convents, and learn more about its history at the Museo De Panama Viejo.

The Old Town of Panama City has vibrant plazas and charming brick-paved streets surrounded by colorful colonial buildings.

It also offers an incredibly large selection of restaurants, cafes, rooftop bars, pubs, shops, and museums, especially the areas around Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza Bolivar, and Avenida Central.

You can walk through narrow cobblestone streets and explore some attractions such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Church of San Jose with its well-known golden altar, and Plaza Mayor.

Be sure to visit Plaza de Francia (France Square), which was designed as a tribute to the French effort to build Panama Canal. Nearby stands the dungeon, French Embassy, the National Culture Institute.

The France Square is also home to Conjunto Monumental de Las Bóvedas, a monument that was part of Panama City’s colonial fortification and defense against pirate attacks built in the 18th century.

Plaza Francia leads to Paseo de Las Bovedas, which is a trellised promenade, a great place to relax, enjoy the breeze of the ocean, and the charming views of the city’s modern skyline.

Nearby, the Paseo Esteban Huertas offers very good views of the Bridge of the Americas, the Amador Causeway, the Bay of Panama, and all the ships lining up to enter the canal.

Panama Canal is the star attraction of Panama, one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It is an 80 km artificial waterway connecting from Panama City on the Pacific coast to Colon on the Caribbean coast.

To learn about its history, you can visit the Canal Museum (Museo del Canal), or if you want to watch the transit at the canal, you can check out Miraflores Locks, Gatun Locks, Pedro Miguel Locks, and Agua Clara Locks.

History buffs will also find the Museo de la Mola where you can learn about the indigenous Guna culture. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC Panama) and the History Museum of Panama are also interesting!

For photo ops, head to the stone archway at Arco Chato, which is the remains of the Santo Domingo church built by Dominican friars. It has three points and is 50 feet long by 35 feet high.

The El Teatro Nacional or the National Theatre of Panama is also a must-see. It’s located on the site of a monastery that dates back to the 1700s. You can view beautiful ceiling frescoes painted by Robert Lewis.

You can visit the Amador Causeway, a 6 kilometer stretch of road that extends out into the Pacific Ocean where the Panama Canal meets the Pacific sea. it is where you can catch ferries to Pearl Islands and Taboga Island.

Amador is also home to the Punta Culebra Nature Center managed by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the famous Biomuseo, or Museum of Bio-Diversity at Panama, which was designed by Frank Gehry.

Within a short drive from the city center, you can visit the 55,000 acres Soberania National Park. Here, you can find a variety of hiking trails like Pipeline Road, Plantation Road trail, Camino de Cruces, and El Charco Trail. It’s a great spot for wildlife enthusiasts.

Apart from sightseeing, there are great shopping, dining, and nightlife scene. You can buy local crafts, you can try some of Panama’s best dishes, grab a drink, enjoy the sunset and the city’s skyline at one of its amazing rooftop bars and clubs.

Places where you can stay range from luxury and mid-range hotels to beautiful villas and apartments, but mainly small boutique hotels and guesthouses. Many boutique hotels, apartments, rooftop bars, and restaurants are located in restored Spanish colonial buildings.

Stay in Casco Viejo if you are visiting Panama city for the first time; you are looking for a place for one night, you prefer a place with many cultural attractions, and want to stay in a central location.

Best places to stay in Panama City in Casco Viejo:

luxury: Central Hotel Panama Casco Viejo This 5-star hotel has an outdoor pool and spa center, a sauna, a fitness center, and an on-site restaurant. It’s within easy walking distance from the Presidential Palace and Canal Museum of Panama.

mid-range: Magnolia Inn Located in the historic district, within walking distance from a variety of restaurants, bars, shops, and convenience stores. Also close to attractions such as The National Theatre, Presidential Palace, Canal Museum of Panama, Ancon Hill, Maracana Stadium, Bridge of the Americas, and Panama Viejo Cathedral.

budget: Hotel Casa Panama is a beautiful, unique hotel, featuring traditional stone architecture both inside and out. The rooms are all air-conditioned, pet friendly, and boast a private bathroom, while an outdoor pool, terrace, bar, and restaurant complete the attractions that make this an ideal location for anyone seeking a rustic style without having to sacrifice luxuries to achieve it.

🔍FIND BEST HOTELS IN CASCO VIEJO

If you are already settled with the accommodations in Panama City, I suggest reading 21 Best things to Do in Panama City to know more about what are the best things to do and see in Panama City for your next visit!

2. Obarrio and El Cangrejo, where to stay in Panama city for budget

The budget-friendly of Obarrio area is located in the central part of Panama City in the heart of the city’s financial district. It is the most popular spot among tourists and the second landmark paradise after the Old Town. 

Obarrio is located on the other side of El Cangrejo, at the interesection of two popular streets, Via Argentina and Via España.

Since it’s home to many businesses and companies, such as the famous screw-shaped F&F Tower, Obarrio is favourite location of savvy millennials and business professionals.

This is completely adapted to the needs of visitors and offers great opportunities for any kind of tourism. If you are a fan of heritage architecture and historical landmarks, there is a lot to see in Obarrio. 

If you are a family or a couple, you must know that Obarrio is considered one of the safest neighborhoods in the Panama City. If you are on a street food tour here, the restaurants will impress you deeply with their cuisine. 

The places where you can stay are reasonably priced and range from hostels, boutique hotels, budget places. The nightlife in Obаrrio boils to the max.

The diverse and vibrant neighborhood of El Camgrejo is a residential ares with many middle-class Panamanians. El Cangrejo is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Panama City with a charming and friendly vibe.

El Cangrejo was established in the 1950s and was the first Jewish quarter. You will find Albert Einstein’s huge sculpted head in front of the entrance to New York Bagel Café, great palce to pose a photo!

There are plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafés rest along Panama City’s restaurant row, Via Argentina, and Via Veneto where you can find famous Veneto Hotel and Casino.

In Via Argentina, you can have a drink at one of its rooftop bars in the popular The Roof, which is in the Best Western Plus Panama Zen Hotel. Good to views of the cityscape in sunset time

The Andres Bello Park, also know called Parque Andres Bello in Spanish, nearby is a great place to relax and spend time with friends and family outdoors.

You will have attractions such as El Trapiche, Parroquia Santuario Nacional del Corazón de María, Mordida del Burro.

Seafood lovers must-try restaurants and cafe-like Restaurant Makoto, Café Madero for classic breakfast, Café Unido Marabella, La Locanda, Anthanasiou Obarrio, and Slabon Café-Bistro.

Stay in Obarrio & El Cangrejo if you’re looking for the safest areas to stay in Panama; you are looking for a place with tourist attractions of different types, you prefer a communicative place with a lot of social spots, you want a place near the center of Panama, you don’t mind the noise and the influx of tourists.

Best places to stay in Obarrio and El Cangrejo:

W Panama This 5-star accommodation in the business district in Panama City offers two restaurants, four bars and an outdoor pool. You can enjoy continental, buffet and American breakfast.

AC Hotel by Marriott Panama City the 4-star hotel has a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, a fitness centre and bar. With a shared lounge, air-conditioned rooms, free WiFi, private bathroom. It is is 15 km from Bridge of the Americas and 4.4 km from Canal Museum of Panama.

Sortis Hotel, Spa & Casino, Autograph Collection Located in central Panama City, Sortis Hotel Autograph Collection features an outdoor pool, a casino, a spa and a fitness centre. The stylish rooms and apartments offer city views.

🔍FIND BEST HOTELS IN OBARRIO

3. Marbella, where to stay in Panama City for luxury

Marbella, where to stay in Panama City for luxury

Located between Obarrio and Punta Paitilla, the quiet residential district, Marbella, is popular with ex-pat. Marbella district is where you will find many foreign embassies, international banks, and luxury hotels.

Not surprisingly, it is also home to luxury condos, quality restaurants, and the best shopping but still has colonial-style architectureThis seaside district is ideal for luxury travelers.

Within walking distance to Marbella you will find Avenida Balboa, Cinta Costera, Megapolis Convention Centre, the beautiful hiking and bicycling park along Panama Bay.

