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 people’s itineraries. In this guide, I’ll show you the best districts to stay in while 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. 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.
I know you want to get reading about where to stay in Panama City. But if you can humor my sales pitch for a moment, I’d love to introduce you to the Messages series I wrote. The novels are based in Panama and inspired, in part, by my time there. Click here for more info.
Okay, that’s all. Let’s get back to you 😊
Where to Stay in Panama City, Panama: 7 Best Districts
I’ve put together a list of seven districts to stay 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 where there’s loads of transportation to take you to the terminal at Albrook, where you can catch a bus to anywhere in the country. It’s 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 by 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.
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
This is one of only two districts on this list not directly bordering the ocean (San Francisco being the other). 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 into downtown where there are more places of touristic 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.
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 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 is 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 on 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:
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
Do you love to read about Panama?
If so, you might be interested in reading Messages to Jake, which is a romance novel that follows a Peace Corps volunteer living in the Panamanian jungle.
Inspired, in part, by the author’s Peace Corps experience in Panama, Messages to Jake is the first book in the Messages series. Packed with humor, characters that’ll feel like friends, and, of course, love, the Messages series explores what happens when a rural community is confronted with HIV, drug trafficking, and the arrival of modern-day amenities.
Transparency Note: The Messages series was written by Laura, the founder of A Piece of Travel.
Also, if you’re looking for other Panama reads, check out my post about Books on Panama.
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 section. 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!
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.