Located in the heart of Panama City’s Financial District, the Bristol incorporates the art, architecture, and history of the country into a hotel experience that welcomes guests with warm Latin America hospitality. It’s sophisticated enough for international guests doing business at one of the many financial institutions in the neighborhood, yet casual enough for pre- and post-cruise guests.
It had been years since I had been to Panama, back before the return of the Canal to Panama, and I was curious to see if, and how, things had changed. I didn’t research and decide to stay at the Bristol. I took the path of least resistance and extended my pre-cruise stay there. I’m glad I did.
Getting to Panama City from the west coast of the U.S. is a long slog, and we arrived late at night. We were tired and hungry, and very glad that we had arranged a car service through the hotel (price varies $30-40) as we were not in the mood to deal with negotiating a taxi on our own. It’s about 12 miles from the airport to the hotel, a drive of about 30-45 minutes, depending on traffic.
The hotel could be easily missed, its drive-through entrance is set back from the street, but we noted its graceful presence even at night. We were warmly welcomed by the front desk staff and assured that there was plenty of time to get to our room and then have dinner. Our first impression of the hotel was based on the restaurant, rather than the room, and fortunately it set a wonderful tone for our stay.
Salsipuedes is just a few steps from the front desk and features a variety of Panamanian gourmet dishes. It’s named for one of the city’s legendary streets and roughly translates to “leave if you can.” The cushy environment, food, and service tempted us to stay, but we were ready to drop into bed rather than linger over our late dinner.
We had a deluxe room that was spacious and comfortable, with decor that combined the best features of elegant and contemporary in shades of gold, cream, and white. Turn down service had left our robes, slippers, and a chocolate waiting for us. Most rooms don’t have much of a view, this is the city after all, so if that’s important to you, request a corner room on one of the higher floors. Other room features included a lounge chair, desk, armoire, and a huge bathroom with a walk-in shower and large soaking tub. Wi-fi has strong bandwidth and is complimentary.
The Bristol is a combination of hotel rooms and condos, so if you’ll be staying longer – or are traveling with a larger family – consider book one of the condos suites. Or, if you’re one of the many ex-pats who fall in love with the country, there are still some available for purchase.
Breakfast is included with most rates and is served in the 8°58′ Lounge on the 5th floor. Selection was extensive, without being ridiculous, and there were plenty of choices that included both the typical breakfast choice as well as local specialties. We didn’t visit during the evening, but I was told there was entertainment to accompany cocktails and tapas (small plates). If the evening fare is half as good as breakfast, we missed out by passing this by.
We popped up to the 25th floor for a visit to the Spa and intended to make an appointment for the following day. The spa menu included the expected facials, massages, and body treatments, and prices were about 20% less than what I’d expect at a hotel at home. Our days of sightseeing got away from us and we never made that appointment, though. Some of the rate packages include spa discounts, we had a $25 discount card left in our room, making this a great bargain – as well as a relaxing one – during your busy travels.
The hotel has several areas for conversation, a small space in the lobby, a row of desks with Apple computers between the lobby and the restaurant, and a small bar area between the lobby and the elevator bank. All public space are richly decorated with marble, a palette of neutral colors, and local art.
Our days were spent sightseeing, and the Bristol is well located for that. The historic Old City of Panama, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a short taxi ride away, and once there you’ll museums (I highly recommend the Panama Canal Museum), shops, restaurants and cafes, and historic sites. Have your taxi drop you off on the water side and then wander your way through the winding back streets of the neighborhood. Shops offer the usual tourist fare, with a few artisan options. If you’re looking for a more modern shopping experience, you’ll need to head to one of the malls with plenty of exclusive shops. Although we were comfortable exploring on our own, the hotel concierge can set up and get you booked on a more structured tour. Casinos are also nearby.
The Bristol is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and is located at Avenida Aquilino de la Guardia in Panama City. Rates start around $150 per night and include breakfast. Parking is $15 per day, but space is limited. You can also compare rates and book your reservation at The Bristol through Expedia or Hotels.com.
Disclosure: Our stay at the Bristol in Panama City was sponsored, in part, by UnCruise Adventures.