When it comes to choosing where to stay in Panama City, it helps to be informed. Although Panama’s capital isn’t dangerous per sé, there are certainly areas that you should avoid as an outsider.
I spent a month living in the city and came to know the various neighbourhoods in Panama City pretty well. If you’re visiting the city and you’re looking to stay in a safe, comfortable and fun area, let this guide to Panama City’s best areas help you choose your base.
Read more: (opens in new tab)
- A Digital Nomad Guide to Panama
- Cheap and Free Things to Do in Panama
- Getting From Panama City to Bocas del Toro
Where to Stay in Panama City: A Guide
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Best Panama City Neighbourhoods: Quick Answers!
- Best Area in Panama City for Digital Nomads – Casco Viejo
- Best Area in Panama City for Families – Obarrio/El Cangrejo
- Best Area in Panana City for Luxury – Punta Pacifica
- Safest Area in Panama City – Obarrio/El Cangrejo
- Best Area in Panama City for First-Timers – Casco Viejo
- Best Area in Panama City Close to Tocuman Airport – Tocuman Airport area
Best Areas to Stay in Panama City
Standing in direct contrast to the star-brushing skyscrapers that you’ll see in the guidebooks, Casco Viejo is seen to offer a taste of a more authentic Panama. It is a favourite with first-time travellers to the city, as well as digital nomads.
Characterised by its crumbling yet colourful colonial buildings, this UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts many a traveller. There is plenty to do in the area, with quick and easy access to the best fish market in town (great for those on a budget), loads of museums to visit and plenty of eateries to sample delicious Panamanian cuisine.
Beware! El Chorrillo neighbourhood is a very short walk from Casco Viejo and it’s easy to stumble into if you don’t know to avoid it. I was turned around by a police officer in broad daylight while walking to Ancon Hill. He told me there had been a murder and shootout a few days previous and that it wasn’t safe for me to be walking around there, even in the daytime. If you need to pass through this neighbourhood in a taxi, you’ll likely notice that the drivers will lock the doors. If the locals show caution in an area, you definitely need to avoid it.
There are options for every kind of traveller in Casco Viejo, from budget to more luxury options. The following accommodation recommendations may help you get started when it comes to planning your visit.
The Selina hostel chain is king of the digital nomad accommodation throughout Latin America. Boasting coworking spaces, fast WiFi as well as organised events and tours for travellers, it is a great central base in Panama City’s historic district. The rooftop bar offers incredible nighttime views of the city skyline and the free morning yoga classes should not be missed.
Located in a pretty colonial building, this hotel offers large, comfortable rooms for travellers who value their privacy. The team who work on the front desk speak English (a nice perk) and there is a rooftop terrace with amazing views of Casco Viejo. The accommodation is within easy walking distance of a range of well-rated bars and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a no-expense spared kind of experience in Casco Viejo, check out the American trade Hotel. Situated in a safe and affluent part of the neighbourhood, there is an on-site gym, jazz bar, restaurant and swimming pool. The rooms are generous in size and a hearty breakfast is included. This hotel is also pet-friendly.
Punta Pacifica is the type of Panama City neighbourhood that likely springs to mind when you imagine the skyline. Home to what was formerly known as the Trump Ocean Club, the high rises here just drip with luxury.
Feeling more like Miami than Panama, the divide between the rich and poor is easy to see, especially if you have already passed through the city outskirts in a taxi. All-inclusive resorts litter the area and there are also a number of comfortable, modern Airbnbs located in the high rises. Boasting incredible ocean views, this is Panama City’s most expensive area for tourists and expats.
While this won’t be a spot for budget travellers, those looking for indulgence are sure to find accommodation here. Top tip! If you have the cash, splash out on one of the many options with a rooftop pool – Panama City gets really hot!
In the interest of keeping this guide as current as possible, I’ve not listed Airbnb options here but urge you to check the website prior to booking anything else in the area. You can find some really good deals all over Panama City!
