We spent two nights at Hotel Santana in Santa Ana, Panama City, Panama.
Here is our review of the hotel.
I remember hearing something about Manuel Noriega when I was a child.
I remember thinking he was in Nicaragua.
“Noriega” sort of sounds like “Nicaragua”, especially to a 9 year old.
Why do I bring it up in a review of Hotel Santana in Panama?
The United States invaded Panama in 1989. To some of you, this isn’t news. To me, (and I imagine to many people in the US under the age of about 33,) this is surprising news.
The United States invaded a country as close as Panama?
And within my lifetime?
And wasn’t the US in Panama managing the canal anyway?
You can read the whole history of it here on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_invasion_of_Panama), but yes, the United States invaded Panama.
The invasion was short (and was done under other pretenses, A.K.A. “Operation Just Cause”, but) resolved an issue many around the world feared:
The Panama Canal could or would be held captive by a government not necessarily aligned with the ideals for which the canal was designed and built.
When the United States invaded Panama, the primary staging ground for the invasion was the Santa Ana neighborhood.
Below you can see the old officer’s club, which is now pretty much just an abandoned piece of prime real estate, that hasn’t been developed, or really touched (other than by graffiti and skateboard wheels) as it’s a something of a memorial now.
The cost of the invasion:
– About 20,000 people lost their homes and became refugees as a result of urban warfare
– Has been estimated to be between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars
– 23+ Americans and 1000+ (still unknown) Panamanians dead
Our friend Dan (an American living in Playa Coronado, Panama) told us (when we stayed with him in November 2009) that when he was stationed here at the Panama canal (before the changeover in 1999 to give Panama control of the canal), United States Military personnel weren’t allowed to go into the Santa Ana neighborhood.
People in Santa Ana and Chorillo (another neighborhood) were simply still too angry about what had happened, and it was feared that the people of Santa Ana might not take too kindly to Americans coming into their neighborhood again, even just to buy a beer or some groceries.
When we reserved Hotel Santana, I didn’t put those two things (“Santa Ana”, and “Hotel Santana”) together.
The fact was pointed out to me by our taxi driver, on the way from the bus station to Hotel Santana.
Our taxi driver told us “Es un barrio MAAALO”, (it’s a BAAAD neighborhood).
Normally we shrug this off, because most taxis will tell you something bad about the hotel you’ve reserved.
(This is often done in an effort to get you to go to a hotel where they earn a little under the table commission for bringing you there.)
Then he told me that Santa Ana was where America launched the invasion.
(Riiight. The invasion. Forgot all about that. All I could think was, Oops! Shouldn’t have reserved a hotel here! and hope this wouldn’t be a BIG oops!)
Driving into the barrio, I realize that the taxi driver was right… Santa Ana is not the nicest neighborhood.
But Hotel Santana comes recommended pretty highly on TripAdvisor, has a nice website, and definitely for the price, Hotel Santana seemed like a good deal.
I don’t know if the Santa Ana neighborhood ever was nice (i.e. pre-invasion), but it certainly is one of the rougher parts of town.
To be fair, we haven’t gone walking much in the neighborhood, and probably won’t before leaving here.
We’re only in Panama City for 2 days and there are quite a few interesting things to see within the city, and definitely within an hour of the city.
Despite the neighborhood’s rough outward appearance, we actually like Hotel Santana.
$29/night gets you an air conditioned room with a TV (with cable), a private bathroom with a hot shower, a lobby with WiFi (bring your own computer/Internet device) and a really secure building. There is security posted just inside the (always locked) door at all times.
Hotel Santana offers you no view (because many of the rooms don’t even have windows), but if you’re only in Panama City for a day or two, there are plenty of places to be out and about where you can enjoy a nice view.
Just 10 blocks walking from here is the main part of Casco Antiguo.
Our only complaints about Hotel Santana:
The hotel center is an atrium, and all the walls are plaster/tile.
It’s well-lit (which is good), but even in a room on the far end of the hotel from the front desk, you get lots of light in your room at night, and can hear people speaking when they’re checking in or checking out.
If that’s our only real complaint, it’s probably pretty good here.
Yes, there are nicer hotels in Panama City, and places you could spend a LOT more money. But if you’re okay not being in a “great” hotel, opting instead for the “good enough” category, we think Hotel Santana might be your choice.
For $29/night, we’ve found Hotel Santana to be a good place to stay.
Plus, it gave me a great excuse to brush up on my history of the Panama – United states relationship, and to see a really interesting (albeit less pretty) part of Panama City.
(Hotel Santana’s Website – clicking will open a new window)