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We Drifters are constantly amazed with the surfeit of really decent accommodation deals that are to be had on the road, and we love pointing these places out. This ongoing post deals with some of the various hotels we have stayed at along the way; much of them fondly recalled. Some of them are best left forgotten!

The above photo is not representative of any particular room, we will just be using it as the “title” photo for this recurring piece simply because we really like it! Photos of the actual hotel/accommodation in question will be featured within the post below.

If we recommend a hotel we will sum up our review with our Drifter’s Recommendation -“Drift On In!”

If we suggest you look elsewhere for a room we will tell you – “Keep On Drifting!”

We receive no compensation for these reviews.


Hotel Ideal, Panama City, Panama

Address

Calle 17 Este, Panama City, Panama

Telephone: 507 262 2400

Price

Panama tends to be a bit pricier than most of Central America when it comes to hotels, but we were happy to score this room for $18 per night for a double bed with private bath.

An Overview

The Hotel Ideal’s glory days have long since faded and you can’t help but notice this as you make your way through the not-so-chic crumbling, peeling shell of it’s former self. If you’ve not had a chance to check your reflection today, fear not; the lobby and foyer will have you seeing yourself from every angle with it’s kaleidoscope of mirrors. It is 70’s disco with a hint of old Vegas, catering to a revolving door of repeat clientele and a few budget seeking travellers.

If you end up staying here, do yourself a favour and take yourself on a tour of the premises. Your amazed gaze will be treated to a pool that hasn’t seen water in many a year, complete with a rockery of bizarre and colourful characters, all of which are offset by the rusted-out overhanging roofs littered with equally rusty beer cans and random rebar poking through cracked concrete. All of this is after you’ve been greeted by the pink and blue broken concrete sailfish by the main entryway. If you like quirky or trippy, you’ve come to the right place!

Location

This hotel is very centrally located in the Santa Ana neighbourhood. The area is definitely a bit rough around the edges and does not quite exude the same crumbling, yet quaint colonial appeal as the nearby up-and-coming Casco Viejo neighbourhood.

What’s The Deal?

As previously mentioned, we got a double bed with private bathroom, and some of the most reliable hot water and water pressure during our travels in Panama. We also got some bed bug bites! The room itself was clean and sometimes bed bug bites just come with the territory of budget digs; sometimes they too like to live it up and opt for a bit of a luxury pad. Bed bugs are travellers too, so their presence is not necessarily reflective of how much a room costs.

Amenities

There was a/c which was very welcome in the heat of the city. There was also cable television.

Noise Factor

Naturally being in the city, noise is a factor but nothing that some ear plugs can’t muffle.

Are you Locked In?/24 Hour Access

It is also nice when the reception is manned around the clock. We have experienced many lodgings who lock their doors at a certain hour and you are then held prisoner until the guardian of the portal resurfaces. Thankfully the Hotel Ideal had 24 hour access.

The View – You Gaze is Drawn to What Might Have Been – A Different Hotel!

At Your Convenience

Since the hotel is located in the heart of this sprawling city, you may find yourself far from some of the sights, such as the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal and Panama Viejo. Aside from the Panama Canal, the city has another tourist draw card, and that would be Casco Viejo. The Hotel Ideal is located within a 5 minute walk of this charming enclave of old architecture that is being gussied up into fashionable shops and stylish boutique hotels.

Transportation

The new(ish) Metro Bus system seemed a bit convoluted to us, but it is handy once you figure it out. There is a terminal just up the street from the hotel that will take you to Albrook Station, which is ground zero for any bus coming or going from Panama City.

Many Diablo Rojo buses also pick up the slack just up the street from the hotel; you can get to Tocumen Airport from the roundabout at Plaza Cinco de Mayo via inexpensive Diablo Rojo buses as well.

Restaurants/Food/Supermarkets/Street-Food

Being so centrally located, it is needless to say you won’t starve. For late night hunger pangs there is the home-grown fast food favourite “Pio Pio” specializing in fried chicken, which seems quite popular in Central America. There is also a cheap but tasty canteen style/steam-table called “Cafe Nelson” on nearby Avenida Central; a great place to satisfy comfort food cravings.

Please, gorge on as much ceviche as you can if you like seafood. Panama City has the BEST ceviche ever, at least that we have yet encountered. Take a stroll about; there are food options everywhere for all budgets, including supermarkets if you want to self-cater. The Hotel Ideal does not provide kitchen privileges.

Nearby Sights

What comes to mind aside from the sights of Casco Viejo is the Mercado del Marisco, or seafood market. The Hotel Ideal is a few blocks from the rough and tumble dockside market where all of Panama City comes for the freshest raw seafood, and the best prepared ceviche. Your head will spin when you see all the vendors, and you taste buds will smile once you choose. If there is anything more authentic in Panama City than ceviche with crackers and a cold Balboa beer, then please tell us.