Avenida Balboa is more than 3 km road running along the Pacific. It is named after Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, and conquistador who cross the Isthmus to the Pacific Ocean in 1513.

This avenue is an important financial district for Panama and Central America. You can find the Arts Tower, Rivage, YOOPanama, Bisca Financial Center, Torre Waters, and Torre Megapolis.

Its famous Balboa Boutiques Panama Strip Mall is great place to look for fashion stores, beauty salons, and spas.

The nightlife is good, but you can expect to spend plenty of money during a single night there. You will only meet well-heeled people here, although at the northern end of Marbella near Fifth Avenue, things are a little different and there is some reasonably -priced accommodation. However, it makes sense to look elsewhere if you are on a budget because of other daily costs.

If you are looking for all-inclusive accommodation, that is in the immediate waterfront area. The views come at a price. The manicured gardens and the walkways that also permit cyclists are pleasant places to spend a little time.

Best places to stay in Panama City in Marbella:

luxury hotel: Hilton Panama This 5-star hotel offers a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, and cable channels. Located close to Canal Museum of Panama, Presidential Palace, Metropolitan National Park, and Ancon Hill.

mid-range hotel: Princess Hotel Panamá This 4-star hotel is located in the World Trade Centre, 3 km from Panama Bay Beach and Panama City Centre. It is 10 minutes drive from Panama Viejo Town and 24 km from the Panama Canal. Marcos A. Gelabert International Airport is 30 minutes drive away.

budget hotel: Nomada Container Hotel Panama City Located 8 km from Rod Carew National Stadium and 8 km from Bridge of the Americas in the center of Panama City, Ancon Hill is 9 km from the accommodation, while Canal Museum of Panama is 6 km from the property.

🔍FIND BEST HOTELS IN MARBELLA

4. San Francisco, where to stay in Panama City for foodies

San Francisco, where to stay in Panama City for foodies

The a chic metropolis area of San Francisco is located east of central Panama City and is one of the most communicative neighborhoods. If you are a fan of nightlife or a street food tourist then this is your place. 

The area is full of bars, nightclubs, cafes, and many places for social activities. San Francisco meets the needs of every tourist. You have a great choice of where to stay and in what conditions. 

San Francisco to fill with gastronomic corridors, after UNESCO named Panama City a City of Creativity in 2017, specifically highlighting the city’s gastronomy culture.

The restaurants offer a wide selection of traditional cuisine as well as world-famous dishes, and new Panamanian cuisine. The prices will surprise you and will be affordable for every tourist in your pocket.

There are many food trucks in the San Francisco neighborhood, it’s fun to grab a meal with your family and friends at some of the places like Esa Flaca Rica at the end of Avenida Los Fundadores, Antiburger, Pig Backside, and the Smoke Truck.

You must try some of the Panama food such as the Geisha coffee, organic chocolate, local craft beers, and ceviche.

If you want to shop, head to the Multiplaza Mall, one of the best shopping centers in Panama City. It’s also home to the Cinepolis movie theater.

You can also check out Omar Torrijos Park, the biggest park in the city. It is a natural retreat for visitors of all ages. It hosts many free events throughout the year, such as free Zumba, yoga classes, and meditation groups.

San Francisco is also home to the Atlapa Convention Center, where most major events like Fashion Week Panama, food festivals, and concerts take place.

Stay in San Francisco if You are looking for a place for nightlife; If you are a street food tourist; You want services at affordable prices; You do not mind the small selection of attractions.

Best places to stay in San Francisco:

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5. Bella Vista, with amazing ocean views

Bella Vista, with amazing ocean views

Located on the far end of Panama’s scenic Avenida Balboa, ‘’Beautiful view’’ as this translates from Spanish is an apt name for this district.

Bella Vista is sometimes referred to as the Zona Rosa as it has plenty of trendy restaurants east of Avenida Frederico Boyd.

Bella Vista is close to Cinta Costera which is a 4km long coastal that connects the Old Quarter, Casco Viejo with the notable skyline of Punta Paitilla. You can also easily reach the Miramar Hotel, the Panama Yacht Club, and the MultiCentro Shopping Mall.

