…and God said, “Let there be sexy people”, so he created Panamanians!
Wise words from the Bible itself according to our gay friends Luis and Mario from Panama City…
Panama City is often nicknamed The Dubai of Latin America because of its immense economic growth in recent years and impressive dense skyline. But unlike Dubai, this mighty Latin American metropolis has a far more welcoming gay life, in a country where although culturally conservative, is constantly striving for LGBTQ equality.
Most will associate Panama City with the famous canal, which is a reason alone to visit. The city is also the gateway to some gorgeous tropical beaches within Panama, like San Blas and gay friendly Bocas del Toro. We stayed in Panama City for a week and loved it. It's full of things to do, plenty of trendy bars, but most importantly, we left with a thirst to return for more. It's also a useful destination because it's one of the major transport hubs in Central America.
This is our complete gay guide to Panama City following with a focus on the gay scene, our pick of the most gay friendly hotels, our favourite things to do, and more.
Landing at Tocumen International airport soon?
Avoid the stress of queuing for a taxi at Panama City's international airports by pre-booking your private transfer now. By doing this, everything is taken care for you from the moment you're picked up at the airport to when you're dropped off at your hotel. You won't have to deal with negotiating taxi fares and you're guaranteed an English speaking driver. The service is available for arrivals to Tocumen International Airport as well as to the Panama Pacifico Airport.
Is Panama safe for gay travellers?
Overall, yes, Panama is safe for LGBTQ travellers, but assuming you stick to the touristic areas of Panama City, Bocas del Toro and San Blas. If venturing beyond, into more local areas, we recommend taking extra care and avoid all PDAs.
Panama is a very conservative country. It has such a strong influence from the Catholic Church that any attempt by the government to pass any progressive LGBTQ laws in Panama almost always gets blocked! As a result, Panama does not recognise same-sex unions and has no anti-discrimination laws to protect the LGBTQ community! To give you an example, a 2018 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling required Panama to recognise same-sex unions and allow gay couples to adopt. Sadly, the response was a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage by the Panamanian National Assembly in October 2019. The LGBTQ community of Panama has quite a long road ahead of it…
But remember, this is a country where homosexuality was legalised as late as 2008. It has come a long way since then with a popular annual Pride taking place every June, a vibrant gay scene in Panama City and a fantastic LGBTQ community that is constantly growing in confidence.
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Panama city gay area
In Panama City, the bulk of the gay scene of Panama City is mainly found in the Casco Viejo old town and the El Cangrejo neighbourhoods. Both are full of foreigners, tourists and ex-pats from all over the world. We felt totally safe here but erred on the side of caution and saved all the hand-holding, dancing and kisses-on-the-cheek for the gay bars/clubs only. As a general rule and to be on the safe side, we recommend you also do the same: avoid any PDAs and save them for the queer-friendly spaces we've set out in this article.
Gay hotels in Panama City
If you want to be in the tourist heart of Panama City, we suggest booking a hotel in Casco Viejo. All the best restaurants, cafes and sites will be on your doorstep here. Over in the El Cangrejo, you're more in the business/financial heart of the city, but closer to the main gay hangouts as explained above.
We stayed in a mix of gay friendly hotels located in both areas and have summarised our experiences of each below to help you pick which is the best for you:
Las Clementinas boutique hotel
Why we love it
- Our top pic for a romantic stay
- Well located in the Casco Viejo old town
- Elegant and classic boutique hotel bursting with character
- Rooftop terrace has the best views ever!
Las Clementinas is our top choice for gay travellers who want a romantic stay right in the heart of Casco Viejo.
It oozes character – the public areas are decorated with old photographs and vintage decor. It is set in a charming 1930s apartment building with most of the original features still in place. It feels more like you're staying in a posh guesthouse rather than in a hotel.
The rooftop is another huge highlight, with views over Casco Viejo and beyond. We recommend having your breakfast here, weather permitting of course!
The rooms are ensuite and super spacious. They include a mini kitchen with filtered water. The beds are very comfortable and a pleasure to melt away in after arriving here after a long-haul flight. In terms of location, you have the best bars, cafes, restaurants and shops of Panama City right on your doorstep. The only downside, which goes for any hotel in the Casco Viejo, it can get a bit noisy in the evenings. For me (a heavy sleeper) this wasn't an issue. For Seby (very light and fussy sleeper!), he needed earplugs.
The restaurant at Las Clementinas is worth checking out even if you're not staying here. It opens onto a beautiful garden, decorated with nostalgia-laced photos, tiled flooring and a handsome marble bar. The food is delicious – a fusion of Panamanian and European serving tasty ceviches and steaks.
As a gay couple, we were made to feel extremely welcome at Las Clementinas. The owner, Paola, is a huge ally to the LGBTQ community and enthusiastically supports the Panama City Pride Week every June.
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Panama Marriott Hotel
Why we love it
- Walking distance to the main gay bars of Panama City
- Everyone here smiles at you and makes you feel welcome
- Loooovely pool and Jacuzzi area!
- Trendy Corvina y Caña bar to hang out at with your beau
(PERMANENTLY CLOSED – updated February 2021)
We loved loved the Panama Marriott hotel. It feels grand the moment you enter. The lobby is massive with high ceilings, wide corridors and marble floors.
As far as customer service goes, these guys have it nailed down to a T. Everyone was so welcoming to us, from the sweet receptionist who checked us in, the hunky staff at their trendy Corvina y Caña bar to the friendly cleaning ladies.
Our room had plenty of space, complete with very large comfortable bed. We also loved the fact that we had our own private bathtub.
The buffet breakfast was so beautifully presented with an impressive offering of both international and local dishes, which included fried dough, yucca, lots of different local breads and even a natural honeycomb dripping fresh honey. In terms of communal areas, there is a gym, large outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. We spent a large chunk of the day hanging out here – when it's hot and humid outside, why not spend it by the pool says we!?
In terms of location, the Panama Marriott is located in the El Cangrejo area, which felt extremely safe. The hotel is just around the corner from the excellent Envy gay club. Further down the road is the Malibu Spirits gay bar. Also nearby is the SoHo Mall and of course, the Avenida Balboa beachfront road, which was our favourite place to come running in the morning.
We recommend the Panama Marriott if you to be based right at the heart of the main gay bars and clubs of the El Cangrejo neighbourhood.
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.
Waldorf Astoria Panama
Why we love it
- Divine luxury hotel
- Walking distance to the main gay bars
- Just by the Avenida Balboa beachfront
- Splendid pool area with world-class spa
The Waldorf Astoria is part of the Hilton hotel group, a brand that is internationally famous for being very gay friendly.
Similar to the Panama Marriott, the Waldorf is also located in the El Cangrejo neighbourhood, making it a convenient base to be close to the main gay scene, especially El Apartamento bar which is just a block away.
The other reason we loved the Waldorf is that its located just by the Avenida Balboa beachfront, which was one of our favourite hangouts in the city at sunset and also perfect for morning runs.
We stayed in one of the lavish suites. As well as having all the usual Hilton amenities – bathrobe, slippers, Salvatore Ferragamo branded toiletries etc, it also had a very comfy King-sized bed, a Nexpresso machine to satisfy my hourly caffeine fix and a welcome plate of yummy macarons. Other facilities in the hotel include an outdoor heated pool with adjacent whirlpool, a modern 24-hour gym with a full range of equipment and highly rated spa offering treatments from “Jet Lag Gurus”.
In terms of food options, the Waldorf Panama has a terrific breakfast buffet, which was our favourite standout culinary memory from our stay here. We may have overstayed our welcome here trying everything on offer from the delicious fresh juices, the different cheeses, breads and the yummy local Panamanian classics like sancocho soup. The hotel also has two other restaurants, one specialising French/American fusion food, the other for sushi.
Luna's Castle Hostel
Why we love it
- Best budget hostel located in Casco Viejo
- Hip gay friendly bar to hang out called Relic
- Full of charm and character
- A bit looney and very gay friendly!
You also thought of Luna Lovejoy from Harry Potter right? Luna's Castle Hostel is actually a plush and affordable hostel set in a three-storey creaky colonial mansion from the 1800s.
It's super hip and cool here, targeted at backpackers. It's sociable, laid-back, and as Lonely Planet put it: “a bit looney and very friendly”!
We think this is the best option for solo travellers and LGBTQ budget travellers who want to be based right in the heart of Casco Viejo. This is also home to the queer-friendly Relic Bar, which is our favourite hangout on weekends.
We love the fact that Luna's does not feel like you're staying in a cheap hostel at all. From the moment you enter, you get an old-world feeling – think high ceilings, ornate balconies, French doors and a handsome wooden staircase! On the second floor and third floor, you get an impressive view of Casco Viejo, Panama Bay and the downtown skyline. The staff at Luna's are young and super charming, which we think is key to what makes Luna's a gay friendly have in Panama City.
Luna's has a strong focus on communal activity which is a great way to connect with fellow travellers. For example, they have a cosy movie theatre showing films until midnight, a communal kitchen, table tennis area and spare guitars hanging on the walls for guests to use – Seby particularly loved this! The only downside is Luna's only have dorm beds and don't (yet) offer private rooms, which may put off gay couples from staying here.
Gay bars in Panama City
There are no “official” gay bars in Panama City. There are a handful of very queer-friendly places where we felt comfortable with PDAs, which we set out below. They are mainly based in the El Cangrejo and the Casco Viejo neighbourhoods:
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Gato Blanco Rooftop Bar: Casco Viejo
Gato Blanco is a trendy gay friendly bar in Casco Viejo and a favourite hangout with LGBTQ locals we met in the city. We love the cool vibe here, the crowd a mix of fashionistas and hip 20/30-somethings out for a few drinks. (The bar staff are also super cute). When we came here it was a Friday evening and they had a live DJ set playing some of the best Latino pop hits.
Gato Blanco is open every day from 5pm until 3am. It is in fact the rooftop lounge of the “Gato Blanco Party Hotel” located at Avenida B 8, a few blocks from the Panama Canal Museum.
Malibu Spirits and Eatery: El Cangrejo
Malibu is quite a quirky bar with a popular outdoor patio. Overall it's one of the best gay friendly bars in Panama City because of their men-only Sunday parties called “Domingo de Pintas”. Other gay nights at Malibu Spirits include “Open Bar For Everyone” on Wednesday evenings, which includes a Happy Hour on cocktails from 7-9pm.
Malibu Spirits is only open Wednesday to Sunday from 5pm until midnight. It is located at Calle Hercilia Lamela in the El Cangrejo neighbourhood.
El Apartamento Panama: El Cangrejo
El Apartamento y El Sotano is a gay friendly restobar in the El Cangrejo neighbourhood located next to a balloon shop. We say this 'cause there is no sign outside, so use the World Globes Balloon shop as a point of reference! Inside, the bar is downstairs where all the fun happens, the restaurant is upstairs. The vibe is very Bohemian with a young, openminded, mixed crowd mainly in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There was no issue at all about us dancing together here or the occasional kiss.
El Apartamento Panama is only open from Tuesday to Sunday from 7pm until around 3/4am. It is located at on Avenida Federico Boyd next to “El Mundo de Los Globos” (the balloon shop).
Relic Bar: Casco Viejo
Relic is the awesome bar attached to our top pick for gay friendly budget hotel in Panama City: the Luna's Castle Hostel. The place comes alive on weekends when it hosts Happy Hour parties that go on until 3am. As it's targetted to backpackers, the crowd was mainly foreigners with a few locals on weekend evenings. We also found the crowd to be on the younger side, mainly in their 20s and 30s.
The Relic Bar is located inside Luna's Castle Hostel in Casco Viejo at Calle 9a Este. The best times to come is on Thursday to Sunday evenings from around 9pm until 3am.
Gay clubs in Panama City
Panama City has a few gay clubs, which we set out below. But also note there are many monthly ad hoc parties that take place at the international hotels such as the Hard Rock. To find out what's happening when you touch down in Panama City, we recommend using Grindr to connect with local guys and also messaging the Gay Pride PTY Facebook page who are very responsive.
Pro-tip: bring your original passport with you when going out to a gay club in Panama City. The doormen are very strict and will only admit you if you have your original ID. A copy or photo of it on your phone will not suffice and they'll just turn you away.
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Envy Club Panamá: El Cangrejo
Envy is the most popular gay club in Panama City where the hottest guys in town go! They have a large presence on Instagram where they frequently post Live videos. Envy has the best Saturday night gay party in Panama City, full of gorgeous hunks from all around the world. We had a great time…clothing becoming more and more scarce later in the night got… During the week Envy always has something happening including Karaoke nights and the best drag shows in all of Panama. Don't miss out, it's a fantastic gay night out here!
Envy is open daily (except Sundays) from 9pm until around 3/4am – but we recommend heading here from 11pm. Envy is located at Calle Aquilino de la Guardia, in front of the Hotel Hyatt Place.
XS Club Bar: Tumba Muerto
XS is one of the main gay clubs in Panama City where you'll quickly make lots of friends! It's a very local crowd, who welcome foreigners with open arms – we loved it for this! Sadly it's in quite a rough area so we highly advise taking an Uber there and back. As stated above, the doormen will bluntly dismiss you if you don't have your original passport so remember to bring this!
XS is open Thursday to Sunday from 9pm until 3am, but we advise heading here after midnight. It is located at via José Ricardo Alfaro, Avenida Juan Pablo II, behind Antiguo Depósito and in front of the SIGLO XXI shopping centre in the Tumba Muerto neighbourhood.
Discoteca BLG Lips Panama: Tumba Muerto
BLG is a more upscale gay club in Panama popular with everyone in our LGBTQ family. They play a mix of Latino-pop hits and electro music. They also have drag shows on most nights, but it's mainly in Spanish, so a great way to polish up your gay Panamanian Spanish slang! Themed nights include Foam Parties, male-only parties and a “Girls Night”. Check their Facebook page for details of the next event.
BLG is open Wednesday to Sunday evenings from 8pm until around 3/4am. It is located on Via Transismica, between the Mcdonald's and Bombasa in front of Motores ForfLook – look out for the BLG sign and the Colpan Ford agency.
Gay saunas in Panama City
When it comes to gay saunas in Panama City there are few, in fact just one! Though we advise connecting with local gay guys on Grindr to find out the latest gay scene gossip – places open and close quite quickly here.
HamMan Sauna & Spa: Calidonia
HamMan is the only gay sauna in Panama City with lots of different themed nights every day of the week like Naked Only, 2for1 Entry and Threesomes! Saturday evening is the busiest night when they have a live stripper and DJ. Wednesday is “University Night” with reduced entry for under 25s.
The HamMan Sauna is open daily from around 5pm until around 3am (5am on weekends). It is located at Calle 32 Este near the National Lottery Building in the Calidonia neighbourhood which is between El Cangrejo and Casco Viejo.
Gay Pride and other events in Panama
When it comes to gay events in Panama, the main one is Pride week in June. However, the big Carnival in February has also become an “unofficial” LGBTQ event to look out for:
Panama City Carnival – February/March
During the big Carnival in late February that takes over the entire country, an “unofficial” gay presence is growing stronger here each year with more and more queer parties taking place over the big four days. We advise checking out the gay bars and clubs listed above who will also host parties Carnival-inspired parties during this period.
Panama City Pride – June
The LGBTQ community of Panama City may have a slight uphill struggle when it comes to getting the government to pass progressive laws to protect them, but the city's week-long Pride festival grows stronger each year since its inception back in 2005 – 3 years before the country legalised homosexuality. The week includes a mix of conference, live performances, parties, debates and of course, a large parade which goes from Santa Ana through the Casco Viejo all the way to the Cinta Costera.
Where to eat in Panama City
Panamanian food, ever heard of it? Neither had we, and you need to! Add these to your Panama culinary bucket list: sancocho, ropa Vieja, carimañoles, hojaldras – all washed down with an ice-cold Balboa! Find out what these all are in our guide to the best traditional foods of Panama and read on to find the best place in Panama City to try some of these out, along with a few other gems in Casco Viejo we discovered:
Get a taste of Panama on a tour
Foodies listen up! You need to do this. It's a 2.5 hour walking tour with a local. There's coffee, chocolate, beer, cocktails and ceviche. We rate this tour because you not only get a local to show you around the Casco Viejo, he/she will also give you their opinion about the best places to eat in the city.
Diablicos Restaurant in Casco Viejo
Look, we're not gonna lie, this felt like a tourist trap at first, but we loved it. If you're staying in the old town, want a flavour of local food and didn't arrange any local food tours, you can tick off many of your Panamanian culinary bucket list items right here. The bonus is you get a traditional show to watch – we loved the outfits! Maybe it's a bit gimmicky/touristic? Who cares – we personally had a great meal, laughed a lot and enjoyed taking lots of pictures with the dancers. And all those local foods we listed above? We got to try most of them here and loved it!
Restaurante Casa Blanca in Casco Viejo
Famous Caribbean restaurant in Panama City located right in front of Plaza Bolívar in the old town. Seafood is their speciality here – think seafood linguine and basked seabass. But for us, we will never forget Casa Blanca because of their delicious (and beautifully presented!) ceviche. It's presented in a cocktail glass and tastes good! Added bonus, they have Key Lime Pie – one of the best we've tried outside of South Florida.
Barrio Pizza in Casco Viejo
(permanently closed – updated 10/11/2020) If you're craving pizza, check out Barrio Pizza in Casco Viejo. Our local friends recommended it to us as one of the best in the whole city (Barrio Pizza is also one of the most highly rated restaurants on Tripadvisor). These guys specialise in delicious thin-crust pizzas which we love. For Seby it's always the Pizza Capricciosa (he loves mushrooms) and for me, Pizza Napoli (I love my anchovies). Both delicious and highly recommend!
Things to do in Panama City
For most, the world-famous Panama Canal will be the main draw to the city – it certainly was for us! In addition, we also recommend checking out the Casco Viejo (old town) and the Avenida Balboa beachfront which were also top highlights for us.
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The Panama Canal
We visited the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, which is a 20-30 mins taxi ride from downtown. The museum here is super impressive. You get to watch the Canal in action, as large ships approach and need to cross. How it works: the ship comes into the canal and waits to be lifted as the water level is increased. The ship then moves on to the next level where it is lowered as the water level sinks, allowing the ship to continue on its way. For us, this was the highlight of our trip to Panama City – a real engineering marvel you need to see! If time is limited, we recommend joining this tour of the Panama Canal which also includes visiting a local rainforest and a ride on the Panama Canal Railway.
Explore Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo is the name of Panama City's UNESCO listed old town neighbourhood. It's a really picturesque part of town with lots of cute narrow cobblestone streets decked with restored Spanish colonial buildings. This is also the most touristy part of town, with lots of restaurants, trendy rooftop bars like Gato Blanco here, souvenir artisanal gift shops, crumbly old churches to photograph and museums like the Panama Canal Museum. We also loved just strolling through the streets and visiting the souvenir and artisanal gift shops. To maximise your time, we recommend a tour of Casco Viejo with a visit to the Panama Canal on the same day.
Avenida Balboa beachfront
Avenida Balboa is our favourite part of town. This is the city's long beachfront promenade which we loved coming to in the morning for running and in the evening to watch the sunset together. Sunset's also when all the local sexy guys come to work out at the outdoor gyms, allowing certain tourists (ahem!) to analyse their techniques! Also, that big PANAMA sign on the cover pic of this article? That's right here as well! And for the best photos of the Panama City skyline, we recommend taking it from here (especially at night).
Ceviche at the Seafood Market
Along the Avenida Balboa beachfront is the Mercado de Marisco seafood market. We stumbled on it by accident one afternoon and stopped for lunch. We're so glad we did – it's a hidden gem of a discovery. It's got a lively local atmosphere with lots of small vendors serving different fresh seafood dishes (like ceviche) and cold beer. You buy your food then eat it at one of the many wooden tables lined up along the market. It's full of locals who are super friendly and love meeting foreigners to practise their English.
Discover the pristine San Blas islands
San Blas is the tropical deserted island gem of Panama. It's a turquoise-waters-white-sandy-beach paradise right in the middle of the Caribbean around 240km (150 miles) from the mainland. San Blas is made up of over 300 rustic islands, inhabited by the country's Kuna natives. The most famous island is Pelicano Island, which was featured in the Netflix series – “Money Heist”. The islands are (thankfully!) very underdeveloped and rustic. They are incredible, usually the highlight of most travellers' Panama trip. You can visit San Blas on a day trip from Panama City, but if you can, we recommend spending a few nights here.
Plan your trip to Panama
We've put together our firsthand tips and advice to help you plan your own trip to Panama so you can have a fun and safe trip:
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How to get there: You are likely to fly into Panama City, arriving at the Tocumen International Airport. The airport is located around 25km (15 miles) northeast from Casco Viejo, which takes around 30 minutes by taxi. You can, of course, arrange a taxi when you arrive, but we found taxi drivers in Panama City to be quite dishonest, so we opted for Uber instead. However, when arriving for your first time, we recommend arranging a pre-booked private transfer with an English speaking driver to minimise all stress and skip the airport's long taxi queue.
Visa requirements: Travellers from most EU countries, USA, Canada and Australia do not need a visa for up to 90 days as a tourist in Panama. However, when you check-in for your flight, your airline will require you to show that you have a return/onward travel ticket. You can check if you need a visa here.
Travel insurance: Do not leave home without it. It's a must, full stop. If your flight is cancelled, you fall sick and need to cut your trip short, you lose your bag or get it stolen, it will cover all of that! We've been using to WorldNomads for years and cannot recommend them highly enough.
Vaccinations: All travellers to Panama should make sure they're up to date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps and chickenpox. Most travellers should also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travellers may also need vaccinations for hepatitis B, yellow fever, malaria and rabies, depending on what and where you'll be doing. Check the CDC website for the most up to date info for Panama and also speak to your local doctor or travel nurse.
Currency: simple – it's the US dollar! £1 converts to around $1.24 and €1 to around $1.08. We recommend downloading the XE Currency app.
Tipping culture: Tipping is not generally expected and locals will just round up to the nearest dollar. Most restaurants will include a 10% service charge, but if not, that's a good ballpark figure for your gratuity. For tour guides we were recommended to give a tip of around $10 per day, but note, it is discretionary and not expected.
Accommodation: There are many excellent hotels to stay in Panama City. Our go-to for inspiration and booking is Booking.com because they have an extensive selection and the best prices. They also have free cancellation for most listings, which is handy if plans change last minute.
Sightseeing and adventure: We love the tours and articles on GetYourGuide.com. It's our starting point for inspiration and research as they have good ideas. Booking their tours is also super easy and we've never been disappointed with any we've done.
When to visit: Panama remains warm and tropical all year round, with temperatures rarely dropping below 30°C (around 86°F) in the day and 20°C (around 68°F) at night! Panama has two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season runs from December to March and is the most touristy. The wet season runs from March to December, but rain is very tropical if it happens – ie in short intense bursts then quickly disappears.
Gay map of Panama city
We've made this map for you which shows all the best gay friendly places in Panama City that we've mentioned in this guide. Use it to help plan your own fabulous trip to Panama!
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For more inspiration:
- Read our gay guide to Bocas del Toro in the north of the country
- Check out what we rate as our highlights of South America
- Read what we rate as our favourite gay destinations in South America
- Use our gay guide to Colombia to help plan your trip
- Read about our experience partying at the gay mega club Theatron in Bogota
- Check out our gay guide to Buenos Aires
- Use our gay guide to Argentina to plan your trip to Evita's homeland
- If you're going to Ecuador check out our gay guide to Quito
- Learn what gay life is like in Ecuador in our interview with local boy Mario from Quito
- Learn about gay life in Chile in our interview with gay local Ivan from Santiago.