Drifter’s Recommendation

Drift On In!


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10 Comments

  1. Wow. Glad to see Hotel Ideal! I’ve been staying there for 15 years., and my family even longer. I recommend this place to everyone. I was lucky enough to swim in the pool, drink a Balboa and catch a meal at the hotel restaurant…..awhile back. Taxi at the airport usually tells me not to go there….I just catch the bus now anyway.

    • Randy,

      It is so good to hear your experience! I see there was a fire there eariler this year. We do not know the full extent of it, though.

      You cannot deny the wacky charm of this hotel. We have heard from a man who stayed here quite a while back and it sounds like this was a hopping and happening address. Thanks agian for the comment and have a Balboa for us!

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

  2. Hello, I just want to say thanks for this post. This is the only post I have ever seen about Hotel Ideal in Panama City. I was in the army back in the 70’s and The ideal was one of my hang outs. And yes the Disco area was in full swing at that time. The one thing that I remember about this old hotel was that the roof over the small swimming pool would retract as the sun moved. If you set near the building/bar area you were always shaded. So, I would spend a lot of time there. The area seemed like it had been The Hot Spot of its day. Thanks again, Roy

    • Roy,

      We are thrilled you found our post on Hotel Ideal and it brought back such good memories for you! Anyone who has visited the lobby at least can get a sense that this was a happening place back in the day.

      Sadly, there was a fire at the hotel a few months ago; someone posted a video of it on YouTube and a lot of people were finding our post about the hotel on line at that time. We do not know the fate of the business, or if the building is a loss. It is a concrete structure and the video did not give us the impression the fire was a raging inferno like the disco was, as you remember it!!

      It really was very good to hear your story and we thank you so much for leaving a comment! We’d love to hear more from you about Panama back in the day. We really love Panama City and plan on visiting again soon.

      Your Drifters,
      Jerry and Fiona

      • Hi You Two,

        These are things I remember from my first assignment in Panama. I was there two times. The second is a whole different set of memories. My first time there, I spent a lot of time trying to learn all I could about the Canal. But I did go into the city to check things out there from time to time. I have done a bullet list and added a note of what I remembered about it. I am a 60yr old white guy from Texas. So this was a really strange place for me to be, when I had just turned 18yrs old.

        *The Número Uno Dance Club: $15.00 cover charge, but drinks were free. it had Lighted Dance Floor. Nice place.

        The 10th Floor: This was a major dance hall of the Black American G.I’.s in Panama. I went there with a friend and when I was standing watching the people dance, the floor was bouncing. I left as soon as I could.

        *The Tivoli: A strip club, Seemed to be the place for guys that liked Buxom women or larger. The Kuna Indian men really liked this place.

        *Monkey Meat: Sold by street vendors. 25 cents each, 5 small chunks of what might have been monkey meat on a stick., Grilled on an old refrigerator wire shelf on top of a can filled with burning embers. You could also ask for extra Chambo Sauce if you wanted more spice. I have no idea what Chambo sauce was made of, But I loved it.

        *Ancon Push Button or Love Hotel: The building looked like a Self Storage facility, You drive in to what ever door is open, push a button on the wall and the overhead door closed, you put $20. in a slot in the door in the back of the area your car is in and the Bedroom door on the side wall of the room opens and you go in. You never see anyone that works there, When your done, You go out of the room push the button on the wall and the overhead door opens. You drive away.

        Chiva Buses: These were very small and I am sure very dangerous, You Jump in when it stops. give the driver 10 cents, and exit at whatever stop you want to get off. A lot of very poor people used them. I rode in one, one time just to check it out.

        *Small Casinos: These were very cool. I would take $20. go in and play until I was broke, Drinks were free as long as you were playing. I always got my moneys worth of drinks and had a fun time doing it.

        *La Jolla Bar: He had a Pizza machine. A New Zealander owned the place. This was just an odd place to go. No other place in the city like it.

        *Canal Zone “Orange and White” buses: Cost 50 cents. I used these all the time to go into Panama City from my barracks in the canal zone

        *Treaty negotiations: Odd times. Panamanians and Americans called  “Zonies” (People that Worked/Lived in the Canal Zone) were always asking me what my thoughts were on it. I really had no opinion. I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I just knew I was sent down there as an Army Helicopter mechanic.

        *Omar Torrijos: While he was a dictator, I found him to be a really funny guy. Everywhere I went, when I would see him, he was goofing around with people and making them laugh.

        *Rainy season: 4 hours of really heavy rains every stinking day. Everything I had molded during rainy season.

        *Howler Monkeys: Very scary. Especially if you spend the night in a downed Huey in the middle of No-Where and don’t know they are there. They would Howl at Sun Set and Sun Rise. I had no idea what that sound was, until they started throwing things at me. I never fired on them. But they scared the hell out of me.