It is an area that is regularly featured when you see promotional photographs of Panama City. It features high-rises and luxury condos which were funded with foreign money in the first decade of this century.

Panama City is a busy place. It is difficult to get around the city, such as the volume of traffic. It makes sense to stay within walking distance of the things you want to see and do.

Bella Vista has several budget hotels to choose from with plenty of choice for eating. They include fast food places as well as high-quality restaurants. 

Public transport is good if slow while there are bars, shops, and casinos so day and night have plenty of alternatives. If you are unfamiliar with Panama City, Bella Vista could be a good choice for your base.

Best places to stay in Bella Vista:

Best luxury hotel: Global Hotel Panama Located just is located 10 minutes drive from Panama Old City Centre, you can find theRey Supermarket 500 m away and other restaurant options within 400 m. It is 2 km from Balboa Seafront Boulevard and 4.4 km from the Metropolitan Park. Tocumen International Airport is 20 minutes’ drive away.

Best mid-range hotel: Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro This 4-star hotel offers an outdoor pool, fitness center and a rooftop with city views. Shopping is available at the Multiplaza and the Albrook Mall, which are both a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Panama Canal is 12 km away from the hotel and Panama Bay is 10 minutes’ drive away. Hotel is conveniently located just 250 m from Metro station of El Carmen.

Best budget hotel: Hotel Milan Panama Located 2 km from Metropolitan National Park in Panama City at El Cangrejo, this 3-star hotel offers a restaurant, bar and free WiFi, and free private parking.

🔍FIND BEST HOTELS IN BELLA VISTA

6. Calidonia

Calidonia

In years gone by, Calidonia was the district where you would only find sailors and merchant seamen going through the Panama Canal. Things have changed but Calidonia remains an important neighborhood in the city with an international flavor still present. It is earmarked for urban renewal with increased walkways to increase its appeal. 

Calidonia is a very popular area has many hotels. Conviently location close to 2 metro stations including 5 de mayo and Justo A. ​​and near one of the best part of panama city, the Casco Viejo district and Cinta Costera.

Parts are ultra-modern with good shopping while other areas still have the architectural style of half a century ago. Multiplaza Pacific Mall is a popular shopping area in Panama City.

Simple accommodation is available but simple and includes air-conditioning and demand for cleanliness and quiet. That makes Calidonia attractive to all kinds of budget travelers.

The local cuisine is good, making Calidonia popular with more than backpackers. Indeed, there is some quality accommodation here as well in the southern end near Avenida Balboa and Uruguay Street

This neighborhood has a coastline that appeals to the locals who number around 20,000. Visitors should enjoy this part of Calidonia as well. But keep in mind, this area can be dangerous at night time!

🔍FIND BEST HOTELS IN CALIDONIA

7. Tocumen Airport Area

Tocumen Airport Area

Situated 17 km northeast of Panama City, Panama Tocumen airport is a hub between South America, the Caribbean, and North America. It serves both domestic and international flights.

It’s the hub for Copa Airlines. It has direct flights to Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Madrid, and Paris.

It is difficult to predict how long it would take you to get from the airport to the centre of the city. The traffic can be busy so maybe staying near the airport makes sense if you are a worrier. You will not miss your plane that way. 

The immediate neighborhood around the airport has plenty of accommodation so it may be something plenty of tourists consider. It includes luxury resorts, apartments for long-term leases, boutique hotels, and budget places. Prices are highest nearest to the airport but cheaper on the direct flight path.

There are plenty of residential and industrial pockets around the airport as well. Shops, restaurants, and clubs cater to residents as well as visitors. If you choose this as your base, at least your trip into the centre and back out should not produce a problem if the traffic is very heavy.

Where to stay in Panama airport in Tocumen airport:

Crowne Plaza Airport, an IHG Hotel This 4-star hotel provides accommodation in Tocumen just a 200 m from Tocumen International Airport while a free shuttle service from the airport is offered as well as free internet access throughout the property.

Riande Aeropuerto Hotel Casino this modern 4-star hotel is a 5-minute drive from Tocumen International Airport, offers free shuttle service to and from the hotel. Guests can enjoy the spacious outdoor pool and tropical gardens.

