The essential Panama City neighbourhood guide

Best place to stay - Panama City Neighborhood Guide

The question of where to live anywhere in the world is a very personal one, and there is a never-ending list of factors that come into play. What do you want versus what do you need? What can you afford? What quality of life are you looking for? And what would you like to get out of the city? Panama City, in particular, is one of many contrasts. Historic UNESCO heritage site Casco Viejo meets the futuristic skyscrapers of the city centre, granting Panama City the moniker of “Miami of the South”. Each paradise has its problems as well as perks. So, questions that may be pertinent to which Panama City neighborhood you choose to call home may include:

  1. What are my commuting requirements (if any)?
  2. Ocean view or cityscape?
  3. Close to the tourist fanfare or quieter and farther from the action?
  4. Budget?
  5. Business or pleasure?
  6. Short-term or long-term stay?

When you first arrive in Panama City, I recommend looking on Encuentra24 for apartments or make friends with Airbnb. You can even dip your feet into different areas to see what appeals to you best. For short-term visitors, nothing will beat the experience of staying in Casco Viejo however. It’s the Panama City neighborhood that helps tourists and travellers fall in love with Panama and pretty much has everything your heart may desire. It’s pedestrian-friendly and holds the bulk of Panama’s best restaurants, accommodations, sightseeing and even nightlife. Casco Viejo is the second most visited part of Panama after the canal. Here is a little bit about each Panama City neighborhood to help you make an informed decision on where to stay in this metropolitan paradise.

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo proudly wears the title of the coolest Panama City neighborhood and all but some of the nightlife has moved here. In the day, your time will be spent taking in the beautiful narrow streets, endless viewpoints of the Pacific and a ton of attractions. Casco has several names (Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo and San Felipe) and was bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997 and is a place of contrasts, the juxtaposition of old and new. It is experiencing a lot of regeneration and painfully quaint cafes are popping up at an alarming rate. If you will frequent these said cafes and restaurants, it might make sense to situate yourself here in Casco instead of making the commute from downtown Panamá each day. Casco is also exceptionally safe and has a robust police presence due to the president’s offices being located right here.

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Staying in Casco also means that you’re a stone’s throw from Cinta Costera, the most adorable oceanfront walkway and park. A stroll from Casco through the fish market (Mercado de Mariscos) and onto Cinta Costera will bring you face to face with the city’s famed skyline as well as a huge Panama sign to enable you to fulfil your Insta-bragging duties.

 

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In Casco Antiguo you have everything (almost) under one roof: yoga studios, hotels, hostels, restaurants, decadent rooftop bars caressing the sky, gelaterias, cafes, churches, shops and historical squares – there are four (Plaza Herrera, Plaza Bolivar and Plaza de Francia, Plaza Mayor, also known as Plaza de la Independencia). Within Casco’s collection of dreamy balconies and narrow streets, you will be spoiled for choice.

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Not staying in Casco is a regret visitors to Panama City often have. It’s indisputably the most magical part of Panamá to stay and your experience will be richer for it. It’s the most popular destination in Panama City for good reason.

Yoga: Casco Yoga

Bars and clubs: La Rana Dorada, Casa Bruja, Pedro Mandinga, Casa Jaguar, Lazotea, ‘t Bier Klooster, Chupitos, Tantalo, Casa Casco, Salvaje, Compadre, La Tana, Taberna de Morgan, Espacio Panama, Silo at Selina

Restaurants: Diablicos, Donde Jose (Panamanian,) Nazca 21 (Peruvian), Tacos la Neta (Mexican), Mahalo (Hawaiian and has live music on Saturdays)

Cafes: Nomada Eatery, Café Unido at the American Trade Hotel, Super Gourmet, Bajareque Coffee House, Casa Sucre, Caffe Per Due, Benissimo,  Ay Mi Negra, Benissimo

Schools: Casco Antiguo Spanish School

Hotels: Tantalo Hotel & Kitchen, Central Hotel Panamá, Magnolia Inn, Las Clementinas, La Concordia Boutique Hotel, Gatto Blanco Party Hotel, American Trade Hotel (Ace Hotels)

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San Francisco

If eating out is your bread and butter, you’ll love San Francisco as there’s a truckload of food trucks dotted around the neighbourhood. Esa Flaca Rica serves up the juiciest burgers and you can also enjoy some fine Argentine Choripan right here in Panama. What da Fork, Pig Backside, The Smoke Truck and Anti-Burger also serve carnivores well.

If there’s a major event going on in Panama, it’s most likely to be held at the ATLAPA Convention Center, which is the largest in the country. Park Omar Torrijos is here too, which has free exercise classes every single day. San Francisco and is also home to Multiplaza Mall, which houses all your favourite brand stores from back home.

