Panama’s Capital Has What Costa Rica’s Doesn’t… and This New, Award-Winning Boutique Hotel Will Show You Why

Yes, Costa Rica is fabulous, but have you ever considered visiting more wallet-friendly Panama? The two both boast boundless rainforest landscapes plus Caribbean- and Pacific-fringing beaches. But what Costa Rica’s capital lacks, Panama’s has (and no, it’s not just a gargantuan canal): For starters, the latter’s eponymous capital equips a hyper-modern airport with a carved niche as the go-to stopover for those traveling to/from Central and South America (NYC is a 4.5-hour flight); an impressive skyline with soaring sea-spying skyscrapers that pose semblances to Miami; as well as a bubbly UNESCO World Heritage-designated neighborhood called Casco Viejo, where mazes of walkable streets homing Spanish Colonial-style edifices wear eye-catching colors. 

Casco Viejo concocts shops selling everything under the sun (there’s a plethora of Panamanian hat stores), an assortment of restaurants, a few coffee shops (You heard it here: Panama’s cup-of-joe game is superb), and a budding boutique hotel scene. 

Among these newly-minted stays is the award-winning Hotel La Compañia. 

Originally a Jesuit convent, the hotel’s architectural provenance dances around its historical ties, officially demarcated into three wings: the Spanish Colonial, built in 1688; French Colonial, constructed in 1739; and American, built in 1904. 

The storied stay features 88 upscale guestrooms, many with balconies towards the hotel’s centerpiece courtyard, where you can see all of the different wings. 

Drinking and dining opportunities are aplenty here, with five in-house restaurants and two enlivening bars (seven food & beverage establishments in boutique hotels akin to this size are unheard of in the hospitality world). Enjoy quintessential French gastronomy at French Bistro 1739; poke your fork into Panamanian, Indian, Spanish, and Asian plates at El Santuario; indulge in American food at American Bazaar, a tasty restaurant recreated from a 1904-constructed department store; savor Italian dishes at Luigi’s; or delve into Peruvian and Japanese dishes at Hari’s. 

Guests can soak up Central America’s warm temperatures and dip their toes into the hotel’s angular rooftop pool, which, in addition to lying beside a lounge chair-lined terrace and zingy bar called Capella, offers sensational views of Panama City. 

The hotel’s tantalizing spa invites guests to unwind through its smattering of treatments. Sign up for the Cacao Experience: a nourishing massage and exfoliation comprising thousands of tiny pieces of Panamanian cocoa from the nearby farms found in Bocas del Toro. You’ll leave the table with smooth-looking skin. 

Those who need a workout can lift weights or run on treadmills at the hotel’s fifth-floor gym—a few machines are outside so you can enjoy breaking a sweat under the sun.

Opening soon down the street and helmed by the hotel is Villa Ana, a multi-level building that will have a handful of restaurants, each with a different theme. 

Outside of shared verdant rainforests and scenic beaches, it’s safe to say Panama City offers more than Costa Rica’s San José: oodles of nonstop flights, a centuries-old neighborhood getting more exciting by the day due to thoughtful refurbishments (shoutout to Hotel La Compañia for being the bijou of Casco Viejo), towering skyscrapers, and an iconic canal are just a few of the perks you’ll find when visiting the former—and to that tune, you can decide if you want to treat your time there as a stopover for a couple of days before exploring the rest of Panama or other parts of Latin America, or as the location for the entirety of your trip.  

Top Takeaways

Location: Panama City, Panama (Casco Viejo)

Rating: Five-Star

The vibe: History here, history there, history everywhere (and a plethora of luxe modern comforts to go with all of it). 

What’s your favorite thing about the hotel?: We have two answers here: One is the clutch of spa treatments that we haven’t seen elsewhere, from the aforementioned Cacao Experience to the Heritage Stones Experience—a massage with hot stones from 1688 that relax muscles, reduce inflammation, and stimulate circulation, ending with a cocoa-based mask that rejuvenates all applicants; second to that, we love the hotel’s rooftop pool & bar (lay on one of the sunloungers come golden hour and you’ll see what we mean). 

Food & Drink: The hotel has five in-house restaurants and two bars. Savor traditional French cuisine at the French Bistro 1739, or sample a fusion of Panamanian, Indian, Spanish and Asian delights at El Santuario. For classic American favorites, visit American Bazaar, an exceptional restaurant recreated from a department store dating back to 1904. Indulge in authentic Italian dishes at Luigi’s or enjoy a colorful display of Peruvian and Japanese delicacies with friends at Hari’s. 

Amenities: Wine cellar, pool, bars, restaurants, Free-WI-FI, spa, gym, and courtyard

Any neighborhood recs?: Order a latte (or sign up for a 30-minute coffee tasting) at Sisu roasters, then segue with lunch at modern Panamanian restaurant Lo Que Hay (you’ll love the backyard patio here, where each meal beckons an order of Lemon Flan to finish). 

What’s nearby?:  Parque de la Plaza Central, Presidential Palace, Canal Museum of Panama, Plaza de la Independencia, and Bridge of the Americas (two miles away)

Pricing: $325/night

Rooms: 88

Closest airport: Tocumen International Airport

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