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One of Panama City’s oldest neighborhoods is home to some of its newest luxury hotels.
Hotel La Compania, part of Hyatt’s The Unbound Collection, has been on TPG’s radar since it opened last year. I had a Panama trip planned for the opening of the new Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo up the street and decided to head down a few days early to finally check out Hotel La Compania.
Guests are in luck with the new hotel, as it offers modern luxury seamlessly infused into a historic complex in the heart of Panama’s Casco Viejo neighborhood. Here’s what you need to know about Hotel La Compania.
What is Hotel La Compania?
“Living museum” is the term Hyatt uses to describe Hotel La Compania, and it’s easy to see why. The hotel opened after a seven-year restoration process to a complex that includes the ruins of a 300-year-old church. The property itself was originally built as a Jesuit convent in 1688, and you’ll see plenty of nods to history throughout the hotel and its décor.
The three wings of the hotel — Spanish, French and American — are nods to the city’s colonial past, but everything inside is up-to-date with the latest modern amenities blending in with the historic design flourishes. While there isn’t really a weak player here, I was hoping to stay in either the French or Spanish wings.
The Spanish wing is the oldest part of the hotel and features guest rooms accented with wooden support beams and stone walls. The Beaux Arts design of the American wing leans into a more colorful design palate and features Old Hollywood props in its public spaces. The French wing, where I stayed, features high ceilings and views of either the courtyard or the surrounding Casco Viejo neighborhood.
How to book
I booked my stay directly through the World of Hyatt app, as I’m working toward earning Globalist status this year. I wasn’t seeing any points redemption stay availability during my visit, so my One King Bed Casco View room came to $396.10 per night, including taxes and fees (Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency).
I don’t have Globalist status yet, but members who do are privy to an upgrade and free breakfast each morning in El Santuario, the hotel’s all-day restaurant that features a breakfast buffet or a la carte items from the menu.
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Hotel La Compania is also part of American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts, which offers amenities like early check-in, free breakfast for two, a room upgrade based on availability and a $100 property credit to be used during your stay.
Come for the art and history
Hyatt’s not joking when they call the hotel a living museum. It’s hard to go a few steps, let alone an entire room, without seeing some piece of art that stops you in your tracks. You’ll find stonework dating to the 1600s while you start your day in El Santuario — because who doesn’t appreciate a little history alongside their huevos rancheros?
“Real Housewives of New York” fans might dash over to Wikipedia after seeing a portrait of Ferdinand de Lesseps in the lobby (let’s say Countess LuAnn’s cabaret act is far more whimsical than Ferdinand’s tenure attempting to build the Panama Canal). My inner history buff chuckled at the fact dinner at the restaurant 1739 (named for when this part of the hotel was first built) was the more “modern” dining room compared to El Santuario.
Stay for the cozy accommodations
My second-floor guest room was cozy and had a thoughtful buildout with plenty of storage, a comfortable four-poster bed, high ceilings and a balcony overlooking the hotel’s bustling streetfront. It was worth saving time each day to sip an espresso outside from the in-room Nespresso machine, read a book and cheers my cup at the neighbor across the street doing the same. I’d even leave the door ajar at night to hear music from surrounding bars and restaurants waft in while I read my book in bed.
Blackout curtains and excellent soundproofing here gave me some of the best sleep I’d had in months, but be warned: The historic building appears to have a clunker of a heating and cooling system, as it would rattle and get loud intermittently throughout the night.
My room was on the smaller side (the booking website says a King Bed guest room clocks in between 258 and 430 square feet), and the large, mahogany four-poster bed — while extremely comfortable to sleep in — gobbled up a good share of the square footage. But there was still enough room to have my luggage stowed and not feel so confined. Having the French doors on the balcony as well as the high ceilings helped make the space feel larger than it actually was.
Further, the marble bathroom was very spacious, with a rainfall shower and Molton Brown amenities. Oversized bath sheets were a nice touch for drying off, as it’s always annoying having a shrunken towel that’s been through the dryer way too many times. There were ample hooks to dry things on and plenty of mirrors in the bathroom and hallway to make sure you look great from all angles before heading out on a night on the town (or just upstairs to the rooftop bar).
Daily housekeeping was prompt and thorough, and there was an evening turndown service.
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A great location in historic Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — is a bustling, historic neighborhood that is redeveloping fast. The neighborhood is Panama City’s historic district and is known for its colorful buildings and variety of architecture. I counted a litany of coffee shops, clothing stores, bars and restaurants I wanted to circle back to during my drive from the airport into the neighborhood.
Hotel staffers and local Panamanians will be quick to tell you this swatch of Panama City didn’t look like this just a few years ago. While the hotel has plenty of bars and restaurants to try out, be sure to stroll the surrounding neighborhood and support the local economy.
I made quite a few gift purchases around the corner from the hotel at Karavan Gallery, which sells various art and handmade goods from indigenous people. Sisu Coffee Studio nearby was my go-to coffee shop while in town, as it serves Panama’s famously high-quality Geisha coffee.
La Compania’s knockout restaurants
The hotel has a variety of restaurants across the property, and it’d be insulting to write these off as mere hotel restaurants. It’s clear after dining in many of them that Hotel La Compania is a destination for locals and out-of-towners, which is the whole point of the lifestyle hotel movement.
Capella, the hotel’s rooftop bar atop the American wing, and 1739 — the hotel’s French fine dining restaurant named for the year Jesuit priests built the French wing of the hotel — are particular standouts for delicious offerings and cool vibes.
