The 363-room Hotel Riande Continental and Casino (Vía España and Calle Ricardo Arias, tel. 263-9999, www.hotelesriande.com , US$176 s/d), right on busy Vía España, is another old Panama City  landmark, but it’s benefited from a tasteful remodeling that transformed it to an upscale business hotel. It’s part of the Riande chain, which also owns the Hotel Granada and the Riande Aeropuerto Hotel and Resort near the international airport. Everyone refers to it simply as the Hotel Continental.
All the rooms are nice, but some are bigger and more elegantly appointed than others; ask to see several. The hotel has a restaurant, cafeteria, small pool, and casino. There are often promotional deals of various kinds here. Check to see if the “Riande Club of Coronado” packages are available; they include day beach/golf passes and transfers to Coronado. One tower of the hotel is exclusively for “female executives.”
The Panama Marriott Hotel (Calle 52 at Calle Ricardo Arias, tel. 210-9100, fax 210-9110, www.marriott.com , US$197 s/d) is quite an elegant place, with 295 rooms (and dozens more on the way), a small pool, a fitness center, a spa, and a pleasant, upscale cafeteria but no formal restaurant. There’s also a deli with sandwiches and salads. Ask for a corner room; they’re the largest of the standard rooms, which come with the usual business-hotel amenities. Corporate and other special rates are often available. There are six wheelchair-accessible rooms on the lower floors. This place is one of the most popular of the higher-end hotels. It’s an attractive place in a central location, with lots of dining, shopping, and entertainment options an easy walk away. Be alert wandering near the hotel at night.
Hotel Lé Meridien (Avenida Balboa and Calle Uruguay, tel. 297-3200, www.starwoodhotels.com , US$250 s/d) is a new member of the ever-expanding hotel portfolio of local-developer Empresas Bern that also includes the InterContinental Miramar next door and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort . This one goes for a hipster-chic ambiance reminiscent of a W Hotel, down to the electronic-lounge beats pulsating through the shiny lobby. Its 111 rooms feature modern, minimalist furnishings that suggest a nicely appointed frequent-fliers lounge. There’s a restaurant, a spa, and a small pool that, at least until the surrounding buildings are completed, may not be the most comfortable spot for female sunbathers, as it draws unwelcome attention from construction workers next door.
The location is convenient for those with business in the financial district or who want to explore the Calle Uruguay nightspots, but it’s a bit isolated otherwise, especially at night. Note that if you ask the reception to call you a cab, you’ll get a tourist taxi that is authorized to charge several times the street-taxi rate. It should be easy to catch a cab on Avenida Balboa or up Calle Uruguay if you prefer. (Note: Shortly after Lé Meridien opened, Google searches were confusing it with Hotel El Panamá.)
Built in 1951, the Hotel El Panamá (Vía España next to Iglesia del Carmen, tel. 215-9000 or 215-9181, www.elpanama.com , US$238 s/d) was for many years Panama’s premier hotel. It has 330 rooms, including some cabañas by the large, attractive pool. The hotel has changed hands and been renovated repeatedly over the years, but one thing remains constant: The service is lousy. Because of its international name recognition (the only reason it’s listed here), it still draws a lot of guests, many of whom are on package holidays and determined to see who can be louder and more obnoxious. For the money, you can do better elsewhere without the potential hassle. However, frequent promotional offers can slash the rates, and it is centrally located.
Hotel DeVille (Calle Beatriz M. de Cabal near Calle 50, tel. 206-3100 or 263-0303, www.devillehotel.com.pa , starts at US$286) is an elegant, rather formal boutique hotel with four types of rooms: deluxe rooms, junior suites, two-bedroom duplex suites, and grand luxury suites. The “deluxe” is a spacious room with the simplest furnishings. It features a marble-tiled bathroom, high ceilings, a high-speed Internet connection, sitting area, and in-room safe.
The junior suite is quite opulent, with highly polished dark woods, antique Vietnamese furniture inlaid with mother of pearl, a large bathroom with two sinks, a fax machine, and so on. The duplex suite resembles the junior suite but has an upper level with a bedroom and second bath. The grand luxury suite, oddly, isn’t quite as luxurious as the duplex suites. Amusingly enough, given the (at best) ambivalent feelings towards Teddy Roosevelt in Panama, one of the suites is named for him. Even the fanciest suites, though more luxurious than the average overnight guest would need during a short stay, can be a decent value for families or groups. Art from local galleries is displayed in the lobby.
