Where & Where NOT to Stay in Panama City, Panama

Take one look at Panama City’s skyline and you might think you landed in Miami. With its modern high-rise buildings, trendy restaurants and nightlife, spending a night or few in Panama City is on most Panama itineraries.

In this guide, I’ll show you the best districts to stay in when visiting Panama City, Panama, along with highlighting those that are best to avoid.

Wheelchair Accessibility Note: Look for this blue box for districts that offer the best wheelchair accessibility in Panama City.

Why should I trust you, Laura?

I lived in Panama for three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. During that time, I traveled to Panama City for work trips.

I had my favorite districts where I stayed in Panama City, so I’ll be sharing those with you, along with details about other districts that are worth staying in and those you’d be better off avoiding.

Where to Stay in Panama City, Panama: 7 Best Districts

I’ve put together a list of seven districts to stay at in Panama City. All of these districts are among the safest in the city, which was my first criteria when choosing them.

They’re also in good locations, although what constitutes as “good” varies among people. For this reason, I’ve included a range of locations on this list.

1. Bella Vista

Disclaimer: I’m biased about Bella Vista. It was my favorite place to stay in Panama City when I’d visit.


Bella Vista sits on the far end of the Cinta Costera (Panama City’s oceanfront boardwalk). It’s bordered by two main roads, Avenida Balboa (by the Cinta Costera) and Via España. There’s no shortage of public transportation options to take you to the terminal at Albrook, where you can catch a bus to anywhere in the country.

Bella Vista is a middle-class district that sits between higher and lower-income districts.


Bella Vista offers accommodations at the lower end of the price scale while still being in a safe area.


From Bella Vista, you can walk to the Cinta Costera within minutes (or less!). The district also has a Riba Smith. This coveted grocery store carries international goods that are impossible to come by elsewhere in Panama.

Although Riba Smith itself is rather pricey, they have an amazing cafeteria with tons of local and international food options at low prices. There are also a handful of small restaurants in the area.


My favorite place to stay in Bella Vista is Posada 1914. This cozy hostel that feels like a house offers both private and dorm rooms. It was the go-to place for Peace Corps Volunteers to stay during my time there.

I’m not getting any commission for recommending Posada 1914, I just genuinely love it 😊

Bella Vista is borderline wheelchair accessible. It’s just about the closest you’ll be able to get to more reasonably priced accommodation while still being in an accessible area. Sidewalks are everywhere but be prepared for cracks, bumps, and holes in them.

2. Casco Viejo


Casco Viejo (also known as Casco Antiguo or San Felipe) is one of the most popular districts for tourists to stay. Built in the 1600s, this is the historic district of Panama City. It’s on a peninsula and is surrounded by a portion of the Cinta Costera that juts out into the ocean.


You can find a range of accommodation prices in Casco Viejo. There are plenty of hostels and boutique-style hotels. Most hotels are in older buildings, so you won’t find any high rises there.


Casco Viejo is small and can easily be explored entirely on foot. It’s a place packed with things to do. To name a few, I recommend walking along Paseo Las Bovedas, visiting the Panama Canal Museum, and the San José Church.

Casco Viejo is packed with cute and unique bars, cafes, restaurants, and nightlife.

3. Punta Paitilla


Punta Paitilla is located next to Marbella. It’s an upper-class commercial hub that sits on a peninsula. The Cinta Costera ends here.


Punta Paitilla is a very expensive district to stay in.


There are a lot of things to do in Punta Paitilla, particularly if you enjoy shopping, nice restaurants, and a more refined kind of nightlife (compared to Casco Viejo which tends to have a more backpacker nightlife).

The upscale Megapolis and Multiplaza Malls are popular attractions here.

Punta Paitilla is one of the best places in Panama City for wheelchair accessibility. Not only does it have many brand name hotels offering accessible rooms, but because it’s such a new area, most shops and restaurants are accessible. It’s also very flat.

4. Punta Pacifica


Punta Pacifica is a tiny district located beside Punta Paitilla, directly bordering the ocean. It’s a modern, upper-class neighborhood composed almost entirely of high-rises.


Punta Pacifica is one of the most expensive places to stay in Panama City.


Punta Pacifica is primarily a high-end residential district. There are some upscale restaurants in the area, but for the most part, you’ll need to leave the district if you plan on doing more than soaking up beautiful views of Panama City from your fancy digs.

Wheelchair accessibility in Punta Pacifica is similar to that in Punta Paitilla.

