Most of the budget hotels are in and around the Calidonia/La Exposición district. This is a busy, older neighborhood near Panama Bay, with a high concentration of cheaper hotels, most of them in a 10-block area between Avenida Perú and Avenida Cuba. Note that Avenida 3 Sur is quieter than these two major avenues, something to consider when choosing a place to stay; it’s just two blocks from the bay. There aren’t a lot of good restaurants in the area , but there are plenty of cheap places and some deliver.
Note: Some of the cheaper options, especially those with the word “pension” or “residencial” in their names, often are used by local couples needing, shall we say, a little quality alone time. This isn’t necessarily as tawdry as it sounds. While some twosomes are engaging in a financial transaction or adulterous liaison, others simply live in small houses with large families and never get any privacy at home.
In any case, these assignations happen in hotels around the world at every price level; they just tend to be more blatant at el cheapo places. If this sort of thing makes you uncomfortable, consider paying more money for a hotel that’s more discreet about guests that are not looking for a good night’s sleep.
Though a somewhat poor neighborhood, Calidonia is a bustling area and travelers generally feel safe enough here. Still, as always it pays to stay alert, especially at night, when it’s probably a good idea to get around by taxi. The neighborhood deteriorates as the street numbers go down and one approaches the Santa Ana district. I have found just a few places below Calle 28 Este I consider safe or decent enough to recommend.
Adventurous types can try one of the rock-bottom pensions along the pedestrian section of Avenida Central , but these are known hangouts for prostitutes and their customers. I don’t recommend them. That area is busy day and night, which can add a sense of safety but makes for a noisy night’s sleep. It’s unquestionably a colorful place to stay, though.