Above: Panama City skyline and harbor

Panama City Hotel Discoveries

Until recently, most visitors to Panama City were either business travelers or tourists pausing in the capital on their way to the beaches and rainforests of the isthmus. But the city is now evolving into a colorful destination, with activities and attractions worthy of a three- to four-night stay.

We decided to spend our first few days in the historic Casco Viejo quarter, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. Bypassing the dense skyscrapers, our driver took the Corredor Sur along the Pacific coastline to “Old Town.” There, the restored colonial buildings have been converted into high-end restaurants, boutiques, artisanal markets and hotels. An emerging cultural hub for artists and designers, the neighborhood is currently a maze of construction sites. Fortunately, the government has imposed stringent regulations. Architects have free rein in the interiors of buildings, but they must restore frontages to their original styles.

Las Clementinas

Having read several positive reviews about Las Clementinas, a six-suite hideaway hotel with a gourmet restaurant on the edge of Casco Viejo, we were greatly looking forward to our stay. Alas, the experience failed completely to live up to expectations. Our driver stopped in front of a grand 1930s apartment building with an unremarkable door. Unsure whether we were at the wrong address or had come to a rear entrance, we walked into a small, dark room with concrete walls and a scratched-wood table covered in paperwork. Neither a doorman nor a receptionist greeted us. A few minutes later, a man appeared and, having reviewed our reservation with indifference, nonchalantly said that the hotel’s only restaurant — one of our primary reasons for our stay — was closed. There being no elevator, he gruffly agreed to help carry one of our bags to our room. The two flights of steep stone steps looked as though they hadn’t been mopped since the hotel’s debut in 2010.

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