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 pushing towards civil union equality for gay couples.
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 further afield – Bocas del Toro.
We stayed in Panama City for a week and found it to be a lot of fun, full of things to do, plenty of trendy bars, but most importantly, we left with a thirst to return. This is our gay guide to Panama City following our experience here during our big Latin America trip.
The gay scene of Panama City
Panama a very conservative Catholic country, with a strong influence from Opus Dei. As such, the gay scene in the country is pretty underground in quite dodgy neighbourhoods, with places frequently closing down/changing. When we visited, there were no gay bars and only one official gay club (see below) in Panama City.
Warning: when going out to a gay club in Panama City, doormen are very strict and will only admit you if you have your original ID, preferably your passport. Most LGBTQ locals we met preferred to have private parties, or attend one of the the monthly gay rooftop parties hosted at venues like the Hard Rock Hotel. To get the most out of your time in Panama City, we recommend:
- Gay Pride PTY Facebook page: check out this page to connect with locals. They are very responsive and are an excellent source of knowledge for the most up-to-date information for gay events taking place and any gay bars and clubs in Panama City.
- EcoCircuitos Pride Tours: this tour company is owned and run by LGBTQ locals. They offer a wide range of excellent tours aimed at gay travellers both in Panama City and around. As such, they will also be a good starting point for finding out more about the gay scene of Panama City.
Gay bars and clubs in Panama City
There is no gay neighbourhood in Panama City, and when we visited, there was only 1 gay club in existence. Everything else listed online had closed down. There are however a handful of gay friendly bars in the city’s old town neighbourhood, the Casco Viejo.
- XS Club Bar: when we visited in October 2017, this was the only official gay club in Panama City. Sadly it’s in a rough area, so we advise taking an Uber there and back. The doormen are very rude and will dismiss you if you don’t have your original passport or ID, so remember to bring this with you. XS is open Thursday to Sunday until 3am. It is located at in the Tumba Muerto neighbourhood on Via José Ricardo Alfaro, Avenida Juan Pablo II, behind Antiguo Depósito and in front of the SIGLO XXI shopping centre.
- Gato Blanco Rooftop Bar: we love the cocktails and cool vibe at Gato Blanco. It’s a very gay friendly bar in Casco Viejo and a popular hangout with gay locals we met in the city. The bar staff are also super cute. When we went on a Friday evening, they had a live DJ playing some of the best Latino pop hits. Gato Blanco is open everyday until 3am and is the rooftop lounge of the Hotel Gatto Blanco.
- 360 Rooftop: another gay friendly rooftop bar in Casco Viejo, famous for its delicious sangrias. They also serve up yummy tapas and sushi snacks. It’s open every Tuesday to Saturday until 4am, making it the ideal late night venue for when you get the munchies.
Gay friendly hotels in Panama City
Panama Marriott Hotel: high end
We loved loved the Marriott in Panama City. As far as customer service goes, these guys have it nailed down to a T. Everyone was so welcoming to us from the receptionist who checked us in, the staff at their trendy Corvina y Caña bar and even the friendly cleaning ladies.
We loved our room, it had plenty of space, extremely comfortable bed and even our own bath tub. The buffet breakfast is really impressive with both international and local offerings. For us the high standard of service was the stand out memory, as well as the gorgeous large outdoor pool+Jacuzzi.
Rooms at the Panama Marriott hotel start from $140/£105 a night. You can check prices, availability and read reviews about it on Tripadvisor.
Waldorf Astoria Panama: high end
The Waldorf is located walking distance to the Avenida Balboa beachfront – one of our favourite hangouts in the city. The staff are friendly and clearly used to LGBTQ travellers, so as a gay couple, we felt completely welcome.
We stayed in one of the suites which was luxurious and had all the usual Hilton amenities – bathrobe, slippers etc. They have a large outdoor heated pool, and modern gym with a full range of equipment. The breakfast buffet was our favourite standout memory from the Waldorf with delicious fresh juices and some yummy local Panamanian classics like sancocho soup.
Rooms at the Waldorf Astoria Panama start from $165/£125 a night. You can check prices, availability and read reviews about it on Tripadvisor.
Hotel Gato Blanco: medium budget
Hotel Gato Blanco is a more affordable gay friendly option located right in the heart of Panama’s old town, the Casco Viejo. It’s also home to the trendy gay friendly rooftop bar Gato Blanco. But this one is best suited to night owls as the insulation from the bar upstairs is quite, limited.
For the price you pay, it’s actually a bargain given how expensive Panama City’s Casco Viejo neighbourhood is. If you’re going to go out in the evenings, Hotel Gato Blanco is perfect, however it you prefer peace and quiet, then we’d advise against staying here.
Rooms at Hotel Gato Blanco start from $78/£60 a night. You can check prices, availability and read reviews about it on Tripadvisor.
Live like a local: Airbnb
If you prefer to have your own place, there are many locals renting out their apartments on Airbnb across Panama City. This usually works out much cheaper than a hotel and gives you a taster of local life.
You can claim $40/£30 off your first booking on Airbnb using our unique link.
Things to do in Panama City
For most, the world famous Panama Canal will be the main draw, which is definitely worth a visit. The Old Town (Casco Viejo) and the Avenida Balboa beachfront were also highlights of the city for us.
- The Panama Canal: we visited the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center, which is a 20-30 mins ride from downtown. The museum here is extremely impressive and you get to see the Canal actually functioning as big ships come in to be lifted/lowered so they can proceed. For us this was the highlight of our trip in Panama City, a real engineering marvel!
- Avenida Balboa beachfront: we loved walking along this long promenade, particularly at sunset. This is when couples come for romantic strolls, sexy guys come to work out at the outdoor gyms, and tourists like us(!) come to pose by the large PANAMA sign. This is also a great place to get some of the best skyline city views.
- Casco Viejo: this is the city’s old town neighbourhood with cobblestone streets and restored Spanish colonial buildings. You will find the city’s best restaurants and trendy rooftop bars like Gato Blanco here. We also loved just strolling through the streets and visiting the souvenir and artisanal gift shops.
- Seafood market: located near Avenida Balboa is the Mercado de Marisco seafood market. We stumbled on it by accident for lunch and really glad we did. It’s got a lively local atmosphere with many small restaurants serving fresh seafood dishes like ceviche.
Things to do outside of Panama City
- Day trip to San Blas: San Blas is the tropical deserted island gem of Panama made up of over 300 rustic islands, and inhabited by the country’s Guna natives. The islands are thankfully very underdeveloped, so it’s a very rustic experience, so not ideal if you expect luxury on your travels. You can visit San Blas on a day trip from Panama City, or better still, stay overnight.
- Contadora: this is another tropical island gem, ideal for those who don’t quite want a deserted remote island experience like San Blas. Contadora island is in the archipelago of Panama’s Pearl Islands, either 2 hours’ ferry ride or a 15 minutes flight from Panama City.
For other tours in and around Panama City, we highly recommend EcoCircuitos who offer a variety of trips for LGBTQ travellers, which focus on culinary, cultural, agricultural and volunteering experiences.
To see more from our trip, check out our Panama TraveLibro story, where we posted our favourite photos, videos, tips and more.