Casco Viejo Centro, Panama City, Panaama
The historic Casco Viejo district, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been undergoing gentrification for a number of years now, becoming the latest Central American urban hotspot for expatriates and tourists. The colorful neighborhood, home also to the country's president, has also spawned some classy boutique hotels, which now go head–to–head with downtown's skyscraper hotels in vying for visitor dollars.
Las Clementinas, which bears the same name as the popular restaurant that occupies its ground floor, is a hotel that has been reclaimed from the dilapidated ruin of an elegant 1930s edifice. After three years of renovation overseen by New York–native lawyer–turned–hotelier K.C. Hardin, both the building and its tropical garden—where a complimentary full breakfast is served—have been restored to former glory.
The hotel now comprises six suites—actually one–bedroom apartments—with identical layouts. Each features a large living room–dining room, narrow veranda, a full-sized kitchen, queen beds and an en suite bathroom that is surprisingly roomy for its compact layout. Each suite will also sleep four, thanks to a convertible sofa bed in the living room, and comfortably seat even more around the beautiful dining room table. Guests can either cook in the ultra–modern kitchen—equipped with ceramic-top stove, very large refrigerator and a full complement of dishes and utensils—or order up room service from the full menu of the downstairs restaurant.
The living areas are similarly appointed with the latest technology: iPod docking stations, high speed wireless internet (free of charge), and flat screen televisions carrying satellite programming. Even the bathrooms have their equivalent of bells and whistles: Biogena amenities, fancy bidet attachments, and raindrop showerheads in the large, beautifully tiled shower stalls.
Personalized moleskin guides also await in each suite, detailing Las Clementinas' services, which include such touches as a complimentary welcome drink and a chauffeured golf cart available to transport guests (also at no charge) around the picturesque quarter. The hotel's roof terrace, a pleasant place to enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine, affords a panoramic view of the urban skyline and even a bit of the Panama Canal.
The iconic landmarks' sister property is nearby Canal House, a 19th–century home that has been fashioned into a small hostelry with an intimate feel. It has just three units, configured to maximize privacy if the premises or shared, while representing an ideal option for families, friends or colleagues traveling together who would like to rent the entire house for themselves. (That goes for celebrities as well: when Daniel Craig was starring as James Bond in Quantum of Solace, the actor stayed all by himself in the Canal House.)
There is still plenty of room for those not electing to take the whole house, since there are two split-level suites, each of one which can sleep four. The larger of the two has a walk–in closet, a wrap–around balcony and a table for private dining; both have king–sized beds. All the Canal House units come with an extra that is out–of–the–ordinary: an iPad.
All also have access to the large main kitchen, dining room (where a complimentary breakfast is served) and library (with honor bar). As in Las Clementinas, there is free Wi–Fi connectivity and satellite TV.
Another recent boutique addition to Casco Viejo is Casa del Horno (The Oven House), an ambitious project that involved turning one of the quarter's communal baking facilities into an eight–unit, all–suite hotel. The neighborhood's distinctive Calicanto stone walls have been preserved even when it comes to the interiors, enhancing the historic atmosphere. But all the rest is spanking new and contemporary, from the Italian appliances in the full kitchens — complete with special wine refrigerators — to the LCD TVs and Sony iPod docks.
Six of the suites come with choice of king beds or two full beds, although only the former have whirlpool bathtubs. All units are in range of the hotel's free Wi–Fi.
The two penthouse suites are at the top of the Casa del Horno line: duplex units with skylights admitting natural light and private balconies. There are two bedrooms in each, one with a king and the other a queen bed; with two bathrooms as well, each suite easily accommodates four adults.
Casa del Horno is home to two restaurants, an Italian eatery and a cafe featuring fresh foods. The latter features the hotel's free enhanced continental breakfast.
Owing to the original construction of Casco Viejo's historic buildings, none of these boutique hotels have elevators. For those with no mobility issues though and who want to stroll Panama City instead of fighting traffic, these small hotels away from the skyscraper zone are a nice alternative for vacationers.
Casco Viejo Boutique Hotel Details:
Total Number of Rooms: 6
Published rates: $250–$310
Total Number of Rooms: 3
Published rates: $195–$340 ($725–$880 for the entire house)
Total Number of Rooms: 6
Published rates: $250–$350
Review and photos by Buzzy Gordon