Panama offers a wide variety of lodging options, from five-star luxury eco-lodges to well-known chains, to budget backpacker hostels. Outside of Panama City, there aren't many chain hotels, however. In Panama City, the Marriot, Radisson, and Intercontinental are among the best chain hotels. Sprawling resorts are limited to the Pacific Coast, with the best bed and breakfasts in Boquete and the Valle de Anton.
The hotels listed in this guide are categorized broadly by price: Very Expensive, $150 (£75) and up; Expensive, $100 to $150 (£50-£75); Moderate, $50 to $100 (£25-£50); and Inexpensive, under $50 (£25) for a double. Rates in this guide do not include a government-mandated 10% hotel tax, unless otherwise specified. This tax could add considerably to the cost of your stay, especially at expensive hotels.
Hotels may include breakfast in the price, either continental or a full breakfast or breakfast buffet. If your hotel offers an all-inclusive package that includes meals, compare the package price against the room cost alone paired with ordering meals from their restaurant's menu -- some hotels inexplicably gouge travelers when it comes to meals in all-inclusive packages. Also inquire as to whether a hotel includes round-trip transportation from the airport. If not, hotels can usually organize transportation for about $20 (£10) one-way.
Moderate and upscale accommodations in Panama are on par with hotels of similar caliber in the U.S, while budget options can range from scary hole-in-the wall type places to charming pensiones and B&Bs. Though there are plenty of standard smaller hotels throughout Panama, I find that the abundance of delightful and reasonably priced eco-lodges and B&Bs are your best bet for lodging, and one of the things that will make your vacation to Panama memorable.
Panama's strong suit is its moderately priced hotels in the $50 to $100 (£25-£50) range. Hotels from $40 to $65 (£20-£33) are lean on style, and mattresses are not orthopedic and fitted with high-thread-count sheets, but more budget-minded or bohemian travelers won't mind. These hotels usually have air-conditioning and TV, too. In the $65 to $100 (£33-£50) per night range, you'll find outstanding hotels, ecolodges, and B&Bs that include all amenities and are usually located in beautiful surroundings. Few remote lodges have in-room amenities such as television, telephones, or hair dryers, and some solar-power-generated hotels may have electricity for a few hours only, or no electricity at all. Remote lodges usually have ceiling fans or cross-ventilation instead of air-conditioning.
Panama is a world-class eco-tourism destination, and therefore there are many nature-oriented ecolodges throughout the country. These lodges are found in natural settings and frequently offer opportunities to see sloths, monkeys, and a host of birds, sometimes even from your bedroom window. Ecolodges are so-called for their commitment to sustainable tourism, or because they are centered around activities that involve learning about tropical forests or bird-watching. They range from spartan facilities in converted scientific research stations to luxury accommodations. Ecolodges can be quite expensive if you throw in the cost of a chartered plane, guided excursions, and meals. Also, consider the elements you'll be forced to put up with, including biting insects, heat and humidity, strenuous hikes, or rugged transportation to see wildlife.
In most of Panama, hotels with kitchenettes are referred to as "aparthotels," an amalgam of apartment and hotel. Kitchenettes can be anything from a hot plate and microwave to a full-scale kitchen.
When booking a hotel room, be sure to ask if there is any construction going on nearby (this is especially true in Panama City); if so, ask for a room facing the interior of the hotel to reduce noise disturbances.
High season in Panama is the dry season, roughly early December to late April. Hotels in Panama City do not generally adhere to high- and low-season rates, but some hotels in popular tourist areas do. Price ranges listed in hotel reviews reflect a range encompassing low and high season; for example, $50 to $75 (£25-£38) for a double means $50 (£25) from May to November and $75 (£38) from December to April. Precise start and end dates for high season may vary from hotel to hotel. A few of the more remote lodges may close entirely from April to October. Check with individual properties for details about rates.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.