Area Bancaria/Obarrio/el Cangrejo: These three neighborhoods in Panama’s center are home to some of the city’s best hotels and restaurants, as well as the city’s flashiest casinos, most infamous brothels and most happening bars. These ultra convenient neighborhoods are relatively safe and walking distance to grocery stores, laundromats, restaurants and shops, but are not exactly sanctuaries of tranquility: All day traffic and activity here means lot of honking, pollution and yelling. Of the three, el Cangrejo is the most charming. Prices here have shot up in the last decade, so good luck finding anything under $1,000 a month.
Costa del Este: Out by the airport, Costa del Este is an upscale planned community featuring newer, “luxury” buildings. The drawback here is that you’ll need a car to get around because there’s not much within walking distance. The plus side? If you can afford to live here, you can afford a car.
Marbella/Buena Vista: This area is developing at breakneck speed. Calle Uruguay, in Bella Vista, is home to many of Panama’s top clubs. The new Cinta Costera, a pedestrian walkway on the coast, runs through Marbella. Many of the city’s most ambitious apartment and hotel projects are here, and it’s hard to find anything for less than $1,500-$2,000 a month. The Marbella/Bella Vista area is walking distance to grocery stores, shops and restaurants, so a car is not a must-have.
Ancon/Balboa/Albrook/Clayton: These are my four favorite neighborhoods in Panama City. There are few buildings here and most homes are colorfully-painted reverted canal era homes. Here, you’re far removed from the noise and pollution of downtown Panama City, and it’s not rare to see exotic birds and wildlife, making these the city’s most family friendly neighborhoods. The drawback here is that there’s very little within walking distance, so unless you want to spend a fortune on taxis, you’ll need a car. Expect to pay $750-$2,000 a month here in rent.
Amador Causeway: Panama City’s man-made causeway is the perfect spot to go for a bike ride, drink a tropical cocktail or savor some typical Panamanian fare. In the last five or six years, dozens of residential luxury developments have popped up near the Amador Causeway and if you can afford it, this is one of the most pleasant areas of the city to live in. Of course, you’ll need a car to get just about everywhere, but there’s nothing like watching the sunset on the Pacific.
Casco Viejo: Casco Viejo is Panama City’s historic quarter and by far the city’s most charming and picturesque neighborhood. Yes, some buildings need a serious face-lift, but cobble-stoned plazas, fabulous restaurants and fun and funky bars more than make up for this. The drawback here is that safety is still somewhat of an issue, especially in the neighborhoods adjacent to Casco Viejo. Plus, you’ll need a car to get around. Prices have recently shot up here as the city has come in fashion with foreigners and bohemian types, so don’t expect to find amazing deals. In general, you’ll pay at least $800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Casco Viejo.