My big mistake was arriving in Panama city late on a Saturday during high season with no reservations.
I was exhausted after an eight hour bus ride that had snaked through half the entire length of the country. I got a cab and had the driver drop me off in Casco Viejo, Panama City’s old colonial district and tourist hot spot. A district that, by the way, happens to border a dangerous slum. Casco Viejo itself was undergoing a process of gentrification, with fancy upper class restaurants tucked away in between roofless crumbling colonial facades. It’s an interesting place to walk around and explore, although less interesting when you’re tired and hungry and lugging around a heavy backpack.
My first attempt finding somewhere to stay was Luna’s Castle, a hostel that got rave reviews from the guidebooks, online, and from numerous travelers I’d spoken with. It certainly seemed like a cool enough place from what I could tell from the outside, and the lobby area sure was nice. I never got beyond that. I went up to the reception desk only to find that, of course, they were booked for the night. In fact they were booked solid until a day after my flight left.