        *Amador causeway: A really fun and nice place to hang out and watch the ships go by.

        *Kobe Beach: Shark Net? I didn’t know there was a net I was not supposed to go outside of. I didn’t go back there again.

        *Farfan Beach: Black and White sand beach that looked like marble.

        *Hollywood: The dirtiest place I have ever seen or smelled. Shanty Town. No plumbing and one water faucet. The Curundu river was their toilet., 100’s of people lived in there.

        *Empanadas: I have had Empanadas from a number of places but Panama’s are the best.

        *Ceviche: I had never eaten un-cooked fish before. This is one of the best things I had ever tasted.

        *Steel Drums: In the Black neighborhoods of Panama City you get to see them played on the street corner and have blast hanging out and partying with the people.

        *Kids stealing your watch: Right off of your arm. I was amazed to see this when it happened to me. I lost really nice Benrus watch to these kids. I was so surprised, all I could do was watch the kid run away and wonder how the hell he did it.

        *Fake Rolex Watches: sold everywhere. Yes I bought one. That’s how I learned about them.

        *Lottery tickets: These were sold everywhere by little old Ladies that set up little tables or boxes on the side walk. Yes I bought some of these too. And never won a dime back.

        *Lucky Strike Clothing Shops: and Yes it was a store owned by the cigarette maker

        *Driving in Panama City: The street markings made no sense and if you were an unlucky Gringo and did not understand, the La Guardia pulled you over and you just give them your Licences wrapped in a $20 bill. They yell at you, take the money and throw your licences at you. All Done. Move along.

        *Crazy Taxi Drivers: These guys did not know how to drive a car and ran into people, cars, rear ends of buses and corners of buildings, but some how got you where you wanted to go.

        *The Bridge of The Americans or The Thatcher Ferry Bridge as it was originally called: This was a standard bridge of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Bridges over the Cape Cod Canal in MA. are the same design. The old Thatcher Ferry landing pilings were still there, one on either side of the canal. located to the north west end of the bridge and the south east end of the bridge.

        *Radio Station “Galaxia Dos Mil”: Played American Rock and Roll all the time.

        This was a fun Blast of Thinking from a long time ago. Thanks,

        • Roy,

          WOW! Now THAT is a story indeed! We had such a great time reading this! Some things have not changed. The ceviche in Panama City is THE BEST and they still cook food on the side of the road, sometimes using an old automobile wheel or something similar to hold the charcoal along with whatever they can to grill the meat on. Luckily, we were never served monkey, however you are correct when you say Howler Monkeys do let out a haunting tune!

          Today, Panama is enjoying a resurgence, so to speak. Many tourists are flocking to Panama due to the affordability of things and the proximity to Costa Rica, which is a tourist mecca. Panama is also becoming a popular place to retire, especially among Canadians. Panama offers some really handsome incentives to anyone from the U.S. who wishes to retire there – at any age!

          We thank you so very much for taking the time to recollect those memories and share them on our blog. Again, you have really made our day! Thanks so much Roy!

          Would you consider a visit there in the future?

          Your Drifters,
          Jerry and Fiona.

          • Hi,

            Thanks a bunch. I tried to keep to Panama City observations. I would love to go back sometime. I really know way more about the Canal Zone than I do about the rest of the country. Panama will always be with me. I think that is because, I was so young and unassuming, that I was able to look at what I was seeing and take it all for what it was and not judge anything or anyone. I have been reading more of your drifting experiences and I am totally a Fan and I will be following this site as long as you two keep posting.

            Thank you both for doing this. It is wonderful.

            Take Good care,

            Roy

            P.S.
            If you two ever decide to head across the pond to Europe. Germany is a fantastic place. My Daughter was born there and I have great memories. You can’t buy a bad beer in that country. I lived near Ansbach, She was born in Nuremberg.

          • Roy,

            Again, it is so good to have reached you through our blog and we thank you again for sharing your experiences with us and our readers. We will return to Panama City ourselves at some point and we hope Hotel Ideal is still there after the fire.

            Visiting Germany and in particular Bavaria has been a dream of mine for years. We switched planes once in Frankfurt which doesn’t count. It was about 5:30 in the morning and we never even got the chance to grab a beer. Next time, right? We will ask you for your stories from Germany before we visit and will ask you for a few tips as well.

            Keep in touch, Roy. And thanks again for following along. We are happy to know you.

            Your Drifters,
            Jerry and Fiona

  3. I just love your web and thanks for letting me travel with you two. You are living my dream for me. Bye my friend!

    • Ginette,
      We are so happy you continue to follow our posts. As long as we continue to inspire you, we will keep on posting our thoughts. Keep on travelling with us, especially now as we are about to hit the road again!
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

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