Published on January 21st, 2018 | by Mark Chesnut


This Central American Hotel was Designed by the Guy Behind Radio City Music Hall

During our most recent trip to Panama, my husband and I checked into one of our favorite Panama City hotels — which also happens to be the most architecturally significant of all the hotels built here in the 20th century. Here’s a hotel review of our most recent visit.

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THE STYLE: While it’s been updated several times in recent decades, the El Panama hotel still exudes mid-century cool, thanks to famed architect Edward Durell Stone — the guy behind Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — who designed this Panama City hotel in 1946. According to Wikipedia (yeah, I’m a great researcher), his 10-story Panama design “was oriented to the prevailing trade winds and employed open, single-loaded breezeways so that guest rooms could be cooled by natural ventilation instead of air conditioning.”

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Obviously, today, there is air conditioning. Most of the lobby area has been fully glassed in and air conditioned (and the guest rooms are, too). The property combines classic mid-century architecture with more updated touches (which sometimes work with, and sometimes detract from, the original style). The overall style today is rather nondescript, but it’s certainly clean and attractive enough, and the hotel is widely regarded as one of the best mid-priced hotels in Panama City, Panama.

THE GUEST ROOMS: Two groups of rooms provide very different experiences at Hotel El Panama. Most of the guest rooms are in the main building (where I had stayed in previous visits). But this time we decided to splurge on one of the pool front cabana rooms. In our case, it just happened to be the excitingly named room 007.

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Our room was amply sized, with two entrances: One a sliding-glass door from a patio that looks out at the pool, and another traditional door that connects to an interior corridor. The room was spacious and attractive, with wood furnishings and white tones. A small divider with a circular stained-glass window divides the king-size bed area from what appears to be designed as a living area (perfect for a couch), but instead there was just a cabinet for setting a suitcase — bad planning by the current management.

There was a desk, wall-mounted flatscreen TV, and a small bathroom with shower that has tacky opaque sliding door. The hotel WiFi was spotty but the reception desk kindly reset our computers and cell phones to use the social area WiFi, which worked fine.

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HOTEL FEATURES: The giant kidney-shaped swimming pool is by far the best single feature at Hotel El Panama — it’s like a step back in time to when expansive pools with green landscaping were the main focal point of luxury hotels (BTW, this is one of my absolute favorite hotel pools in Panama City — it’s one of the few that provides a visual respite from the bustling city).

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Also noteworthy at Hotel El Panama was the free welcome cocktail (which we sipped at the attractive little lobby bar). There are two full-service restaurants — one open-air by the pool, and one off the lobby. We made good use of the small gym, and there’s also a large casino and 33,000 square feet of meeting space.

COST: About $86 and up (cabana rooms are more expensive).

BEST FOR: Business and leisure travelers looking for a mid-priced hotel in a central location with decent features.

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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