Most people would agree that Paso Canoas isn't exactly a vacation hot spot. But many expats still go there for a variety of reasons. After playing the tourist game for more years than I care to admit, I'm no longer obligated to make these trips, but they've sort of become a quarterly routine for me and I still like to regularly shop there. I headed out two days ago and made my first stop at La Morenita as usual to drop off the car and check in. Vilka greeted me warmly and then with a chagrinned expression said she had hoped I wouldn't be showing up this month. Apparently the hostal was full and there wasn't even a spare sofa to offer me. She explained that the stranded Cubans had filled up the place and she was under government contract to give them priority lodging. She expected things to lighten up in March. In her usual, attentive fashion though, she called a friend who was able to put me up at their hotel. She said the name of the place was Las Canarias, and it was in the town center.
Having a good idea of what central Paso Canoas hotels were like, I was less than enthusiastic about staying anywhere in town. But Vilka assured me the place was decent. When I got there I was pleasantly surprised. It's located about 300 meters south of the Panamanian immigration building on the road heading toward Puerto Armuellas. If you follow that road, you will pass a Pio Pio place, a Melo store, a Banco Nacional branch, and then reach a strip mall across from a gas station and automotive repair / tire place.
The hotel residencial Las Canarias is actually two facilities, one on the Panamanian side and one on the Costa Rican side of the border. The hotel on the Panamanian side, which is the one on the Puerto Armuellas road and is shown in the photo above, is the more expensive of the two. But the price differences are minimal ---around a $10 per room (and you get a lot more space for that $10).
I was warmly greeted by name at the reception desk when I walked in. The attendant spoke flawless English and I learned his father is Panamanian and his mother British, so he grew up with both languages. He considers himself Panamanian. My room charge was $50. There are available parking spots off the road in front of the hotel, and I was assured there is a watchman at night. The hotel itself is upstairs over the strip mall. Downstairs, next to the hotel entrance, is a small coffee shop.
I asked about nearby restaurants for a more substantial meal and learned that their Costa Rican facility, located 1.5 blocks away, offered home-cooked typical dishes, and so I decided to head there for dinner after some shopping.
The rooms are clean, spacious, and nicely decorated. A standard room comes with two queen beds, private bath, air conditioning, cable television, hot water with great water pressure, and a small seating area. There is a spacious and comfortable lobby as well, with numerous magazines to peruse. Compared to equally priced other downtown locations, this place has it hands down.
After shopping, I headed over to the Costa Rican facility for dinner. When I walked in, there was an attractive lady sitting at one of the tables who greeted me and asked me if I was "la señora Charlotte." She told me the attendant at the other building had called to tell her I'd be coming. She asked me what I'd like to eat and said she could offer me fish filet, pork chops, chicken, or beef with a salad and rice, beans, a "casado" or patacones. I ordered fish with salad and patacones and ice cold Imperial, a Costa Rican beer that I like much more than any of the Panamanian brands. The food was delicious, the service excellent, and $10 covered everything, including tax and tip. The next morning I chose to eat there again instead of in the downstairs coffee shop. There is no menu. You simply tell the cook what you want and she prepares it for you. I had a ham, cheese and onion omelette with ripe plantains and natilla (a Costa Rican cultured cream) on the side, plus a huge cup of local coffee. The meal was $ 8.50 including tax and tip.
At the Costa Rican facility, parking is off road and enclosed and roofed. I didn't ask to see a room there, however as I was leaving I looked into one being cleaned and found it acceptable, but much smaller and plainer than the one I stayed in on the Panama side. To my way of thinking, the extra $10 is worth it. Here are some photos of the Panamanian facility's entrance and lobby areas as well as a photo of my room.
They also offer a deluxe suite that has a jacuzzi tub, king size bed, small refrigerator and sound system. The charge for the suite is $ 100 per night.
For additional photos or information, the link to their facebook page is below:
Below are photos of the location, entrance, and lobby / restaurant facilities at the Costa Rican Las Canarias location.
It's not easy to find decent lodging in this small border town. I've tried several. Prices don't vary all that much. For the same room rates, you could do much worse. Even if you were to pay more, you won't find locations better than either La Morenita or Las Canarias. And nothing beats their customer service. Here's hoping things don't change anytime soon.