Restaurants: Guadúa (Ecuadorian), Gasthuis Rincon Alemán (German), Viarepa (Venezuelan), Taco T, El Charro (Mexican), Los Años Locos (Argentinian), Golden Dragon, Golden Unicorn (Chinese), Al Andalus (Spanish), Roadster’s Diner (American), Heladeria Keene’s (ice-cream)

Bars: Istmo Brew Pub, Lynchburg Gastro Pub for German food, LB Bieren (a speciality beer store where you can drink your purchases on site), La Rana Dorada

Cafes: Leto Café, Miranda Bakery & Café, Athanasiou Vía Porras, Café Unido, Saquella Espresso Club, Juan Valdez Café, The Cofee Bean & Tea Leaf, Paul Bakery Panama 

Schools: Colegio Europeo Panamá, Instituto Italiano Enrico Erni, Don Bosco Technical Institute

Malls: Multiplaza

Hotels: Courtyard by Mariott Multiplaza Mall, Sheraton Grand Panama, Ramada Plaza by Wyndham

 

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Punta Pacifica

To live in Punta Pacifica is lush, to say the least – given its location right in front of the Pacific. The name gives it away, doesn’t it? This exclusive Panama City neighborhood has an abundance of shops, private schools and a private hospital, John Hopkins, which has English-speaking doctors. Punta Pacifica is where you’ll find Panaviera bar at the Ocean Sun Casino, which is the highest pool bar in Panama and Central America as a whole. Ferry Las Perlas will also take you to Contadora and Saboga islands in no time.

Restaurants: Metsuyan, ZK Nikkei (Japanese), La Vespa Ristorante Vista Mare (Italian), PF Chang’s in Multiplaza (Chinese), Tony Roma’s (steakhouse in Multiplaza), Os Segredos da Carne, Fire of Brazil (Brazilian)

Cafes: Café Unido, Saquella Espresso Club, Juan Valdez Café, The Cofee Bean & Tea Leaf and Paul Bakery Panama all at Multiplaza Mall

Bars: Panaviera

Supermarket: Supper 99 (open 24 hours)

Hotels: JW Marriott

 

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Punta Paitilla

Paitilla is a beautiful and built-up residential area next door to Punta Paitilla with stunning Panama Bay views. It’s a great Panama City neighborhood if you’d like to live within walking distance of Cinta Costera and Avenida Balboa. 

Cafes: The Cofee Bean & Tea Leaf, Athanasiou Paitilla

Restaurants: Solomon’s Montreal Deli & Restaurant, Sushi Express, Sushi Market, Restaurante Marrush, Agave Azul (Mexican)

Supermarket: Super Kosher

Malls: Multicentro Mall

Hotels: Hotel Las Americas Golden Tower,  Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis

 

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El Cangrejo & Via Argentina

“The crab” as it was called due to the way the streets sprawl out, is wholly cosmopolitan, yet tranquil enough to actually live in. El Cangrejo is a former Jewish enclave, though much of the population has since moved to upscale Paitilla and Punta Pacifica. A nod to its past is still evident through the rather large statue of Albert Einstein in the aptly named Plaza Einstein. You might not actually see it as it’s been under construction for yonks.

Today, El Cangrejo could be perceived to be the most multicultural Panama City neighborhood, judging by the sheer magnitude of restaurants serving international cuisine.

For greenery, there is Parque Andres Bello and Recreational Park Omar Torrijos is a 40-minute walk if you’d like to get your heart rate pumping. Like Casco Viejo, it is one of the few neighbourhoods that lends itself to walking.

 

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Restaurants: El Trapiche (Panamanian), Asu Mare (Peruvian), Mordida del Burro (Mexican), Ginza (Japanese), Palacio Lung Fung (Chinese), Chez Titi, Petit Paris (French), Avatar (Indian), Sabores de mi Tierra (Colombian) Donde el Toro, Angel, Taberna 21 (Spanish)

Cafes: Mentiritas Blancas, The New York Bagel Company

Bars: La Rana Dorada, Biergarten at the Riande Granada Urban Hotel, Istmo Brew Pub, Brew Stop

Schools: Canadian International School, Oxford School Panama, Colegio De La Salle

Hotel: Best Western Plus Panama Zen HotelNovotel Panama CityTRYP by Wyndham Panama CentroRiande Granada Urban Hotel

Avenida Balboa

Balboa Avenue is a tourist attraction in itself, but it might not be the calmest place to live given the estimated 75,000 vehicles, which pass by per day. It is, however, practically smack on the Pacific Ocean and many apartments here will leave you drooling at the decadent views. You will probably also pay a premium for having the water right on your doorstep, but at least you’ll be able to say you have the president as a neighbour (he lives in the Intercontinental Miramar hotel). Another benefit of living on Avenida Balboa is that you have a park right in front of you, the ever-photogenic Cinta Costera. It’s also great for it’s proximity to Casco Viejo. It is a short walk or bike ride from here to the old quarter.

