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Must-Do List For Panama

 “I will be in Panama from Dec. 13 through Dec. 21 on vacation. I’m wondering if you have a list of must-do recommendations, as well as perhaps some hotel suggestions? I’m hoping to spend time in the city and also at the beach (coming from New York in December, I’ll be in need of some warm weather beach time!).

— Alexandra R., United States

Here are Panama City hotels I’d recommend, in different price ranges:

For less than US$70/night, consider:

Hotel Milan

Hotel El Parador

These two hotels are on the same street in El Cangrejo, which is a good location, central and lively. You could walk to bars, restaurants, cafes, etc.

In the US$150 to US$300 range, consider:

Hotel Veneto

Bristol Hotel (the best hotel in the city in my experience)

Four Points Sheraton (where we’re holding our Live and Invest in Panama Conference Feb. 24-26, 2010)

Here’s a beach hotel, comfortable and on a nice property about a half-hour outside downtown Panama City: Intercontinental Playa Bonita

And here’s another beach hotel, my personal favorite, a resort community developed by the people behind Panama City’s Bristol Hotel: Buenaventura This is the most upscale and charming beach property within easy driving distance of the city (about an hour-and-a-half away). The construction (of the hotel, the clubhouse, the condos attached to the hotel, etc.) is Spanish colonial, the landscaping is lovely, and the hotel restaurant is five-star.

Here’s the biggest rain forest resort property, about 45 minutes from downtown (good for hiking, bird watching, etc.): Gamboa Rainforest Resort

On the Caribbean side (Isla Grande), this is the best choice: Bananas Resort.

I’ve visited or stayed at all these places. They’re all worth experiencing at least once. However, I wouldn’t return to any of them for longer than a night or two, with the exception of Buenaventura, where I’d happily retreat for a week or longer (if I could persuade Lief to go along with the idea…Buenaventura isn’t cheap).

These places are all accessible, though, so here’s what I’d recommend: Spend a couple of nights in each one. Do some touring, etc., in each location. That’d give you a good overview of the country, a good first impression of what Panama has to offer.

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