There are several places to stay in or on the outskits of Colón. The four listed here are the best and safest. Those staying in Colón should eat at their hotel. Otherwise, a reasonably safe dining option away from downtown Colón is Café Iguana (in Colón 2000, tel. 447-3570 and 447-3956, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat.US$5–12). In the Colón 2000 cruise port/shopping center, the café is upstairs and on the right as you face the complex.
It’s a simple but pleasant place to eat if the air conditioner is working, with photos from the Panama Canal construction era on the wall and Middle Eastern music on the stereo. People come here for the Lebanese food, but other options include Mexican food, sandwiches, burgers, fish, meats, and pastas. If nothing on the menu looks appealing, there’s also a Subway sandwich shop in the Colón 2000 complex as well as a few other restaurants and cafés.
The Meryland Hotel (corner of Calle 7 and Santa Isabel next to Parque Sucre, tel. 441-7055, 441-5309, or 441-7127, www.hotelmeryland.com, US$38.50 s, US$49.50 d). The hotel was built in 2000 in a quiet, sparsely settled part of town. There’s a long, narrow park outside and lots of school kids passing by on school days. It definitely feels like the safest place to stay in town. It’s a modern, clean place with cheerful neo-Spanish colonial decor featuring lots of glossy tile and ornate iron fixtures.
Amazingly, the paint in the rooms started peeling soon after the hotel opened. All rooms have air-conditioning, cable TV, and phones. The hotel has parking and an Internet café. There’s room service from the restaurant (open until 10 P.M. Sun.–Fri., later on Sat.) on the premises. Rooms are dark and the beds need replacing, but this is still a decent value in an okay neighborhood if you need to spend the night in Colón. Some of the houses near the hotel used to be quarters for Panama Canal employees during the Canal Zone days.
The Washington Hotel (2nd Street at the northwest end of Colón, tel. 441-7133, www.newwashingtonhotel.com, US$70 s/d) is now officially known as the New Washington Hotel, but no one will ever call it that. Built by the United States in 1913 on the site of a Panama Railroad Company guesthouse erected in 1870, it was once one of Panama’s grand hotels. It was built at the order of President William H. Taft, a frequent visitor to Panama during canal construction days, first as Secretary of War and then as president. The hotel has hosted two American presidents (Taft and Warren Harding), a British prime minister (David Lloyd George), Will Rogers, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, and others. But its decay has mirrored that of Colón itself.
Those glory days are long over. The Spanish-inspired colonial building and common areas are still lovely, if tattered, with brass railings, wrought ironwork, chandeliers, painted wooden beams, and marble stairs. And the hotel is built right on the edge of the sea, with a view of ships at anchor waiting to transit the canal. But the “new” rooms are still drab and musty, with spongy beds. They’re large, however, and come with a mini-fridge. They are also significantly better than they were a couple of years ago, and more renovation work took place in 2010.
Amenities include a bar, casino, nightclub, and a large pool right next to the seawall; sea spray sometimes splashes close to the pool. It’s definitely worth a quick visit for those in the neighborhood, but most would probably prefer staying in the less historic but more comfortable surroundings of the Meryland Hotel, which has comparable rates. Note that even though the hotel feels safely removed from downtown, there have been reports of muggings on its spacious grounds.
The fairly new six-story, 103-room Hotel Radisson Colón 2000 (Colón 2000, tel. 447-1135, www.radisson.com, US$120 s/d) is the most upscale place to stay in downtown Colón and the most convenient for those with a cruise to catch. It has good security and is in Colón 2000, which is kind of the city’s Green Zone—a relatively safe part of the city. The rooms are pleasant enough, if a bit musty, and there’s a restaurant, bar, and small gym and pool, but the whole place gives off a kind of sluggish, sullen Caribbean vibe. Two rooms on the 2nd floor are available, for an extra fee, with a stark balcony that looks out over the pool, but I advise avoiding these: the pool fills up with partiers blasting music, making these potentially the loudest rooms in the hotel. Try for a room that faces away from the pool and the waterfront if peace and quiet are important to you.
The new Four Points by Sheraton Colón (Avenida A. Waked, Millennium Plaza, on the outskirts of Colón, tel. 447-1000, www.starwoodhotels.com, starts at US$209) is the fanciest place to stay on the Caribbean side of the canal area. It’s a 15-story tower in a gated shopping complex, just off the main road leading into downtown Colón, It’s in an industrial area right next to the Free Zone and close to nothing else, but it’s certainly the most secure location you could hope for in Colón. The 230 rooms are spacious, attractive, and comfortable, with floor-to-ceiling windows, but not much to look out on (though some of us find it interesting to get a bird’s-eye view on the city-within-a-city that is the Colón Free Zone). Service is friendly and attentive. Some of the rooms have a distant view of Limón Bay and the entrance to the canal. There’s a restaurant, bar, and a small pool that’s right next to the polluted Río Manzanillo.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition