Most areas in Panama offer a wide choice of places to stay. In general, the cheapest hotel rooms, normally a simple en-suite double (with one double bed – cama matrimonial) with cable TV and a/c costs US$30 a night, although hostels – most common in well-travelled spots like Bocas Town, Boquete, David and Panama City – will put you up for around US$9–13/person. In Panama City, where many hotels target business travellers, prices tend to be slightly higher, while at the very low end of the market some hotels – euphemistically termed drive-in motels and auto-hotels – cater largely to Panamanian couples, with hourly rates. Locally referred to as a “Push”, each unit is accessed by a push-button garage door to provide couples with privacy. These are often the least expensive lodgings but not recommended for a solid night’s sleep.
For popular hostels, particularly in the city, you will need to book in advance, especially during public holidays, fiestas, Carnaval and even right through the high season (Dec–April). During these times hotel prices can double, and many places are booked out months in advance. The ten percent tourist tax charged on hotel accommodation is not always included in the quoted price.
There are no official campsites in Panama, but you will find several hostels that allow you to pitch your tent for around US$6/person, and you can camp in the national parks, though facilities will be limited. That said, camping is never really necessary – even in the smallest villages there’s almost always somewhere you can bed down for the night. If you do camp, either a mosquito net or mosquito coil (mechita) is essential in the lowlands. Almost all the national parks have ANAM refugios where you can spend the night for US$5–10, though this fee is not always charged. These refuges are usually pretty basic, but they do have bunk beds, cooking facilities and running water.