Restaurants: Merey Bistro (Venezuelan), Segundo Muelle, Mr Limon (Peruvian), Cocina de la India (Indian), Hip (Vegetarian), Unagi (fusion), Aglio Rosso (Italian), Cabana at YOO Panama

Bars: Panama Brews and Inedito Rooftop Lounge at Balboa Boutiques

Cafes: La Tapa del Frasco, Café Mar, Brun, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at Balboa Boutiques

Hotels: InterContinental Miramar, Hilton Panama, Le Méridien Panama

Marbella

Everything’s within walking distance in Marbella, a modern neighbourhood behind Avenida Balboa. It’s also a stone’s throw from Calle Uruguay which used be the city’s nightlife haven. Now it’s a quiet area to dine on the fancy food you fancy in peace, a bounty of skyscrapers and Parque Ricardo Galindo. Close to the ocean belt, Marbella means the “beautiful sea”, and it is indeed one of the most beautiful parts of the city to see.

Restaurants: Tinajas (Panamanian), Mar de Grau (Peruvian restaurant), Sabor Brazil (Brazilian), Sabor de la India (India), Wing’s Army, Le Pétit Paris, Bahn Mi (Vietnamese)

Cafes: Unido Marbella

Bars: Brew Stop, La Milonga, B-Dubs

Hotels: RIU Plaza Panama, Waldorf Astoria Panama

 

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Costa del Este

This 310-hectare area is one of the grandest real estate developments in the city. Since the project was dreamt up in the mid-90s, it has become a skyscraper car park to the East of Panama la Vieja. Many multinationals have set up their headquarters here in Costa del Este including Unilever, Copa Airlines and DHL. The area is proudly home to not one but two malls, Atrio and Town centre.

 

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Restaurants: Caminitos (Argentinean), Brava Pizza & Espuma (pizzeria), Nacion Sushi, TGI Friday’s, Papa John’s, Restaurante Nazca

Cafes: Athanasiou, The Coffee Pot, Cafe Unido Town Center, Leto

Supermarket: Riba Smith

Schools: Colegio San Augustin, Academia Interamericana de Panamá

Malls: Town Center

Hotel: The Westin

Obarrio

Obarrio isn’t the cheapest place to live. Its streets are lined with embassies, shops, restaurants, hotels and casinos. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA Panama) breathes some creative flair into the region and co-working spaces like Workings attract freelancers and remote workers en masse.

Restaurants: Brazzeiro (Brazilian restaurant in Soho mall), Makoto, Sushi Itto and Hikaru (Japanese), Tataki Market (Sushi Thai and Peruvian fusion), Rausch (French), Al Basha and Habibi’s (Lebanese), La Locanda and Restaurante Napoli (Italian), Mar de Grau (Peruvian)

Cafes: Café Unido Marbella, Chocolatisimo Panama, Athanasiou Obarrio, Slabon Café bistro

Co-working & Work Spaces: Workings, Workspace Business Center, My Office Panama

Hotels: Sortis Hotel Spa & Casino

 

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Albrook

Albrook has the benefit of housing the largest mall in the Americas, the bus terminal, as well as the domestic airport, Marcos A. Gelabert Albrook Airport (PAC), making weekend getaways from Panama City ridiculously convenient if you live here. Albrook is exceptionally family-friendly with lots of open space and parks as well as two public pools.

Hotels: Wyndham Panama Albrook Mall & Convention Center

 

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Ancon

Ancon feels like its own little town within Panama City. It’s largely residential and the main draw here is Ancon Hill (Cerro Ancon). Hiking to the top of the hill is one of the must-do activities for visitors to the city as it results in incredible panoramic views – and the chance to spot sloths and toucans.

Hostels: Bodhi Panama City

 

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Clayton

Clayton is a family-friendly district near Albrook in the west of the city. It has lots of leafy green space, a public pool, international organisations, international schools and the American embassy. Within Clayton is the Ciudad del Saber (City of Knowledge), a cluster of governmental and non-governmental academies, tech companies and organisations. It also plays host to an array of events including the annual Panama Jazz Festival. Clayton is a 15-minute drive from Casco Viejo without traffic.

Schools: Colegio Isaac Rabin, Metropolitan School of Panama and Balboa Academy at the Ciudad del Saber, King’s College, The British School of Panama

Hotel: Holiday Inn Panama Canal

 

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Panama Pacifico

A scenic drive away, Panama Pacifico houses a small International airport on the former Howard Air Force Base, Panama Pacifico International Airport (BLB), a spate of international schools and large corporations like Dell. It’s a predominantly residential Panama City neighborhood but will lots of development on the way, it’s one to watch.

Schools: Knightsbridge Schools International Panama, Lycée Francais Paul Gauguin de Panama, Howard Academy

Amador Causeway

Panama is a country with many archipelagos, one of which is right here in the city. The Amador Causeway is a road that connects the mainland with an archipelago of four small islands called Culebra, Flamenco, Perico and Naos. It is extremely popular for biking, jogging and brisk walks. It offers spectacular views of the Bridge of the Americas (Puente de las Americas) as well as the entrance of the Panama Canal. The most popular landmark here is the multicoloured Biomuseum designed by Frank Gehry.

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Restaurants: Beirut (Lebanese), Mi Ranchito (steakhouse), Sirena (seafood), Leños y Carbon (steakhouse), La Fabrica Restaurant and Brewery

This post originally appeared on CascoSpanish.com. For your very own experience at Casco Antiguo Spanish school, take a look at their classes and get in touch with them – pronto. 

 

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