Courtyard by Marriott Panama Metromall offers a lobby bar and a restaurant which offers buffet and à la carte cuisine. Just steps from the lobby, the Metromall offers over 260 shops, cafés, restaurants, and bars. The financial heart of Panama City is around a 20-minute drive away, while the Panama Canal is within a 30-minute drive.

🔍FIND BEST HOTELS IN TOCUMEN

8. Costa del Este, convenient location close to city center and airport

Located in close proximity to both the vibrant city center and Tocumen International Airport, Costa del Este is the only urban-planned neighborhood in Panama City. 

Costa del Este is like the Wellington, Florida, of Panama. It has palm trees, broad avenues, ample good sidewalks, and ocean views.

There are new strip malls with shops, cafes, cool lunch spots. You can also find an Industrial Park, and a Business Park. The bayside promenade, the Paseo del Mar is a great place for walking and cycling.

For shopping, you can check the Atrio Mall which hosts a movie theater and the Town Center. The neighborhood is also close to Multiplaza and The Atlapa convention center.

You will have many opportunities to take part in many fairs, festivals, and shows. 

With a 10 minute drive by car, you will find the new luxury development of Santa Maria. It is home to the 18 holes Championship Nicklaus Design golf course and luxury resort of Marriott’s The Luxury Collection. 

Costa del Este has a good nightlife with plenty of dinner and drinks options. You will find gastro bar Bottle Alley,  pub, and microbrewery Rana Dorada.

Best places to stay in Costa del Este:

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9. Punta Pacifica, luxury oceanfront neighborhood in Panama city

Punta Pacifica, luxury oceanfront neighborhood in Panama city

Located on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Punta Pacifica is a luxury neighborhood with high-end shops, restaurants, and a world-class, John Hopkins-affiliated hospital.

Punta Pacifica is home to the Trump Ocean Club, which is the tallest building in Central America. It housed a five-star JW Marriott-brand hotel, luxury restaurants, and an entertainment venue.

Trump Ocean Club even runs its own ferry service to Saboga Island. 

If you want to try some luck with gambling, you will find two casinos inside the Trump International Hotel & Tower.

There is a bridge connecting Panama City to the Ocean Reef Islands at the tip of Punta Pacifica. Like  Dubai, It contains two artificial islands with luxury condo residences.

You can visit the trendy area of Punta Paitilla, where you can find Avenida Italia, a great street for shopping and fine dining.

There are also shopping opportunities at the Multicentro Mall, on Avenida Balboa. The Multiplaza shopping center is also a great place for a movie, for a meal, and more shopping.

For a fun and memorable experience, check out the Escape Room game center, take a Panama Metro, or book a sailing trip at Marina Flamingo. 

You can find good-priced Airbnbs, a nice condo, and a hotel with a beautiful sea view.

Best places to stay in Punta Pacifica:

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🎬 Check out my virtual tour about the best places to stay in Panama city:

Tips before traveling to Panama City:

Although considered a safe city, visitors should be careful. As in any metropolis, pickpockets are part of the urban life of Panama City, especially after dark. Public transport is safe, but you must be careful with stops and bus stations because there is a hangout for petty thieves. Avoid taking taxis from the street as it is preferable to order, taxi call machines are on almost every section.

Panama City has not been the target of terrorist attacks so far. All necessary security measures are imposed, especially for malls and entertainment venues. The locals are always friendly and kind and will be happy to help or guide you if you get lost.

The high crime rate in Costa Rica has a negative effect on the tourist flow in the country. It is quite possible to become a victim of crime in broad daylight. Panama and Costa Rica are affected by drug trafficking because of their proximity to Colombia. Authorities in both countries have identified areas where it is not desirable to travel for this reason. 

However, Panama is considered safer than Costa Rica and is more preferred by visitors. Apart from petty theft and pickpocketing, the Panamanian capital has no other alarming signs of danger for tourists.

See more: Best areas to stay in Costa Rica

Panama City differs from the usual tropical destinations mostly by its spirit brought to the historical landmarks. The strategic location of the city will still bring it dividends, mostly of a tourist nature. Now as you know where to stay in Panamacity, Panama, all you need to do is book your hotels and prepare to go!

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