Glass drops in at Amarla Casco Viejo, Panama City

THERE are a thousand reasons why Amarla Casco Viejo, an unforgettable luxury boutique hotel in Panama City’s 500-year-old historic district, is an architectural treasure and absolutely unbeatable by any other property in the area. But I’ll keep it short and sweet. 

The hotel abides by a design philosophy that proposes that any addition to a historic place needs to feel new, and shouldn’t try to replicate what was previously there. Architecture should respond to the current time of its construction. 

Balconies around Amarla’s interior courtyard | Photography credit: Phoebe Montague

The challenge with a building like Amarla, which used to be a house on this World Heritage Site over 350 years ago, becomes a matter of respecting tradition while giving guests a clear contrast between historical and contemporary elements. 

For starters, Amarla proudly shows the original pink stone and mortar interior walls that have been there for centuries, as well as the original facade, but the new walls and partitions are all painted in black steel, warm tones of wood, panes of glass, and stark white concrete. 

Kaandela, the restaurant in the hotel’s courtyard | Photography credit: Phoebe Montague

The effect of this works to enhance the architectural experience of a guest because it makes the space feel layered, luxurious, and (most importantly for me) honest.

Amarla is quite literally squeezed between two other colonial buildings which are unmovable and protected by the State. But what they’ve done is remarkable, using every inch of the property to maximize a singularly warm experience. And the way they do it is—instead of cramming small bedrooms from ground to top floors—by preserving the original domestic character of the place; it features only six rooms and two suites. 

The glass canopy seen from above the bedroom entrances, resembles a pool of water | Photography credit: Phoebe Montague

In addition, the architectural elements that characterise a historic property in a colonial setting—interior courtyards and tall ceilings, for instance—aren’t sacrificed for the sake of filling up the hotel with beds.

What’s lovely about visiting, is that when you walk into Amarla you feel like you’ve entered what was once somebody’s home, but elevated to accommodate a cosmopolitan traveler looking for intimacy, peace, and comfort.  

There are tropical plants at every turn, some which drape over the interior courtyard which is now covered in a glass canopy to protect the restaurant (the beautiful Candela) inside it, so guests can quite literally dine under the tropical rain.  

The suites boast double-height ceilings and doors to balconies overlooking Casco Viejo | Photography credit: Phoebe Montague

Original architectural elements are restored and given new life, such as the original wooden windows that now become coffee tables in the suites, or the original cistern’s steel lid, which becomes a sculptural element adorned with light at the restaurant bar.

We also see craftsmanship everywhere, brought in by local and international artists, artisans, and makers, even in the hand-painted wooden cocktail goblets that they immediately greet you with upon check-in. This all contributes to feeling like you’re part of a tropical story that’s told in pictures, furniture, lighting, textiles, and spaces. 

The suite as seen from the balcony | Photography credit: Phoebe Montague

The suites are impecable, with wooden doors that open up to a balcony with flowers overlooking the pink cobblestone streets of Casco Viejo. A steel spiral staircase gentle takes you up to the mezzanine level, where the bed is located, and a skylight over it allows the moon to watch over you as you sleep. 

The rooftop’s views to the historic city and the modern skyscrapers | Photography credit: Phoebe Montague

But the crown jewel of the hotel has to be its rooftop terrace: intimate and private, you get to cool off in its plunge pool while admiring the roofscapes of Panama City’s historic buildings in beautiful contrast with the modern, monumental skyscrapers in the background.

by Regner Ramos

Visit the hotel website or book your stay here.

About The Author

Glass Magazine Architecture, Travel, and Culture Writer

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