Saturday, May 9, 2009

Panama City Hotel Reviews: Hotel Marparaiso

Henry gave me a ride to ScotiaBank, where I keep a checking account. By the way, I recommend ScotiaBank for personal checking or savings accounts. It's not perfect, but I've never experienced any real problems, the fees are reasonable, and I've never heard of ScotiaBank perpetrating the kind of customer service horror stories associated with many other banks in Panama.

After that Henry was kind enough to chauffer me around Calidonia looking for a cheap hotel. By the way, Henry and Nora run Paradise Services, an expat services and real estate company. They are great people and you simply could not find someone better to help you get settled and find property in Panama. Their website is

Back to the subject of hotels in Panama: three years ago I used to stay at the Las Vegas (in the heart of El Cangrejo) for $35 per night, but good mid-range hotel rooms have become extremely scarce in Panama due to both increased tourism and lack of new hotel construction. Prices have more doubled at the Las Vegas and it's always booked far in advance.

We drove around until Henry spotted the Marparaiso, which he had heard good things about, so we stopped and I rented a room for $40. The room was not luxurious by any means, but adequate. A bed, chair, a few small tables, a wardrobe, cable TV, and lukewarm water in the shower. I was very happy to find that they have a free internet network for guests. Oh, and check out time is 3pm! My room also had a hole in the wall that seemed to lead to a crawl space, but that's Panama. Unfinished construction and odd flaws are normal. The only real problem was a weak air conditioner that did nothing to moderate the furnace-like heat on one of the hottest days that Panama City has had lately.

I was so exhausted that it hardly mattered. I stripped naked and slept in a light sheen of sweat all afternoon long. Later I got up and showered, and went out to eat. Not feeling like spending the hour and a half that it takes to dine out in Panama, I got a Subway sandwich to go, Went to El Rey supermarket for a soda and chocolate bar, and to Farmacia Arrocha where I bought a strong desk fan. Caught a cab back to the hotel for $1.50.

The next day I asked to change rooms. All the guide books say that you should ask to see a few different rooms first, and I suppose that's good advice. The second room was far better than the first, for the same price. Better furniture, a functioning air conditioner, and a better view.

Summary: I recommend the Marparaiso for the price, but ask to see a few rooms first, and make sure the air conditioner works well. Be aware that the neighborhood is not safe for walking around at night. If you go out at night, take a taxi.

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