But if you don’t know where to go or where people hang out, you could end up feeling a little lost during your first days here.
Newcomers just need a few pointers so they can meet other expats and start sampling the best of what Panama has to offer. I’ve been scouting Panama’s best expat hangouts for about four years…here are my top five to get you started:
Rincon Aleman: A long-time favorite with expats in Panama
Rincon Aleman is a small German restaurant…not only is it a great place to sit and have a beer (there’s a “front porch”), but the food is great, too. You’ll often find a couple of expats sitting out front, having a beer and saying hello to just about anyone who enters. Go for lunch or dinner, and prepare to stay a while. Location: 51st street, Bella Vista; tel. + (507)264-0590.
The Amador Yacht Club: My favorite expat hangout in Panama City
This may well be my favorite place in the entire city. Overlooking the Panama Canal, the Yacht Club sounds like it might be fancy…but it isn’t.
This casual hangout is the perfect place to enjoy a sunny day or cool evening, watching the ships pass by and people of all ages walk and jog. The menu is simple and the food is good, from the large Greek salad to the crunchy onion rings.
And keep in mind that the bar isn’t fancy, either. Don’t try ordering cognac or a rare single malt here…your waitress is likely to cock her eyebrow at you and leave! But if you’re in the mood for an ice-cold beer or a good, strong Cuba Libre, order away. No matter how long you stay, you’re unlikely to break the bank—beers and most drinks are $1 to $3. Location: Amador Causeway, next to Marriot Country Inn; tel. +(507)228-5794.
Sahara: Best nightclub to meet expats in Panama City
The Mediterranean food at Sahara is tasty, but this small club is much more popular for an evening out than for dinner. You can sit on the large patio and have a brewski while listening to classic rock, or head inside where the music is always loud and sometimes live.
The pool tables are in the back and the crowd varies from locals to expats to persons of questionable trades and backgrounds…but that’s all part of the fun. Sahara will stay open until the last person leaves, so watch out. You may come out of the dark interior to see the sun has begun to rise. Location: 48th street, Bella Vista; tel. +(507)214-8284.
El Pavo Real: Old-school expat hangout in Panama City
We had to include a real dive on our list and there’s none better than the Pavo Real. This authentic British pub is the original expat hangout, since way back in the Canal Zone days. If you love real fish n’ chips, this is the only place to go (I am partial to the cheese fries).
Live music varies from classic rock to jazz, drinks are strong and cheap, and you will end up making a lot of new friends. Location: Via Argentina (Across from Restaurante Angel); tel. +(507)269-0504.
Lum’s: An expat hangout in Panama’s former Canal Zone
For expats living in what’s known as the “zona del Canal” or former Canal Zone, Lum’s is the best place for a weekend drink. This laid-back restaurant and bar is spacious and often features live music (sometimes played by expat bands).
The food is pretty good, though nothing special…mostly burgers and fried food. Make your way up to the bar, get yourself a Panama beer, and you’ll be chatting away with other expats in no time. Location: Diablo, at the bottom of Diablo hill; tel. +(507)317-6303.