Nightlife in Panama City
You can tell a lot about a city by its nightlife. Like any cosmopolitan capital, nightlife in Panama City is diverse; this is only to be expected from a country that will invent any excuse to party. Latin Americans are fun-loving people, and Panamanians are no exception.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Panama City boasts a ‘Boulevard de la Rumba’ (an approximate English translation would be ‘The Party Boulevard’). This Panama City party center is an exclusive strip of the Amador Causeway dedicated entirely to discotheques. There is also Calle Uruguay, a trendy avenue with an exceptionally high concentration of hip bars, exclusive hotels and fashionable nightclubs. And then there is Casco Viejo, the colonial jewel of Panama City. With its bohemian hippie vibe, jazz, offbeat restaurants and street performers abound.
Before we start our list, it is very important to mention the national obsession with air conditioning. Foreigners are often shocked at how cold public buildings are, and nighttime entertainment is no exception. Unless you’re planning on dancing the night away, we suggest you carry a light sweater, cardigan or even a pashmina/shawl. Another disclaimer: Latin American men are usually very gallant. It is not unusual for men to buy women a drink or pay their tab. (Tourists, take notes and apply back home!)
This being said, we’d like to help you make your way through all the options that Panama City nightlife has to offer you. Let’s break it down street by street, theme by theme.
Clubbing seems to be a national pastime for most teenagers and young adults. Nightlife in Panama City starts on Thursdays and continues until Saturday night, giving you 3 different opportunities to party during the week.
Bear in mind that in clubs in Panama City are constantly closing and re-opening with different names. Clubs mentioned during time of writing might no longer exist under the same name during your stay in Panama City. However, another one will most likely have taken its place.
Foreigners might be surprised at the level of formality in Panama nightclubs. The dress code is always ‘dress to impress’, and showing up in flip-flops might be enough to get you turned away. Tourists can usually get away with being a little bit more casual but might be the object of uncomfortable staring and slight social stigmatism.
With no further ado, here are the best places to go clubbing.
When Zona Viva or El Boulevard de la Rumba was inaugurated in 2008, it was the place to be. Cover charges were rare and prices were reasonable. At the time of writing, a USD 2 cover charge applied to enter the zone; discotheques then have their own cover charges (being on a list and knowing a promoter might get you in free if you are a woman and arrive before 11pm, or get you a reduced priced if you are a man. Note: this is applicable to most Panama nightclubs).
In recent months, several negative comments have started to surface about the quality of Zona Viva. Frequent critiques include dark parking, scarce security and an overall sense of disquiet. Overall, enter at your own risk.
Average prices for a beer is more or less USD 3, USD 4-5 for a cocktail and USD 40-50 for a bottle.
Calle Uruguay has been around for much longer. Since it is an open avenue, there is more security and lighting. Parking is more or less easy to find, but expect to pay a small fee (usually USD 3-4) to have someone watch your car. If a man approaches you and says ‘bien cuida’o’, you can negotiate the price a little bit, but know that they are essentially fixed. We recommend that you pay part of the fee upon arrival and the rest when you leave.
Here, the dress code is especially applicable, as Calle Uruguay tends to attract a very trendy crowd. Besides the nightclubs, there are two exclusive Panama City hotels (Manrey and Terranova), as well as several restaurants and pubs.
At time of writing, the most trendy and exclusive clubs were S6IS (‘six’, in Spanish) and PRIVE, conveniently located in the same building. Karaoke lovers will enjoy PRIVE.
The prices are very similar to those in Zona Viva.
The More Laidback Scene
For those who enjoy something more laidback, Panama City also has something to offer. Although cultural activities are slowly becoming more frequent, don’t expect the cultural array that North America or Europe has to offer. This being said, there are a few laidback spots in Panama City that could leave other countries envious
Casco Viejo (also known as San Felipe, Casco Antiguo) is a colonial gem that has held official UNESCO World Heritage Status since 1997. Foreigners have made it a second home and colorful local characters give this place its unique charm.
Nightlife in Casco Viejo has a much warmer and welcoming vibe than the previously mentioned clubbing hotspots. Urban art decorates the streets and alternative music (punk rock, electronic, jazz, experimental, indie rock) can often be heard from these offbeat bars in Panama City.
Upper middle-class Panamanians sometimes tend to avoid the neighborhood, having been raised in a period when Casco Viejo suffered from an infamous reputation. However, the last few years have seen drastic improvements in safety and police presence. Nonetheless, as with any nighttime outing in any city of the world, a little common sense is never superfluous.
If you came to Panama with salsa dancing in mind, by all means go to the Habana Panama nightclub. The outside might seem dodgy, but the grand, majestic, vintage-style interior and exotically-clad salsa dancers will convince you to stay in a heartbeat.
If you are looking for restaurants in Panama City with a spectacular view of the skyline, the Amador Causeway is the place to go. The Causeway is a wave-breaker and a vestige of the American presence in Panama. Since the 1999 reversal, it has reinvented itself as a touristic and local favorite place.
There are a few hotels, many restaurants and almost as many ice cream joints. You can find almost any cuisine here, from typical Panamanian to Lebanese, Italian and other international styles.
