Fortuna Reservoir (south of Chiriquí Grande)
There is a great bush camping spot right on the Continental Divide, on the road between Chiriquí Grande and the Interamericana. Take the small paved road to the west, immediately south of the divide crest; this is about 35 km south of Chiriquí Grande. Less than a km up this road are several large flat areas on the left. Super quiet and beautiful place to spend a night.
Guadalupe (above Volcan)
Los Quetzales Lodge. $20. About 20 km NE of Volcan; turn right at the Volcan police station toward Bambito, Nueva Suiza, and Cerro Punta. Guadalupe is at the end of the road, but when we visited the bridge on the main road between Cerro Punta and Guadelupe was out, so we had to detour left in Cerro Punta and box around to Guadalupe - just ask for directions if you don’t have a good map. Large lodge with restaurant, spa and gardens. They were very welcoming and happy to let us camp in the parking lot and use the toilets and hot showers in the spa.
XS Memories. $15 Near KM 114 marker, just across the highway from the Playa Santa Clara exit and 100 yards down a dirt road. Nice setting with a small pool and excellent palapa. Full hook-ups (power, water, waste), cold outdoor showers with no privacy. Free good WiFi. They are closed on Tuesdays, so if you arrive on that day there may be no one to let you in the locked gate.
Panama City - Amador
In front of Balboa Yacht Club. (N8:56.486 W79:33.310). There is a large public parking lot south of the Panama City side of the Puente de las Americas. Exit off the Interamericana toward Balboa and Amador. Turn left toward Amador (not Balboa) at the bottom of the exit. This is Calle Amador and leads to the causeway. In less than a kilometer you will see the large parking lot on your right. Take the entrance road to the yacht club and Country Inn and Suites, just before the parking lot. Although this is a very busy area with activity at night, it appears to be safe and regulalrly patrolled by policia. In addition, there is a 24 hr guard at the yacht club. You can get free WIFI signal in front of the yacht club.
We tried to bush camp along the dirt road that goes north from town but were woken at 1:00 AM by canal security/military and told we had to leave. They showed us to a spot right in town where they said we could stay. Go straight after crossing the bridge over the Chagres, watching for the police station on the left as you enter town. Turn right opposite the station onto a short dead-end street with a turning circle around a large tree at the end. There are tennis courts beyond the end of the road and a covered volleyball/basketball court on the right. We stayed here two nights; it was safe and relatively quiet. And you can use free WIFI in the lobby of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort.
This indigenous reserve is on the El Llano - Cart Road, which runs from the Interamericana to the Caribbean coast and begins about 75 km east of Panama City. The road was closed at the reserve headquarters, about 20 km from El Llano. We camped on the side of the road about 1 km before the headquarters. If you prefer to have facilities (basic toilet, shower, kitchen), you could stay at the headquarters, but I’ve heard there is no water in the dry season. The road was quiet and we didn’t have any vehicles go by after dark.
Thanks to Anne for this info
Pension Topas (Av Belisario Porras) will let you camp on their grassy lawn and use the shared shower/bathroom. It's a lovely spot with nice gardens and a swimming pool. Hot water, $5/person/night. [email protected]
Updated June 2012: Cost for us was $7 per tent per night. If you are a tent camper you have to park your car outside the gate. Photos on our site here.
Oasis Surf Camp is at the end of the road heading east along the coast after coming to Santa Catalina. It has a beautiful long beach with fantastic camp spots sheltered by palm trees. Cool water showers only, and a small restaurant with water and food. You actually have to drive across a small section of the beach to get there, and if the tides are really high you might not be able to get across. $5/person.
El Valle de Anton
Swami's campground is a funky but a nice place to stay if you don't mind patchouli and drum circles. As far as we can tell it's the only place to camp in the whole town. It's not well marked; drive from the Pan American highway through town and it's out towards the hot springs. Ask around for Swamis and people will direct you there. It has cold showers and a kind of dirty vegeterian (only) shared kitchen for cooking. $5/person.
Hostal Villa Michelle is a nice quiet hostel located in the Altos de Golf area (near Restaurant Waikiki). It has a gated parking area in front of the house with electronically controlled doors and two fierce watch dogs. It has high speed internet access, a pool, about 8 guest rooms that share 4 bathrooms, and two kitchen areas that the guests can use. The hostess, Yvonne, is a little nuts but overall it's a nice place to stay. Around $30/2 people, depends on the room and the length of time you're staying.
Hotel Marparaiso is in a good place in Panama City. $40 for a double room. Breakfast included and secure parking. No kitchen. Photos on our site.
A great campground on a lake an hour or so from Santa Fe. Camping is $6 per person and there is a $5 per person entry fee. Great covered area for camping and cooking in. Full details and GPS cords on our site.