Panama’s Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo Hotel Will Immediately Immerse You in the Local Culture

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When I first got the invite to Sofitel’s Panama hotel, I misread the email as an invite to Panama City, Florida, which was not at the top of my bucket list for U.S. cities to visit. After reading the email a little closer, I learned I was invited to the Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo in Panama… the country. I had never been to Panama before, so I figured it’d be a great opportunity to check out the hotel and visit a new place. Still, I didn’t know much about Panama—all I knew was that I’d be staying at a charming five-star hotel located on the eastern edge of the city’s historic Casco Viejo District in celebration of its one-year anniversary.

The flight from LAX is a little over six hours long, and I was graciously upgraded to business class by Copa Airlines, Panama’s official airline. The international airline has flights from 16 destinations in the U.S. Copa Airlines also has a “Panama Stopover” program, which allows you to make a pit stop in Panama for anywhere from 24 hours to seven days without paying additional airfare to go to or return from your final destination. Once I landed, it was only about a 30-minute drive from the airport.


When we pulled up to the hotel, I was struck by how pristine the all-white, French-inspired hotel looked situated along the water’s edge. The 159 guest room property, nestled tightly between old cobblestone roads, was by no means opulent but was a stark contrast to the rest of the rustic buildings we had just driven by. The hotel, which is more than one hundred years old (and was first built in 1917), is teeming with history. The original structure, designed by legendary American architect James C. Wright, was originally known as the Club Union, an exclusive social club for local businessmen and foreign ambassadors, including Albert Einstein and Queen Elizabeth II. It’s since been reimagined, but details of that time period are still threaded throughout the present-day architecture and décor.

Panama is humid, so walking into the air-conditioned, tiled lobby was the perfect welcome. The lobby boasted a massive fresco map of the Panama Canal, stunning ornate chandeliers, lots of windows, and the chic Mayda Lobby Bar, where many a cocktail would be had during my stay. Even though it was only a three-hour time difference from California, I was more jet-lagged than I anticipated (probably because I took the red-eye flight). After being ushered to my suite, I proceeded to pass out immediately in the supremely comfortable bed.


I stayed in one of the hotel’s suites, the Magnifique oceanfront room, which came with a very charming iron balcony, complete with classic French doors that overlooked the water, perfectly framing the Panama City Skyline. The room itself was complete with a four-poster bed, the softest white linen sheets and cushiest mattress, mahogany floors, and a plush velvety blue couch. For me, the best part of the room was the sprawling marble bathroom with brass hardware fixtures and a not-to-be-missed standalone cobalt blue tub (which I took full advantage of throughout the trip).

After a long slumber, my first order of business in the morning was finding a coffee at the attached Vera Café, where I tried the most delicious fresh iced ginger latte (which was so good I ordered it on repeat for the rest of my trip). We kicked off the next day with a four-hour walking tour and window shopping at a local Panama hat vendor. My favorite part was the friendly local street cats greeting us at every turn. Once we returned back to the hotel, I decided to explore the grounds. Overall, it has a quaint but luxe feel with a small pool area perfectly overlooking the sea. The adjacent kitchen and bar offer fresh poolside snacks like juices and smoothies, quinoa bowls, and tropical cocktails.


The hotel spa experience was exceptional—in fact, it was one of the best deep-tissue massages I’ve ever had. As far as off-site excursions, I’d recommend stopping at Cantina del Tigre restaurant, which is ranked no. 25 on the 2023 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Our group made a pit stop there before an obligatory visit to the Panama Canal, and with innovative veggie-filled options like vegan ceviche and Arroz Rojo, it did not disappoint.

Another can’t-miss activity (which can be organized through the front desk of the hotel) is a visit to the Embera Tribe, one of the seven Indigenous groups of Panama. I won’t spoil the full experience, but after a scenic 25-minute canoe ride along the Chagres River, you’ll find yourself in a small, remote community where you can expect to be embraced by the Embera. There, you’ll learn all about their history and customs; it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience.


On our second to last night, we dined at a property at Caleta, operated by Michelin-starred chef Lorenzo Di Gravio. The polished space, complete with Mahogany paneling, leather banquettes, and distressed mirrors, gives it a vibey upscale Parisian brasserie feel. We were lucky enough to dine in the private second-floor dining room, and there was no shortage of seafood plates like fresh oysters, cilantro-loaded octopus, and shrimp curry.

On our final evening at the property, we checked out Ammi Skybar, the hotel’s rooftop bar, for cocktails and apps. Our last stop before retiring to bed was Arcano, the secret speakeasy (located in an undisclosed location on the premises). Inside the low-lit space, you can expect cocktails paired with tarot cards and other fun surprises, but you have to know someone to get in. Definitely inquire upon check-in.

Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo

After four culture-filled days, it was time to return back to reality—something I was not looking forward to after such a wonderful stay. This was the first time I’d been on a press trip and truly felt immersed in the local culture. From the historical hotel to immersive excursions, I left feeling genuinely enriched. If you find yourself in Panama City for work or pleasure, make sure you book a stay at Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo.


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