The Causeway is an excellent place for romantic dates, as couples will enjoy strolling through the marina, admiring the yachts and the overall dreamy picturesque view of the ocean and skyline.
The only downside to the Amador Causeway is that the touristic fame it enjoys also comes with a higher price (at least by local standards; tourists might find that prices are similar to their home country). Expect to spend anywhere between USD10 and USD 25 per person.
We recommend Thursday nights at Beirut, where there is a live belly dancing show.
Vía Argentina is the avenue of restaurants in Panama City. Every city has a street that seems to be dedicated to restaurants, and this is Panama’s quirky proposition. You’ll have no trouble finding a bar or restaurant, as they are plentiful.
Via Argentina is a street that seems to exist mostly to complement Panama City nightlife. Many people come to Via Argentina for a bite before or after clubbing, or for a different kind of nighttime entertainment. The avenue is enhanced by a cute little park and you will quickly notice that the street structure has a definite urban feel.
After Casco Viejo, this is the second best place to go for a bohemian kind of vibe. It is an avenue where underground jam sessions are common, restaurants have themes and people come to simply chill out.
Avenida Balboa: Hard Rock Cafe
Avenida Balboa, with its coastal strip (Cinta Costera), has become the ultimate symbol of modern Panama City. As for nightlife, it’s not really a place with a high concentration of entertainment options when compared to other neighborhoods. You might enjoy the view, shop in the Panama City malls, taste an American hamburger at the Hard Rock Café, or enjoy the American-Irish style at Bennigan’s Pub.
The Radisson Decapolis Hotel has a casino, and so does the MultiCentro Mall. This area of town is a good option if you are lodged nearby and have no means of transportation. However, if you own a car or are comfortable grabbing a cab, Calle Uruguay is at the end of the Avenida Balboa (make a right at Le Meridien Hotel) and Casco Antiguo is just further up, past the Seafood Market, on the left-hand side.
Casinos are a dime a dozen in Panama, and they range from regular, small joints to more outlandish fun. Here is a quick list of the best casinos in Panama City; although, bear in mind that it depends on what you are looking for. Tourists will be glad to know that casinos are legal and private in Panama and are well diffused, so you will have no problem finding a casino to suit your needs.
Fiesta casino, Hotel El Panama
If you are looking for a place to gamble, dance, have a drink or a bite, this is a fairly good option. There is an adequate dance floor with live music some nights of the week, many different kinds of slots (320 slot machines) and a small Hawaiian-themed restaurant.
Majestic Casino, Multicentro
This modern, three-floored casino has two restaurants, 500 slot machines and about 30 tables. Several entertainment options exist, as well as an exclusive VIP room equipped with comfortable fittings, a bar, private cashier, and living rooms with entertainment and seven gaming tables.
Unforgettable Chiva Parrandera
Last, but certainly not least, is a Panamanian custom that might be frowned upon in more conservative countries. However, in Latin American Panama, it’s a regular occurrence, to be enjoyed and not feared.
The crazy custom specific to Panama nightlife is known as the ‘chiva parrandera’, a sort of nightclub on wheels complete with an open bar and DJ. The vehicles are traditionally revamped Diablo Rojos (cheap public transportation on its way of becoming extinct, whose fame is partly due to unruly driving on the drivers parts and partly due their fully decorated interior and exterior). However, modern and air-conditioned luxury VIP buses are becoming the norm.
A private chiva parrandera is usually organized to celebrate birthdays, farewell parties or other special occasions. Expect to pay between USD 12 and USD 25, which usually gives you rights to the open bar and a souvenir t-shirt. Themes are common; traffic light parties are especially trendy. Dancing poles and full-fledged lounge sofas are usually standard in the more luxurious VIP buses.
Expect that you will probably exit the chiva at least a little bit tipsy. The constant movement of the bus will make you feel dizzy, and when combined with alcohol, you can anticipate a state of inebriety (which for many people is the whole point). Bearing this in mind, adventurous folks will not regret this experience and will most likely go back to their home countries telling stories of the unbelievable and unforgettable Panamanian chiva parrandera.
Honorable Mention: Theatre
Theatre is not very developed in Panama, but it does happen, which is why we are giving it an honorable mention. Bear in mind that productions in Panama City usually have very few financial means. Nonetheless, you can expect original results from an excellent human resource. Here is a brief list of the theatres you will find in Panama City, with their respective phone numbers, should you wish to find out more.
- Teatro Nacional: (507)262-3525
- Teatro en Circulo: (507)261-5375 / 261-5259
- Teatro ABA: (507)260-6316
- Teatro La Quadra: (507)214-3695
- Theatre Guild of Ancon: (507)212-0060
- Teatro Anita Villalaz: (507)211-4020 / 211-4017
- Teatro Balboa: (507)228-0327
We hope this guide, brought to you by http://panamacity-hotels.travel, will have clarified and satisfied all your Panama City nightlife needs.
We leave you with a last and very wise piece of advice:
Nothing makes you more tolerant of a neighbor's noisy party than being there. -Franklin P. Jones