on May 28, 2008
I've only stayed in one bed and breakfast in Panamá City: La Estancia. After six nights, there's really no reason to stay anywhere else.La Estancia is located in Cerro Ancón (or Ancón Hill), a nicely forested spot in the formerly U.S.-occupied Canal Zone that is now populated by many ex-pat retirees and the current President of Panamá (Torrijo). The hill is a bit isolated and some taxi drivers may find it difficult to find, but the hill itself is a prominent icon of the city that is relatively easy to spot. Fortunately, La Estancia can provide a laminated business card with contact information and a handy map on the back to guide drivers and guests to the right place.Owned by a welcoming and accommodating couple, La Estancia provides ten affordable rooms (we paid $59/night) and two spacious suites. Our room (number 8 on the first floor above the ground floor) was a bit smaller than expected--but we were there to see Panamá, not the room, and it was perfect for a couple. The room also had windows on two sides and a window in the bathroom, which provided a lot of light and a nice view. If you stay here, you may consider one of the two rooms that have a separate balcony--these rooms have two twin beds (rather than a queen) and a bathroom just across the hall, rather than en suite.Overall, the a/c was very effective, the room was clean, the furniture comfortable, the bath fixtures functional, and housekeeping was excellent at making up our room daily and keeping the bathroom stocked. However, we also noticed that one screen did not adhere to the wall completely, which may have permitted a few mosquitos to sneak in. In any case, mosquitos are unavoidable, so it is necessary to bring bug repellant. La Estancia provided a wonderful breakfast every morning: a strong but very good local brand of coffee (Durán); a mixture of fresh watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, and bananas; a variety of yogurt; cinnamon-tinged bread; cereal; and eggs, omelettes, or pancakes from the kitchen prepared by friendly staff. You can eat breakfast inside or on the two balconies that face the trees and provide a view of the Bridge of the Americas in addition to the various birds and occasional monkeys, sloths, or other animals that stop by to feast on the seeds and bananas that the staff set out every morning. One thing to remember: the breakfast is officially prepared at 7, but is often slowly made available shortly before then. If you have an early departure, such as a day trip leaving at 6:30 AM, try to make arrangements with the staff for breakfast to be made available earlier.Due to the location and the forests of Ancón Hill, one of the best features of La Estancia is the nearby wildlife. We were within twenty to thirty feet of toucans, monkeys, agoutis, other colorful birds, and even a possum during breakfast or chatting with other visitors we met from the U.S. and Canada. We also took a hike (about one mile each way) to the top of the hill, which provides a beautiful view of the city, the canal, the surrounding areas, and the largest Panamanian flag in the city. The top is considered by some as a symbol of Panamanian patriotism and is well-worth a visit. There's currently a movement to privatize the area and make way for a passenger tram, so although this is met with much resistance from locals, it's best to go while you still have the chance!Further, the B&B is in a very safe area on a curvy road leading up the hill away from the rest of the city that is guarded day and night by an officer. One side effect of this is the sense of being barricaded from the city itself, as if the original occupants of the hill believed the masses were ready to storm the hill at any moment. This is not surprising, given that it was formerly the home of U.S. military and civilians. However, it is difficult to develop an understanding of Panamanian culture when the cars parked at the local residences bear stickers that represent Germany and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, this may prod you to explore more of the city and the region rather than stay cooped up inside.Additional amenities include free internet access (one terminal is available), snacks, drinking water and beverages, and several tours of Panamá City and outlying areas through a separate tourist business called "Panoramic Panama," which is worth considering. We went on two of their nature tours and their guide for the birding trip (Mario Bernal) was top-notch!It's worth noting that although it's a beautiful location, it's also rather secluded from restaurants or nightlife. There is a nearby shopping area called Mi Pueblito, which is more like a pretty ghost town that provides some nice handmade crafts for purchase. You can also walk about 15 minutes to see the murals in the Canal Administration building. Other than that, it's probably best to take a taxi (fares are very reasonable). If you're taking a short flight out of Panama City, the regional Albrook Airport is relatively close (about $5 by taxi). We found that some of the guests were more than happy to share a ride into the city and split the taxi fare, which is also a good way to meet some new friends.The atmosphere in La Estancia is warm, bright, and friendly. The staff were always ready to answer our questions, call a taxi, or even order food for us when we weren't confident with our Spanish. Their driver also picked us up from the airport at 10 PM with a fair amount of cheer (transfers were $35 each way). We didn't see any children, but there are plenty of animals around to keep even us adults entertained. Just remember that the animals are more active in the morning and don't complain when the birds begin making racket an hour before sunrise!
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