Another offering from the Marriot luxury chain comes this modern and chic hotel in Punta Pacifica. Aside from being located in the most affluent part of Panama City, the immaculate rooms feel light and airy with neutral tones and large windows. All rooms come with ocean views and a balcony from which to enjoy them.
Costa del Este
Although less high-end than Punta Pacifica, Costa de Este is still one of Panama City’s most expensive and upmarket neighbourhoods. Existing in what feels like a small bubble, the exclusive area of Costa del Este is home to luxury hotel chains such as The Westin.
Think palm tree fringed paths, big open streets and, of course, ocean views. Compared to other areas, there isn’t loads to do in this part of Panama City, however, this neighbourhood brushes up against Panama Viejo. This is the old city (not to be confused with Casco Viejo, the historic district), where the last remaining parts of the original Panama City can be seen. Even if you are not staying in Costa del Este, it is worth grabbing an Uber and checking them out.
Providing luxury accommodation for guests, no ask is too big if you’re staying at The Westin. Home to an on-site gym and also offering spa treatments, this is the perfect place to get pampered. The spacious rooms offer incredible views of the city and room service is available, meaning delicious dishes are just a phone call away.
Tocumen Airport Area
If you are flying internationally into Panama City, you’ll likely arrive at Tocumen International Airport. Even though there is a second airport which services limited international flights, these are generally to other Central and South American destinations.
In all honesty, the only reason that you are likely to stay in the Tocumen Airport area of Panama City is if you have a flight to catch early the next morning. The airport is located around a half hour’s drive from the centre and there isn’t much to do. However, the advantage of staying close by is that you’ll get to avoid the chaos of the traffic in the capital!
There is a range of accommodation options in this area, however, only a few of them are well-rated. Cheaper digs are also more challenging to find as most of the surrounding area is residential. Much like other city areas close to major airports, accommodations can charge what they like for the convenience of being nearby.
If you need to catch an early flight, consider staying at Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel in the Tocumen Airport area, it is one of the few options which receives consistently good reviews.
Sitting 200 yards from the airport and also offering an airport shuttle which runs every half hour, this is the perfect spot if you need to catch an early morning flight. The whole hotel has a business conference vibe about it but the rooms are simple and comfortable, offering every you need for a short stay.
Obarrio and El Cangrejo
These two neighbourhoods in Panama City sit side by side, separated by Via España. They are located in the financial district and offer a comfortable city base in an area that is constantly buzzing with energy.
For budget travellers, Obarrio is a great choice. Located among the high rises in a central city location, it is known for being a safe area, making it an ideal option for those travelling with kids. There are plenty of amenities on the doorstep including restaurants, casinos, bars and shops, so you won’t need to travel far to get your fill of nightlife or entertainment.
As you would expect from a district called El Cangrejo, there is a multitude of seafood restaurants all around this area. (El Cangrejo translates to the crab in English.) Don’t miss the mouthwatering ceviche!
In both Obarrio and El Cangrejo, there are a range of different accommodation types, from super cheap budget digs to boutique hotels.
This popular budget-friendly hotel is in a convenient location in Obarrio. The rooms are spacious with comfortable beds and the WiFi is reliable, making it ideal for those who need to balance work and play. Don’t miss the rooftop pool.
Perfect for backpackers and other shoestring travellers, Blu Hostel sits in the neighbourhood of El Cangrejo. There are dorm rooms and privates available for a very reasonable price. The showers are hot (not always a guarantee with budget accommodation in Panama City) and there is a communal kitchen for guest use.
Situated in Obarrio, this Registry Collection Hotel prides itself on offering the celebrity treatment to all guests. Concierge services are available around the clock and newspapers can be delivered directly to your door. The spa and wellness centre is highly valued by the guests, making this a great place to stay if you’re after some R&R.
Although this hotel in El Cangrejo is by no means cheap, it offers a lot of value for what you pay. The spacious rooms come with large, comfortable beds and breakfast is included in the room rate. It’s close to lots of good restaurants and shopping centres. The highlight is the rooftop jacuzzi and pool.
