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'The Canal' is the first thing many people think of when they think: Panama. But a cruise through the famous shipping route might not even make the list of top ten of best Panamanian experiences. It's this default to the canal which makes Panama a bit of an untapped resource and many of the best places to stay in Panama have avoided even the keenest travel radars.

But this spectacular country offers the same kind of attractions as its Central American neighbours, sizzling nightlife, elegant colonial architecture, exotic coffee farms and rainforests teeming with life. Plus it's almost entirely ringed by beautiful beaches, with the Caribbean winds sweeping onto perfect white beaches on one side and the swells of the Pacific on the other!

If you want to explore Panama's mysterious cloud forests and its amazing biodiversity, La Palma, with the best of the countries national parks, is one of the best places to stay in Panama. If you're here for a dash of the Central American lifestyle, Panama City is for you.

Panama is a destination ripe for discovery. Much of the country has good infrastructure, but it still feels unspoiled, and when you traipse through the jungle and come upon Spanish ruins, snorkel on the reefs off Bocas de Toro or spend some time with one of Panama's seven indigenous groups, you'll still get a sense of exploration-wonder.

The Best Places to Stay in Panama

Panama City

Cosmopolitan Panama City is that curious animal, a tropical capital of International finance. Its skyscrapers are an ever growing work in progress, but the salsa rhythm from its old dance halls, a la old Cuba, are as unchangingly South American as can be.

Game changing trade route and fascinating visitor attraction, you can't go to Panama City and not see the canal - on a good day you'll see container ships measuring 32m x 294m sliding into locks measuring 33.5m x 304.

Most of Panama's historic attractions are in the elegantly dilapidated Casco Viejo. This is also where you'll find many of the best bars and restaurants and entertainment.

But it's also worth visiting Panama la Vieja, the ruins of the old town, sacked by pirate Henry Morgan so badly in 1671 that it was easier just to build a new city a couple of kilometres away rather than rebuild the old city.

Area Bancária is the financial district and Panama's skyscraper central. This is also the place for higher end shopping and eating.

  • For a cool hotel with a party feel, book into the Tantalo Hotel. Hip roof terrace bar, with superb city views and delicious tapas restaurant.

Panamas Beaches

Off Panama's Caribbean coast are a number of desert island idyll type islands, but on the Pacific side you'll find great surfing towns and the opportunity to dive with whale sharks.

Bocas Del Toro on the Caribbean coast feels very Caribbean, and makes a relaxed base for exploring the archipelago - both above and below the waterline.

Panama's Natural Treasures

Panama has quite a few national parks.

  • Just fifteen minutes from Panama City, Parque Nacional Soberania is probably the easiest tropical rainforest to access,
  • La Amistad International Park is one of the largest and spreads into Costa Rica,
  • Volcan Baru Nacional Parque has the highest peaks, and the second largest inhabited volcanic caldera in the world,
  • and Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui has some of the world's best whale watching.

If you're here to see a Quetzal one of the best places to stay in Panama is Boquete - also the country's coffee capital.

As well as the rain forests and cloud forests, Panama also has a national marine park, surrounding Panama's largest island, Coiba. This is where you can wonder at some of the impressive biodiversity close up; there's several different species of whale, turtles, crocodiles, dolphins - and that's just in the water. Santa Catalina is the best place to stay to see the marine park.

Still undecided? Browse though our list of all the best places to stay in Panama, or contact, one of our friendly gurus for advice.

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The best hotels in Panama

See all » 2 hotels in Panama City

  • Grace Panama

    Panama City (Obarrio)

    In the heart of the ultra-modern and prestigious commercial sector of Panama City. Floor to ceiling windows offer unrivalled views of the cityscape. Rooms are pristine and smart, suitable for leisure and business stays alike, and the roof top pool is the icing on the cake. A sleek, cool, city stay.

    60 rooms from $120
    Views  -  Breath-taking views of the cityscape from all over the hotel
    City Style
    Sights nearby  -  Panama City's Old Town is ony a ten minute walk
    Swimming Pool  -  Indoor/outdoor
  • Tantalo Hotel

    Panama City (San Felipe)

    Eat drink and be merry at this well-equipped hotel with fantastic tapas restaurant and an impressive rooftop bar. Party on.

    12 rooms from $129
    Bicycles available  -  Free bikes available for guests' use.
    Bar  -  great rooftop bar, terrific cocktails
    Lively  -  Hip and happening.
    Sights nearby  -  Well located for major sights.

See all » Other hotels in Panama

  • El Otro Lado


    Relax in the sublime setting of Portobelo National Park. The unique aesthetic is a mixture of Caribbean nature and culture, as is the restaurant food. Swimming pool, room service and bar all included. A short walk from white sands, and offers local cultural experiences.

    from $490
    Outstanding location  -  In Panama's National Park
    Great walks  -  Through the mangroves.
    Sights nearby  -  Visit the Embera tribe nearby, drive and then canoe to their nearest village.
    Swimming Pool  -  Infinity pool with glorious views.
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