Published on January 2nd, 2014 | by Mark Chesnut
HOTEL REVIEW: El Panama Hotel — Mid-Century Gem in Panama City
During my recent visit to Panama City, Panama, I was a guest for two nights at Hotel El Panama Convention Center & Casino. El Panama — which was designed by famed architect Edward Durell Stone, and opened in the 1950s as a Hilton hotel — is one of the best-known Panama City hotels, thanks in large part to its to mid-century, landmark-worthy architecture and beautiful swimming pool, both of which have welcomed some of Panama’s most celebrated guests in the decades since the hotel opened. Here’s a review of my experience.
THE STYLE: In terms of hotels, Panama City is largely a place of very old and very new; the historic Casco Antiguo is dotted with boutique-style hotels in historic buildings, while newer neighborhoods are lined with soaring, recently built skyscrapers. The 344-room El Panama Convention Center & Casino is one of the few properties that exudes a bit of mid-century modern cool. Built in the mid-20th century as the Hilton El Panama, the property was designed by world-famous architect Edward Durrell Stone. Even today, the property continues to offer an oasis of peace, with a resort-style feel, right in the middle of what is now a very bustling neighborhood called El Cangrejo. You can still experience a few of Stone’s original architectural elements, including wide, open-air corridors in the main building and a giant, amorphous swimming pool that looks like it’s straight out of a gloriously colorful 1960s movie.
GUEST ROOMS: Another advantage of staying in a property that is neither very old nor boringly new is the size of the guest rooms. I stayed on the fifth-floor Executive Floor, located in the main building, where the spacious rooms are tastefully decorated with a few splashes of colorful artwork. My room had a king-size bed with lots of pillows, plus two bathrobes, a work desk with a printer, a safe deposit box, a table with two chairs, large flat-screen walll-mounted television. The bathroom had two sinks, a glass shower and Lords & Mayfair bath amenities.
The guest room also has something that I wish every hotelier would consider providing: a channel guide, showing where to find different networks. A simple, logical thing like that can save a lot of time when you’re tired and want to find your favorite show or newscast. Another big plus is the WiFi, which is free in guest rooms and worked very well during my stay.
According to hotel management, the Executive Floor is slated for additional upgrades in the coming months, including a separate express check-in/check-out and an updated lounge that will serve drinks and snacks.
Another interesting room category option is the group of poolside rooms, which are especially convenient for anyone looking to spend lots of time at the beautiful swimming pool.
HOTEL FEATURES: A member of Summit Hotels & Resorts, which is part of the Preferred Hotel Group, the El Panama offers reasonable rates and a central location, and renovations in 2012 have updated the décor and amenities to bring it fully in line with the 21st century.
The most-photographed feature of the El Panama hotel is undoubtedly the swimming pool — a large, seductively curvaceous body of water that’s surrounded by palm trees. Unlike most hotel pools in Panama City, this one is spacious and even has a real deep end, as well as a swim-up bar. With its lush landscaping and the guest rooms that surround it, the pool area is a peaceful oasis that makes it easy to forget that you’re in the middle of a very busy city. In the coming months, plans call to upgrade the landscaping around the pool even more.
On-site dining includes Las Palmas, which features open-air seating near the pool and specializes in meats, and Mola’s a more upscale venue that sits inside the lobby. The lobby bar, Bonsai, offers an attractive place to enjoy a drink and sushi, while the Crown Casino, which sits adjacent to the lobby, offers lots of gaming excitement.
There is also a small gym and business center, plus more than 33,000 square feet of meeting space, with 25 meeting rooms.
The hotel also operates a restaurant at the Miraflores locks at the Panama Canal — appropriately named Miraflores Restaurant — and offers free transportation between the hotel and the Miraflores visitor center, for lunch or dinner, on a scheduled basis.
BEST FOR: Business travelers and leisure travelers looking for a central location, spacious rooms and a lovely pool area that will take their mind off the crowded city outside. El Panama is positioned squarely and comfortably in the middle in terms of room rates for Panama City hotels, with prices starting at about $131.
MORE PANAMA TRAVEL TIPS:
• Panama Luxury: Inside Latin America’s First Waldorf Astoria Hotel
• HOTEL REVIEW: Las Clementinas — Historic Style in Panama City
• PHOTOS: Panama City’s Casco Antiguo: Hot Neighborhood in Transition
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