The well-established Mamallena (Casa 7-62, Calle 38 Oeste just off Avenida Central, cell 6676-6163, www.mamallena.com, starts at US$12 pp) has moved to a cool, old, two-story house with a terrace. It’s in a relatively quiet residential area of Calidonia, which, though close to Bella Vista, has not yet been discovered by developers.
The hostel, which is partnered with the newer, instantly popular Hostel Mamallena in Boquete, is better looking than most: The ceilings are high, the tile floors are lovely, and there’s art on the walls. Movies are shown on a big-screen TV in the front living area. Facilities include two 8-bed dorms and one 12-bed dorm (the 12-bedder is actually less crowded). Mattresses are thin but decent, and management told me they were planning to upgrade them soon.
Stays include the ubiquitous pancake breakfast. There are also a dozen small private rooms with shared bathrooms (US$27.50 s/d) that are dark and a bit cell-like but basically okay, with semi-orthopedic mattresses, in a separate building set in a “rock garden” (i.e., gravel backyard), which also has attractive, custom-made wooden picnic tables and hammocks and serves as a common area for the hostel. The private rooms are popular and fill up fast. Both private and dorm rooms have air-conditioning 9 P.M.–8 A.M.
There’s good security and the hostel offers good-value tours, including a full-day sampling of the Caribbean-side attractions (Fuerte San Lorenzo, Portobelo, Gatun Locks, plus a visit to the zipline ride if people want to pay extra for that) for US$45. There are also tours of Lago Bayano. There’s a book exchange and shared kitchen. Airport transfers are available for US$17 per person (US$4 more if traveling alone).
Pensión Las Torres (Calle 36 and Calle Perú, tel. 225-0172, starts at US$15 s/d) is a very friendly place. It consists of 24 rooms in a converted house, built in 1931, that retains its original Spanish tile and other old touches that give the place character and an almost Moroccan air. A tiny fan-cooled room with shared bathroom goes for US$15 s/d. Large rooms with air-conditioning, cable TV, and private hot-water bathroom are also available starting at US$18 s/d. Rooms are spartan but funky and the beds are decent.
If you think of it as a hostel that has only private rooms, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. This is a good budget place away from the normal tourist haunts—the one weird thing about it is that the rooms with private baths don’t have bathroom doors, which can be awkward if you’re sharing a room. Note that the entrance to the place is hidden behind bushes and a bit hard to find.
The five-story Hotel Ideal (Calle 17 near Calle I, tel. 262-2400, $22/25.60 s/d) is one of the last remnants of a certain strain of wackiness that used to flourish in Panama City (ask a local about the bizarre and sadly missed Restaurante La Cascada, for instance). The hotel lost a lot of customers when the Tica bus terminal moved from here to Albrook a few years back, but it remains a popular, if ramshackle, budget-lodging option. It’s hard to do justice to this place in words, but let’s just say pink flamingos and garden gnomes would fit in nicely. The ceiling and walls of the lobby are covered with mirrored discs, for instance.
The rooms are old and a bit shabby (ask to see several), but they have good air-conditioning, private bathrooms with hot water, and TVs. Lockers in the lobby are US$0.25. Be sure to check out the sailfish fountains by the pool. There’s a basic cafeteria and, next door, a self-service launderette (US$0.50–US$1 wash, US$1–1.50 dry, 7:30 A.M.–7:30 P.M. daily). The hotel is right across the street from a large public clinic, Policlínica President Remón, which contains a pharmacy (7 A.M.–7 P.M. Mon.–Fri.).
The nine-story Pensión Monaco (Avenida Cuba between Calle 28 Este and Calle 29 Este, tel. 225-2573, marting [at] cwpanama [dot] net, US$18 s/d) is one of the best budget hotels in Panama City. Opened in late 2002, it offers large modern rooms with a breakfast table, spacious bathrooms, air-conditioning, and cable TV. Mattresses are thin but okay. Rooms are unadorned but feature attractive wooden furniture.
Hotel Andino Andino (Calle 35 Este between Avenida Perú and Vía España, tel. 225-1162 or 225-0702, www.hotelandino.net, US$24.20 s/d) has 40 large, spartan air-conditioned rooms with cable TV and beds that have seen better years. Rooms with two beds are US$3 more. The word “functional” comes to mind at this worn but okay place. It’s a decent value. There’s a bar/restaurant on the premises.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition