Checking in: Hotel Tantalo, Panama City, Panama

Panama City is growing by leaps and bounds. The high-rise towers continue to grow along the waterfront and huge hotels are opening downtown with most major chains represented. And yet, for our recent overnight, I skipped all of that, choosing the Hotel Tantalo. Tantalo is a small boutique hotel in Casco Viejo, the old city neighborhood. With just a dozen rooms it is a very, very different experience than the major brands could offer. I’m very, very happy I made that choice.

Last time I spent the night in Panama was 2009. We stayed in the Courtyard Panama Multiplaza which was nice enough, I suppose, though rather sterile as I find most large hotels to be. I didn’t want to repeat that experience this time around, plus I wanted to see just how well the regentrification of the old city was progressing. I even thought we’d have time to walk around and see some of the sights there. Not so much with touristing time but the hotel was mostly fantastic.

Entry way in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo
Entry way in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo

The rooms are each different, decorated by local artists and each comes with a story. The booking process was somewhat more involved than most in that I chose to read all the stories and choose the room which I felt best suited our personalities. We ended up in the Purple King. Here’s part of the room description:

You dive into the ocean and the cartoon comes to life. A giant octopus swims in the room and wraps his tentacles around you. How can it be that he still plays “king” even though he has lost his crown?

The octopus moves through the bedroom while you look at yourself in the mirror. The purple mast guards the sea and becomes Poseidon’s trident.

Is playing to be happy better than being happy by playing? The tentacles finally embrace the crown and take the lead. Is the Purple King back? Yes, your highness!

And, as expected, the walls were beautifully decorated with an octopus and crown motif. It was awesome.

Bed area in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo
Bed area in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo
Bathroom in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo
Bathroom in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo
Mini-bar and a crown in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo
Mini-bar and a crown in the Purple King room at Hotel Tantalo

The room also had a small balcony facing the street. Just across the way was a residential building and it was sortof like being in their homes as they had the windows wide open when I went out to look around. Pretty cool, and the street didn’t cause too much noise trouble, though we were there mid-week.

The hotel also has a roof-top bar and a lobby restaurant/bar. The food in the restaurant was delicious (we ended up having both dinner and breakfast there) and the views from the roof deck were pretty spectacular, too.

My only complaint is that the hotel got a little loud and rowdy at night, even mid-week. It is all concrete and open spaces meaning lots of room for noise to echo around and travel up from the lobby bar towards the rooms. I eventually slept just fine in the comfy bed, but it did involve using my earplugs.

Looking down into the lobby bar at Hotel Tantalo
Looking down into the lobby bar at Hotel Tantalo

I like being in that neighborhood rather than out by the shopping malls (though that may change if the rebuilding work continues to remove the local character from the area). And both the room and the facilities were great. The noise was slightly a problem and some reviews say it gets even worse on weekends.

View from the balcony at Hotel Tantalo
View from the balcony at Hotel Tantalo. Note the neighbors across the street

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Thanks for your review. It illustrates how people value hotel characteristics differently. Any hotel where I required earplugs to sleep midweek would not be acceptable. Painted walls sound nice, but my eyes are closed during a majority of the time I visit a room. I first evaluate hotels on good sleep environment. I’d like to know the firmness of the bed, types of pillows, and loudness of fans and A/C. That serves my needs.

  2. While I share your views about large chain hotels often being sterile and preference for smaller, individualized well-located smaller properties, I cannot fathom being satisfied with a room in which I needed to don ear plugs in order to get a restful nights sleep.

  3. I’ve had to put in ear plugs in many chain hotels, too. I did so a couple days later at a Sheraton in Rio. Sadly that isn’t really the defining metric in most cases. And we went to bed relatively early that night having been traveling all day. I don’t think the noise went on too late.

    I do think that the noise is a strike against the hotel. But I prefer that neighborhood (at least for now) and other features the hotel offers. Maybe I’ll try a different hotel in the area next time to see if I can find something a bit quieter; there are a number of other options nearby, though I don’t know the prices for them.

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