The ultramodern Radisson Decapolis Hotel (behind the Multicentro Mall on Avenida Balboa, tel. 215-5000, toll-free U.S./Canada tel. 800/395-7046, www.radisson.com , rack rates start at US$270 s/d) is “inspired by the avant-garde hip hotels” of Europe and North America. It’s quite an impressive place that will appeal to those who prefer the sleek and streamlined over Old World elegance. Note: Try to book as far in advance as possible. Sufficiently advance bookings can knock about US$100 off the rack rate. Many other promotional offers are typically available.
Opened in mid-2004, it’s a 29-story concoction of brushed stainless steel and glass, including a glass elevator that goes to the 14th floor and is worth the ride just for the view. Traditional Panamanian elements—mola patterns, devil masks, ships—inform the modern decor. The standard rooms are quite large, sleek, attractive, and minimalist, with photo blowups of Panama’s indigenous peoples over the beds and large windows looking out on the view.
The view is spectacular on the ocean side, particularly on the higher floors, offering a panorama that encompasses Panama Bay, the towers of Paitilla, and, in some rooms, Casco Viejo . (Note, however, that the same hotel group is building the absolutely massive Megapolis “condo hotel” towers, sometimes known as the Meagalopolis, right next door, so those on the west side of the Decapolis may lose much or all of their view.)
Each room at the Decapolis has a safe, ironing board, hair dryer, coffeemaker, Internet connection, cable TV, and so forth, and English- and Spanish-language newspapers are delivered daily.
Other features include the equally striking Fusion restaurant , a martini/sushi lobby bar, a tiny pool on the 4th floor with a hot tub and bar, and several executive floors, including two exclusively for businesswomen. The hotel’s spa, Aqua, has some exercise machines and offers a full range of spa services, including facials, sauna, and steam baths. The hotel connects through a walkway with the new, glitzy Majestic Casino and the Multicentro Mall.
From the outside, the Bristol (Calle Aquilino de la Guardia between Calle 51 and Calle 52, just down from the Hotel Ejecutivo, tel. 264-0000 or 265-7844, www.thebristol.com , rack rates start at US$390 s/d) is a nondescript, salmon-colored building that’s easy to overlook, especially now that bigger buildings are going up all around it. (This includes a Bristol-owned apartment complex going up right next to the hotel. Find out if construction is finished before booking here because the noise detracts from the stay.)
Inside, however, the Bristol is a lovely boutique hotel. It’s quite a luxurious place. Standard rooms are “deluxe,” and they truly are. All the rooms are lovely and tastefully done. The furnishings are elegant, with local touches such as mola pillows and lamp bases made from Ngöbe-Buglé sandstone figurines. The attached Restaurante Barandas  is attractive and one of Panama City ’s most ambitious. Note that this isn’t a huge resort. If you want a pool and several restaurants to choose from, try the Sheraton Panama Hotel and Convention Center or InterContinental Miramar; this place is more low-key.
The Hotel InterContinental Miramar Panama (Avenida Balboa, tel. 206-8888, fax 223-4891, www.miramarpanama.com , rack rates US$330 s/d) is on the middle of Avenida Balboa and has great views of the Pacific and the Panama City skyline. With the building of the Cinta Costera , however, it’s no longer on the edge of the bay but rather on a landfill island between these two major traffic arteries. It’s a 185-room luxury hotel that’s part of the InterContinental chain and comes with the works: two restaurants, a largish pool, a health spa, tennis court, several bars, and so on. It’s about due for an upgrade but is still a comfortable place to stay. All rooms have an “executive desk,” three phones, broadband access, minibar, safe, and other amenities. The best things about the hotel are its views and attractive pool.
The new Finisterre Suites and Spa (Avenida 3A Sur and Calle Colombia, tel. 214-9200, www.fspty.com , starts at US$280 s/d for a master suite) is shaping up to be a handsome-looking place. It consists of 126 suites in a new tower just off Vía España across from the Iglesia del Carmen . The smallest and least expensive of these is the 600-square-meter executive suite, which features a king or two double beds, a couple of sofa beds, a 32-inch LCD TV, a dining area, fully equipped kitchen, etc., etc., all decorated in understated modern taste. Check for promotional packages.