Should the group stay in a hotel or rent a villa? Most groups already have one or the other set in their mind, but when it comes to Panama there some pros and cons present that are different than other locations. Maybe your group went to Costa Rica and rented a house on the beach with a chef and you want to replicate that experience. This is not Costa Rica and the experience is different. Panama City is an urban metropolis with towering skyscrapers and a colonial district with renovated mansions. Embrace the Panama experience instead of trying to recreate something you did in another place. You'll have a much more unique and enjoyable time this way.
Technically Airbnbs (short term rentals) are illegal in Panama City, but that doesn’t stop owners from renting the properties or us from teaming with these property owners to promote their properties. With over 13,000 available hotel rooms in the city you can imagine that the hotel lobby had a hand in maintaining these rental laws. We’ve rented villas and hotels alike to a hundred plus groups and based on that experience I’m going to break it down based on size of group, price, noise issues, and amenities offered.
Size of the group
Given that the majority of Panama are high rise residential towers it is hard to find a stand alone house within the city limits. IF your group is dead set on a stand alone house/ mansion then expect an hour drive into downtown because that's how far away you'll begin to find these properties. The main and recommended options are located in Casco Viejo which as become the predominant nightlife district. Here, you can find apartments and villas with up to 4 bedrooms. We have deals with the building owners so you can rent out entire buildings, combining the various apartment/suite rentals inside so you can get up to 14 bedrooms. There are only about 2 or 3 properties where this is really feasible and they need to be booked with some advance notice. If you’re booking within 3 months then you’re more likely to only find fewer bedroom offerings, which means you can either sacrifice quality or go the hotel route. When it comes to larger groups of 10+ I usually recommend going the hotel route because you can guarantee privacy, space, and quality. The villa rentals or private apartments are more suitable for smaller groups of 6 or less where there is plenty of inventory to choose from.
Going the apartment/ villa will definitely be cheaper. This will run you about $40-60 per person for a decent location. If you’re looking to rent out an entire 9+ bedroom building in Casco Viejo though, the price per person will average more like $100+ per person, but compared to the 4/5 star bachelor approved hotels where you’ll be spending $150+ per person for private rooms. If you want luxury then expect to budget at least $150 per person and then sky is the limit.
A common misnomer is that going the villa route is better for protecting yourself against noise complaints. In Panama, this isn’t necessarily the case. If you decide to rent an apartment (not bachelor approved) you could run into issues with the neighbors where you could end up being greeted by the cops at your door. In the hotel, the walls are built thicker and if it’s a bachelor approved hotel, they are used to this sort of thing. Also, in case you do get the noise complaint, it’ll be hotel security or reception talking to you instead of cops. If you get an entire building in Casco then you’ll be good, but renting a single apartment may not work out in your favor vs a hotel.
This goes without saying, but hotels have more included amenities. If staying at a place like the Sortis you’ll be steps away from the casino, 7 restaurants, pool, bar, nightclub, and have 24/7 room service. None of the villas automatically include services like chef or maid. These can be added at an extra service charge on top of the listed fees, so keep that in mind if just looking at base prices. Few villas have full pools. Some of the properties we promote like Casa Arias or Casa Diez have small pools while Casa Miralta has a jacuzzi on the roof. If you’re looking for a bbq at the house, the only property we have with a bbq is Los Diamantes (apt #2). If you want to be catered to with turn down service and a pool vibe then the hotel route is the way to go. If you want that extra privacy component with the home vibe/ do it yourself then go the villa route.
Whether you decide to book a hotel or a villa have a look at our bachelor friendly properties for your trip to Panama and feel free to reach out to us with any additional questions or insight.