5. Marbella


Marbella enjoys a privileged location along the Cinta Costera between Bellavista and Punta Paitilla.


Marbella offers a combination of mid to high-range accommodations. Hotels in front of the Cinta Costera will, of course, be more expensive.

But if you head back a couple to a few blocks, you can get much more reasonable hotel prices while still enjoying a safe environment.


From Marbella, you can walk along the Cinta Costera and easily explore the districts of Bella Vista, Punta Paitilla, and Punta Pacifica by foot. There are lots of shops and restaurants to meet a variety of budget ranges within and near Marbella.

Wheelchair accessibility in Marbella is similar to that of Bella Vista, although there tends to be more accessible hotel options in Marbella.

6. El Cangrejo


El Cangrejo is near but doesn’t border the ocean; It’s tucked away a couple of districts behind Bella Vista and Punta Paitilla.


El Cangrejo is an expensive, upscale district. That being said, it’s typically not quite as expensive as the other high-end districts we’ve talked about that directly border the ocean.

While there are hotels, this is more of a residential area, so Airbnbs are quite popular there.


El Cangrejo is packed with modern and hip bars, restaurants, and shops. It has lots of nightlife and upscale casinos. Andres Bello Park is a great place to exercise and get a taste of nature.

Depending on where you’re staying in El Cangrejo, it’s possible to take a (rather long) walk to the Cinta Costera from there.

7. Costa del Este


Costa del Este is like its own little entity within Panama City. It’s located pretty far east of downtown Panama City and borders the ocean.

You’ll need to take a car or use public transportation to get to places of interest if you stay in Costa del Este.


Yet again, Costa del Este is a very expensive district in Panama City. It has an exclusive kind of feel to it, with mostly expensive bars and restaurants around.


The Panama Viejo ruins border Costa del Este. Aside from a short visit there, you’ll need a car or public transportation to get downtown where there are more places of tourist interest to explore.

Because of how modern it is, Costa del Este offers good wheelchair accessibility. The terrain is mostly flat and most shops and restaurants are wheelchair accessible.

Where to stay in Panama City Panama.

Hit or Miss District in Panama City

There’s one district that, in my opinion, stands out as a “hit or miss” kind of place for accommodation. That district is Calidonia, located in the heart of Panama City, straddling the good and bad sides of the city.

If you book your accommodation within one block up from the Cinta Costera (Panama City’s oceanfront boardwalk), you’ll be in a decent enough area.

Here, hotel prices will be cheaper than in most areas, but overall, you’ll be fine walking around during the day.

However, if you head much more than a block away from the Cinta Costera, you could be getting into sketchier areas. This is particularly true for the 5 de Mayo end of Calidonia.

On the other hand, if you’re staying closer to the Bella Vista end of Calidonia, then you can walk further back into the district without too much worry. In particular, the area around the Santo Tomas Hospital is relatively safe.

If you’re the type that loves markets and experiencing a country on a more local level, Avenida Central in Calidonia might be a good fit for you. This outdoor market (which is also lined with brick-and-mortar vendors) is a unique experience.

Make sure to bring small bills for purchasing fruits, clothing, electronics, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

It’s safest to take a taxi to and from Avenida Central instead of walking there from where you’re staying. This is a daytime-only kind of activity, and pickpocketers are common.

It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s a unique experience for those with an adventurous soul.

Districts to avoid in Panama City

I tend to err on the side of avoiding negativity in blog posts. However, as a fellow traveler, I understand the importance of having insight into all information, including the not-so-good stuff.

With that in mind, I’ll tell you the four districts in Panama City that I recommend staying away from when you book your accommodation. That being said, I want to first share two disclaimers:

  1. There’s no substitute for good judgment, no matter how nice of an area you stay in. Bad things can happen anywhere in Panama City, just like anywhere else in the world. Enjoy yourself while staying smart.
  2. Even districts known for being more dangerous can still have their good sections. San Miguelito, in particular, comes to mind.

With these disclaimers in mind, I recommend that you avoid staying in the following districts in Panama City:

  • Curundú
  • Santa Ana
  • El Chorrillo
  • San Miguelito

Since this post is all about where to stay in Panama City, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details about why each of these districts isn’t an ideal place to stay.

However, here’s a little insider tip for those of you with a more adventurous spirit: Take the red Metro Line 1 from Albrook to San Isidro and enjoy stunning overground views of Panama City.

You’ll pass through the outskirts of a couple of the districts mentioned here as well as go right into the connecting hub of San Miguelito. When done during the day, this is a safe way to see more of Panama City than the average traveler.

