Published on July 9th, 2011 | by Mark Chesnut

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Panama City, Panama


The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower Panama has made some headlines since opening its doors this past week in Panama City, Panama (the 70-story building is being labeled as the tallest building in Latin America, although the Gran Torre Costanera in Santiago de Chile will match or beat that title when it opens in 2012). But Trump’s publicity-friendly name isn’t the only reason you should be planning a Panama City vacation. Here are the top reasons you should have this Central American hotspot on your itinerary. 

1. The Historic Heart. The Casco Antiguo, the city’s historic downtown, is populated with a marvelously eclectic range of landmark-worthy architecture. And it’s looking better than ever, as restoration efforts continue and interesting new businesses sprout up, such as the quirky art gallery/restaurant Diablo Rosso and the upscale boutique hotels Canal House (where Daniel Craig stayed while filming the James Bond Flick “Quantum of Solace”) and its sister hotel, Las Clementinas. Watch for the opening of the Gran Evenia Hotel & Spa/Hotel Central, a completely new construction behind the facade of one of the city’s original grande dame hotels. 

2. The Canal: It’s been around for more than a century, but the Panama Canal is no less impressive than when it first opened. The current expansion project — which will widen and deepen existing channels and add two new sets of locks — are bringing this feat of engineering into the 21st century. Head to the Miraflores Visitors Center to get the details, and watch a ship or two transit the locks. Local tour operator EcoCircuitos offers excellent tours that range from half-day excursions to multi-day trips throughout Panama. 

3. The Food and Culture: Considering that Panama City is an international hub for finance, business and transportation, it’s no surprise that the cuisine is quite international. But don’t leave without sampling a few Panamanian specialties, including patacones (fried green plantains), sancocho (a rich stew), carimañolas (made from yucca and stuffed with pork) and fresh-caught seafood. A fun — albeit touristy — place to sample an array of these dishes is Tinajas, a restaurant that stages an entertaining dinner show of traditional Panamanian dance. 

Her name is Riu: The lobby of the Riu Panama Plaza Hotel.

4. The Hotels: Few cities in the hemisphere — or perhaps the planet — are experiencing a surge of hotel construction as great as Panama City. Now, you can choose from an array of stylish luxury hotels to suit a variety of tastes. Among the best new choices are the colorful and swanky Riu Panama Plaza (Riu Hotels official web site), the luxurious Le Meridien Panama and the lovely, apartment-style Esplendor Panama. The Bristol, meanwhile, continues to be a top choice for traditional luxury, and the Miramar InterContinental offers among the best views from its soaring waterfront tower ( InterContinental Hotels and Resorts – Click here). Still to come: The Panamera, the only Waldorf-Astoria in all of Latin America, and the 1,499-room Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis, Hard Rock’s first hotel in Central America. 

Roundabout: Revolution Tower is one of Panama City’s most-photographed new skyscrapers.

5. The Progress: Visiting Panama City offers a rare opportunity to witness a metropolis truly in transition, on a grand scale. It’s with good reason that Panama City has been compared to Dubai and Singapore. Sparkling skyscrapers continue to sprout as if they’d never heard the term “global recession.” A brand-new bus system is replacing the clanky old service, while plans call for a shiny new metro rail system to improve transportation options even further. You can drive along the Cinta Costera, the city’s redesigned waterfront boulevard, en route to Multiplaza, the most upscale of Panama’s shopping malls, to browse the top international designer wear on display. Panama City’s international airport, a major connecting hub thanks to fast-growing Copa Airlines, continues to expand. And thousands of hotel rooms are still in the works — along with an attention-getting new museum, the Biomuseo, designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry. This is a city on the move. 

For More:
Boomtown Central America: Panama City’s Hotel Scene (my Orbitz Business Travel Blog) 
VIDEO: The Last Days of the Diablo Rojo, Panama’s Legendary Bus
• LatinFlyer’s Panama travel section (including hotel reviews and travel tips)

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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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