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Bristol Hotel Panama City: A Downtown Traveler Favorite for 25 Years

by Ron Bernthal

Apr 11, 2023

© Bristol Panama, A Registry Collection Hotels


On Dec. 31, 1999, the United States officially handed control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanian government, ending a long saga that started a 150 years earlier. American dominance over the Canal started to lessen in 1978, when the United States and Panama approved the Torrijos-Carter Treaties.

Beginning in 2000, despite U.S. fears Panama may have trouble controlling and protecting this major shipping channel, Panama took over the entire Panama Canal operations, and the country started using some of its huge revenue from shipping fees to support major downtown Panama City building projects. For the city hotels that opened just prior to or after the Canal’s change of hands, the timing was a godsend.  In addition, after UNESCO designated the city’s Casco Viejo District a World Heritage site in 1997, a flurry of revitalization projects also began to take shape in this part of the city, just a few minutes’ drive from the downtown Financial District. Founded in 1519 by conquistador Pedrarías Dávila, Panama’s Old City is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas.

Historic District

© Joanna Tricorache

Bristol Hotel Panama City opened in 1997 as the first modern business hotel in Panama City. At the time, the hotel had just 56 rooms, one small restaurant and a bar. But with Panama’s new ownership of the Canal, a new influx of international business travelers and real estate developers were now stopping in Panama City for deal-making and planning new projects.

During this period, Bristol Hotel thrived, expanding over the years to add a new lobby, additional guestrooms (now 130) and artwork from more than 100 Latin American artists. Today, the property offers beautiful upgraded furnishings, Italian marble bathrooms and free daily rum tastings. The hotel continues to attract many leisure travelers, as well.

Of course, after 23 years of fully operating the Canal, Panama’s capital city enjoys a booming tourism industry.  Downtown hotels that have since opened include Waldorf Astoria, Le Meridien, InterContinental Miramar, JW Marriott, Hard Rock, Radisson Decapolis and, the most recent, Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo, opened in early 2023.

Panama Canal

© Joanna Tricorache

Today, the skyline of Panama City looks very much like downtown Miami, with dozens of white, residential and corporate towers overlooking the blue waters of Panama Bay; palm trees lining the busy boulevards; and trendy new restaurants and cafés offering Latino cuisine and music. Like Miami, the humidity levels in Panamá City can be oppressive, but with the U.S. dollar as local currency (as well as the Panamanian balboa), and a shared time zone with Miami, many American tourists, business executives, retirees and expats are discovering the tropical lifestyle, affordability and friendly tax laws that may await them in Panama City, just three hours non-stop from Miami International Airport.

Situated in the heart of Panama City’s Financial District, Bristol Hotel provides easy access to the city’s top attractions like Casco Viejo, the Panama Canal and Biomuseum, as well as nearby restaurants, cafes and beaches. The hotel offers 10,000 square feet of event space for local social events and international conferences, as well as a full-service spa and gym on the 25th floor with stunning views of the city; an outdoor lap pool on the fifth-floor terrace; and modern Panamanian fusion cuisine at SalSiPuedes restaurant, named after one of the city’s 18th-century food markets.

guest room

© Bristol Panama, A Registry Collection Hotels

Bristol Hotel Panama City is a member of the Registry Collection Hotels brand and part of Wyndham’s collection of hotels and resorts. Room rates begin at $189 and include breakfast.


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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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