Where will you be staying in Panama City?

We all have different interests and travel styles. I’d love to hear the district you plan on staying in the comments.

Or, if you’ve already been to Panama City, feel free to leave a comment about your own recommendations for districts and accommodation.

Wishing you happy travels to Panama City!

P.S.—Check out my article about Books on Panama for inspiring reads before you travel. Also, if you want to take a day trip from Panama City, don’t miss my guide on how to get to Chagres National Park.

10 thoughts on “Where & Where NOT to Stay in Panama City, Panama”

    1. Hi there what about Balboa, Calidonia and Amador area? They all look great. With exception of Calidonia – I dont know anything about that area. Help! lol

      1. Hi JS,

        Let’s start with Calidonia. As a whole, it’s among the most dangerous districts in Panama. It’s fine to pass by and even stay in the portion of Avenida Balboa that runs on the outskirts of Calidonia. But most of Calidonia district is quite dangerous. You can read more about it in the “Hit or Miss District” section of the article.

        The Balboa you’re likely referring to is Balboa Avenue, which is an oceanfront road that runs, in part, along the Cinta Costera. It passes by Calidonia, Bella Vista, and Punta Paitilla. Picking accommodation on the part of Avenida Balboa that faces the Cinta Costera is a great choice. There’s also a district in Panama called Balboa, which is by the entrance of the Panama Canal. I don’t recommend staying in that area since it’s more industrialized and a bit out of the way from most touristy things.

        The Amador Causeway can be a nice choice if you rent a car and don’t mind limited hotel options. I’ve always felt very safe meandering around the Amador, and the views of Panama City from there are unparalleled.

    1. Hi Shayla,

      Beaches aren’t a thing in downtown Panama City. To my knowledge, there aren’t any hotels that sit on a sandy beachfront. I recommend booking a hotel along the Cinta Costera or another coastal area downtown so that you can enjoy views of the water from the rocky, inaccessible shoreline.

  1. Hello Laura,

    I am also planning a trip early next year to Panama city, since most tours I will join does pick up from the city, I would probably stay there. I think Bella Vista area would be a good place. But just curious, did you say the historic district is safe? I mean it is surrounded by two other neighborhoods that you mentioned aren’t recommended places to stay. Or should I just stick to Bella Vista and just make a day visit to the historic district?

    1. Hi Jojo,

      Yes, the historic district of Panama is quite safe as long as you stay in accommodation that’s in the heart of downtown Casco Viejo and stick to the touristy areas. From a sightseeing standpoint, Casco Viejo is stunning with its old architecture, something that’s incomparable to the Bella Vista district. In my personal opinion, the biggest downside of Casco Viejo is that it’s a bit isolated if you plan on taking public transportation instead of driving; Bella Vista is within walking distance to both the metro and metro bus. They’re both great options, though, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time in Panama regardless of which you choose.

  2. 1)Have stayed @ the riu in Panama City off calle 50 , excellent $180/nt last March. Can you clarify which area that’s in?
    2)Also stayed @ hotel 2012 can’t remember hotel approx $75 cad /nt behind super shopping center approx 5 min drive to airport near alllbrook mall , close to casino & Latin dancing place , not sure what area that was ? Bella vista ? Coffee shops , restaurants etc ok liked it
    3)Planning a visit this March
    What do you think of the Aloft hotel approx $106/nt near via Israel & calle 77 ? Do you know what area that’s in ?
    Casco viejo area has been recommended but we want to rent bikes & explore historic district during day, check out the canal , maybe an excursion on the lake (did monkey island last March, was on my own so did excursion) this yr a friend is coming . We will be staying at a friend’s in David for month but only 3 nights in Panama City
    Appreciate any suggestions/information

    1. Hi Lorraine,

      1. Hotel Riu is in the Marbella district.
      2. It may have been the Albrook district; Bella Vista is more than a 5 minute drive from the Albrook airport. The City of Knowledge and Clayton also come to mind if you were staying in a more residential area and drove a short distance to arrive at coffee shops/restaurants/etc. Either way, you likely stayed on the west side of Albrook Mall/the Albrook airport. The area immediately to the east of the mall (Curundú) is very dangerous.
      3. Aloft is a nice option in the San Francisco district. San Francisco is an overall safe upperclass district located closer to the PTY airport and a bit further from most tourist attractions, though you can get around easily by taxi.

      I hope you and your friend enjoy your time in Panama City and David!

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