Once overshadowed by its neighbor to the North, Panama is finally coming into its own and at breakneck speed. It seems that every day, there's a new restaurant or resort opening. Below are the highlights.
Planning Your Trip
Copa Airlines (tel. 800-FlyCopa/359-2672; www.copaair.com) has added a nonstop flight from Washington, D.C., to Panama City. Spirit Airlines (tel. 800/772-7117; www.spiritair.com) now offers nonstop service to Panama City from Fort Lauderdale.
Albrook Inn (tel. 315-1789; www.albrookinn.com) recently debuted in the pleasant residential Albrook neighborhood. Housed in a converted Canal home, the hotel offers 30 modern and comfortable rooms. A 15-minute taxi ride from downtown Panama City, the inn is ideal for folks who prefer a quiet setting.
Also near Albrook, the Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Araúz (tel. 262-8338) has relocated to Avenida Ascanio Villalaz on the edge of the Natural Metropolitan Park. When this guide was published, the museum had not yet completed its exhibitions, but the project should be complete by the end of 2008.
The new Canal House Hotel (tel. 228-1907; www.canalhousepanama.com) is a fully restored early 20th century mansion in the historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. With just three rooms, the hotel is perfect for those looking for privacy. Actor Daniel Craig stayed here while filming the latest James Bond film.
The hotel Casa Mar Alta has closed its doors.
Granclement (tel. 228-0737; www.granclement.com) serves traditional (if a bit pricey) European style ice creams, and has become extremely popular since opening last year.
Over in el Cangrejo, the French-owned pastry shop Petit Paris (tel. 391-8778; www.petitiparis.com.pa) has opened its doors and serves up gourmet pastries, chocolates, and other goodies. It has become a very popular spot with expats. Just down the road, Market (tel. 264-9401) opened to great reviews and big crowds; it serves up tasty burgers and steaks. Caesar Park Panama has been reopened as Sheraton Panama Hotel and Convention Center (tel. 305-5100). Limoncillo is closed for now, but word is the owner is looking for a new location to reopen.
Over on the Amador Causeway, the much anticipated Biodiversity: Bridge of Life Museum (tel. 314-1395 or 314-1396; www.biomuseopanama.org) looks like it's just about to open up. This museum, which highlights man's relationship to nature, promises to be one of the top, if not the top, museums in Panama. Also on the causeway, the Hostal Amador Familiar (tel. 314-1251; www.hostalamadorfamiliar.com) recently opened its doors. Located in a renovated canal-era home, the hotel calls itself a hostel but also offers many doubles and a family-size room, making it one of Panama City's best budget options for families and groups. The Kool Hostel on Taboga is no longer operating.
The Golden Frog Inn, (tel. 983-6117; www.goldenfroginn.com) is a great addition to the Valle de Anton lodging scene and offers phenomenal views of the region. Also new is the Anton Valley Hotel (tel. 983-6097) with comfortable guest rooms right in the middle of town. An added bonus is the hotel's restaurant, serving up cheap and hearty breakfasts and open to the public. The Park Eden Bed and Breakfast (tel. 983-6167; www.parkeden.com) has recently added two family suites, complete with kitchenettes.
The Western Highlands & the Gulf of Chiriqui
Boquete and the Gulf of Chiriqui are two of the fastest changing regions in Panama. As retirees and expats move in by the thousands and ecotourism takes off, the landscape is changing at breakneck speed.
Perhaps the most daring new development, Valle Escondido (tel. 720-2454) in Boquete, is a luxury residential community and hotel, offering standard doubles and stand-alone cabins. There is also an impressive golf course and swimming pool on grounds, along with several restaurants, headed by renowned Panamanian chef Melissa Douglass de Leon. Though not for everyone, it does offer the most resort-like lodging in Boquete. Just down the road, the new Valle del Rio Inn (tel. 720-2525; www.elvalledelrioboquete.com) offers 25 standard, chain-like doubles and one three-bedroom suite. The hotel has two restaurants, Pomodoro and the Wine Bar.
Rio Alto Suites has been taken over by a new management, who has overseen beautiful renovations and rechristened the place as Boquete Paradise Suites (tel. 720-2278).
Boquete Mountain Safari Tours (tel. 6627-8829; www.boquetemountainsafaritours.com) is famous for its "yellow jeep" tours taking tourists everywhere from the cloud forests of Boquete to the Caldera Hot Springs to various wildlife expeditions. The American owners are friendly and attentive, and English-language tours are readily available.
Heading down to Boca Chica and the Gulf of Chiriqui, there are two important additions to the lodging scene: the Cala Mia Eco-Resort (tel. 6747-0111; www.boutiquehotelcalamia.com) and the Seagull Cove Lodge (tel. 700-0236; www.seagullcovelodge.com). The Italian-owned Calamia Eco-Resort offers 11 romantic bungalows and is completely solar-powered. There's no air conditioning, but the beautiful setting and environmentally-friendly stance more than makes up for this. The Mediterranean-style Seagull Cove Lodge offers six stand-alone cabins with creature comforts such as air conditioning, satellite TV, and hairdryers.
Bocas del Toro
Long an enclave for expats, Bocas del Toro is quickly becoming one of Panama's most visited regions and a hotspot for new hotel and restaurant developments. Though not complete when I visited, 9 Degrees Restaurant and Lounge (tel. 727-9400) is an upscale restaurant and bar catering mostly to expats and tourists. The restaurant is currently open for dinner only, but there are plans to open up for lunch as well. The recently opened downstairs Tropical Market offers upscale produce and meats not found in most Bocas grocery stores
Guari Guari Restaurant (tel. 6575-5513) serves up a six-course set menu that changes daily; it's open for dinner only and reservations are a must. The 117-unit Playa Tortuga Resort (tel. 302-5424; www.hotelplayatortuga.com), a member of the Country Inn and Suites Family, is beach-side hotel offering lots of amenities and services, though it doesn't quite have the feel of a luxury resort. However, it's by far the best choice on Isla Colón, and those seeking complete comfort and attentive service on Colón should book here.
Advantage Panama Tours (tel. 232-6944; www.advantagepanama.com) is offering a new bird-watching tour to the tiny Emberá village of La Marea. Tours can be customized for individual groups.
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.