Capella features views of the Panama City skyline as well as the La Compania courtyard. This lofty perch names its marquee cocktails after stars. (My $12 Zeta Puppis cocktail was a spicy, delectable mix of mezcal, white rum, green chili syrup, passion fruit and grapefruit soda — a nice blend of sweet and heat to enjoy after sunset and before dinner.)
1739 is a stunning place for date night, but it was also perfectly lovely for a hotel reviewer going incognito and dining solo. High ceilings, ornate crown moldings and stone walls make the place feel spacious but also intimate.
The romantic vibes get a lift thanks to dim lighting and cozy midcentury tables and chairs for dining. There are modern pops of art as well as many framed photographs of high-profile Panamanians adorning the stone walls, but don’t think this restaurant rests purely on looks.
My dinner at 1739 comprised of seared scallops ($18) to start, followed by a $35 lamb chop special (presented from beneath a smoky dome and placed atop a drizzled mix of herb-rich sauce). This was one of the best meals I’ve had in some time, and I realized the food was knocking it out of the park when my main critique was that I really wish there was more of the bread baked with gruyere placed on the table … because it goes against childhood table manners lessons to lap up the sauce from the plate with a spoon (or without, if we’re being honest). Yes, it was that delicious.
I’m not a dessert person, but it was hard to say no to capping off a meal with a decadent apple tart drizzled in caramel and served with a scoop of ice cream ($10). I was also very surprised to see a dry gin martini was only $10 to go with the meal (a practical bargain considering you’ll pay at least twice that at a chic hotel restaurant in the U.S.).
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CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY
If you think 1739 is a historic dining space, El Santuario in the Spanish wing dates back to the 1600s and is a beautiful, soaring start to the day.
Service is affable and not rushed. The $22 Panamanian Breakfast (again, you’ll get free breakfast here for being a World of Hyatt Globalist) is a hearty start to the day and features steak and onions, chorizo, eggs made to order and a decadently glutenous carimañola (a type of fritter filled with ground meat). The $32 breakfast buffet includes specialty eggs (like a three-egg omelet or eggs shakshuka), fresh fruit, a bread basket, fresh juice, coffee or tea and the buffet line-up of Western classics and more local flavor like Creole chorizo.
You’ll want to plan a walk around Casco Viejo after breakfast here!
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CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY
Hotel La Compania’s rooftop pool is a relaxing retreat throughout the day and never felt overwhelmingly packed at even its busiest moments during my visit. There’s a poolside bar for ordering cocktails, and its sundeck perch offers a view of historic Casco Viejo. The pool’s 6 p.m. closing time coincides with when Capella, a flight of stairs up, opens for the evening.
You’ll also find the hotel’s small-but-adequate gym down a flight of stairs from the pool in the Spanish wing. Cardio equipment like elliptical machines and treadmills, as well as free weights are on hand, plus a bathroom (that had the heat cranked up oddly high) for changing.
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CAMERON SPERANCE/THE POINTS GUY
Why you might not love Hotel La Compania
- While staffers are very friendly and helpful, I found the hotel’s communication and messaging at times to be slow and not that innovative. I reached out to the hotel a few weeks before my arrival about restaurant recommendations and potential tours to consider. I didn’t hear back right away and began making my own plans before hearing from the concierge a couple of days before arrival.
- I thought my guest room was the perfect size for traveling solo, but some travelers checking in as a couple or a family will want to consider upgrading to a suite or at least a guest room with two queen-sized beds. What I deem cozy, others might find a little claustrophobic. Further, some of the art seemed a bit off the mark and cheap for a hotel leaning heavily into history: The Eiffel Tower photos, while certainly depicting a French icon, in my French wing room, felt a little out of place in a building serving more as a nod to Panama’s colonial history.
- Given the hotel’s historic buildout, you’ll likely have to take a circuitous route here and there, depending on where you’re trying to go. I found this charming, as it gave me a little more time to explore the Spanish and American wings. Others might find this inefficient with too many stairs or multiple elevator trips.
- Casco Viejo is clearly one of Panama City’s trendiest neighborhoods. Food and drink prices might not be expensive compared to cities like New York City or Las Vegas, but there’s definitely a markup from being in one of the hottest parts of town. I stopped for lunch at Mercado de Mariscos, the city’s fish market just outside Casco Viejo. Ceviche and a beer at the fish market cost $9 compared to drink-and-appetizer combinations that typically cost $20 or more at La Compania and elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Hotel La Compania’s biggest competitor opened this year just down the street: Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo, a more sprawling luxury hotel right on the Casco Viejo waterfront. While the Sofitel feels more luxurious in terms of buildout and amenities, it was abundantly clear both properties see the other as their immediate, albeit friendly, competition.
As one Hotel La Compania staffer told me: “There’s enough room for two stars on top of this Christmas tree.”
Hotel La Compania features wide, wheelchair-accessible doorways, handrails in hallways, wheelchair-accessible restaurants and wheelchair-accessible paths to all elevators on-site. The hotel also has wheelchairs available for use.
That said, there is only one accessible guest room on the property, a reservations specialist told me, and it requires calling the hotel to check on its availability. The hotel pool did not have a chair lift.
Hotel La Compania is a wonderful addition to Panama City’s hotel scene, and it’s a big win for points enthusiasts looking to earn and redeem World of Hyatt points. Historic doesn’t mean giving up trendy and chic, as La Compania shows.
While there can always be a little hesitation over whether the big brands can develop a cool lifestyle hotel well, Hotel La Compania is something Hyatt should be proud of.
It’s not a perfect hotel (Is there such a thing?), but Hotel La Compania is a great way to feel like a local and spend a couple of days exploring Panama City either before or after a beach getaway.