Panama has plenty of lodging options. "Hotel" isn't the only tag you'll find on accommodation: hospedaje, pensión, casa de huespedes, and posada also denote somewhere to stay. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what each name means, though hotels and posadas tend to be higher-end places, whereas hospedajes, pensiones, and casas de huespedes are small, often family run. A residencial is usually a by-the-hour sort of place. Breakfast isn't always included in the room price.
The usual big international chain hotels have rooms and facilities equal to those at home, but may lack a sense of place. If five-star luxury isn't your top priority, the best deals are undoubtedly with midrange local hotels. Granted, there's no gym or conference center, but comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, hot water, and more local character often come at a fraction of the cost of a big chain.
Lodges—both eco- and not-quite-so—are the thing in Guna Yala and the mountains of Central Panama and Chiriquí. Some are way off the beaten path, so plan on staying a few nights to offset travel time.
Assume that hotels offer no meals unless we specify that they serve breakfast, some meals, all meals, or are all-inclusive with all meals and most activities).
Apartment and House Rentals
Short-term furnished rentals are increasingly common in Panama. Airbnb has the widest selection of rentals, in the city and provinces. Villas International mainly offers premium villa and apartment rentals. VRBO has an ample selection of accommodations all over the country.
Villas International. 800/221–2260; www.villasintl.com.
The Panamanian definition of B&B might not coincide with yours: the term is frequently extended to luxury hotels that happen to include breakfast in their price. Indeed, these make up most of the pickings at BnBFinder.com. BedandBreakfast.com lists a small but authentic selection of B&Bs. For cheap, family-run places, search for 'guesthouses' on Travellers' Point.
Travellers' Point. www.travellerspoint.com.
In addition to hotels and hostels, Panama does a brisk trade in so-called eco-lodges, most of which are in the mountains of Central Panama and Chiriquí or Guna Yala. If you are seriously interested in sustainable accommodation, it pays to do your research. The term eco-lodge is used freely, sometimes simply to describe a property in a rural or jungle location rather than somewhere that is truly sustainable. The International Ecotourism Society offers tips to help you organize a truly green vacation. Responsible Travel is an online travel agency for ethical holidays.
The International Ecotourism Society. www.ecotourism.org.
Responsible Travel. www.responsibletravel.com.