Another luxury area in Panama City, Marbella is located between Punta Paitilla and Obarrio. Popular with American expats, this upscale neighbourhood is home to the best shopping in the whole city. Don’t miss the Balboa Boutiques Plaza.
When it comes to Panama City attractions, the Marbella area is somewhat lacking. Instead, this is a better area for those who want to experience a life of luxury in a central and safe location.
While most of the accommodation options in Marbella are tailored towards high-yield visitors, there are also a few budget options that come highly recommended.
For a novelty stay that you won’t forget in a hurry, check into one of the colourful containers based in Marbella. These air-conditioned units offer everything that couples or solo travellers could need from a stay in Panama City including a kitchen and dining area. The hotel is conveniently located a 15-minute walk from the metro and is in a safe area.
A rather different offering from the container-style hotel above, this luxury hotel oozes splendour. The tasteful pastel decor sets the tone for a peaceful and tranquil stay which is further reinforced when you meet the helpful and attentive staff. Grocery delivery is available and the staff can help you plan your travels in Panama.
I have seen a lot of information online and in guidebooks advising tourists to stay away from the Santa Ana area. However, as somebody who has stayed there on a few occasions, I think it is important to note that this neighbourhood in Panama City is shaking off its bad reputation of old.
Although parts of this district are still quite run down, a lot of money is being poured into the area to overhaul its image. The building of La Manzana, just down from the main plaza is one such example of this and recently hosted Panama Fashion week. There is also an entire floor of rented apartments available in this complex, ideal for digital nomads and longer-stay visitors.
Despite the fast-moving progress in the Santa Ana area, it is still important to note that this it’s not one of the safest areas in Panama City. I’d advise staying inside at night and not wandering the streets after dark.
If you’re somebody who appreciates a pumping party, look no further than the neighbourhood of San Francisco. Located east of the city centre, the area is known for its amazing nightlife and internationally recognised food scene. No matter whether you’re looking for upscale eateries or cheap street food bites, you’ll find something in San Francisco.
Head to the beautiful Parque Omar for a spot of relaxation away from the hustle. There are also plenty of free events happening here so keep an eye out for the opportunity to catch some of the live music. Exercise classes including yoga and Zumba also regularly take place in the park.
There are a number of highly rated places to stay in this part of Panama City, you can read about a few of them below.
Although this hotel has Punta Pacifica in its name, it is actually located in the Panama City neighbourhood of San Francisco. A modern choice with great city views, there is plenty to rave about here. The beds are super comfortable the location is quiet a night, meaning you can get a good sleep! There are spa facilities on site including a pool and steam room, a nice treat after a sweaty day exploring the city!
This budget offering for backpackers sits in the heart of Panama City. Both private options and dorm rooms are available and all rates include breakfast. There is a communal kitchen which by all reports is kept very clean – a nice bonus in hostel accommodation. Common areas have hammocks and strong WiFi signal.
Panama City can be an overwhelming destination, especially if you have never visited Latin America before. The non-stop honking of the cars and the extreme differences between the varied neighbourhoods means navigating this metropolis and choosing where to stay can be daunting.
For first-time visitors, the best place to stay in Panama City is Casco Viejo. With its reliable WiFi connection and community of international travellers, it is where you’ll find the most English speakers.
If you’re choosing where to stay in Panama City based on luxury, you’re spoilt for choice. Punta Pacifica, Costa del Este and Marbella all cater to visitors seeking more comfort, however, this of course, comes with a bigger price tag.
No matter where you choose to stay in Panama City, always make sure to do your research to avoid dangerous areas of the city. If you stumble into an area that feels dodgy, it will quickly become pretty apparent. The buildings will look more rundown, there will be more stray dogs and the locals may give you confused looks. If you find yourself in this situation, calmly leave the area retracing your steps back the way you came. When it comes to travelling, it is always best to trust your gut!
What is your favourite area in Panama City? Where would you recommend people stay?