The Pan American is remarkable, and in some ways, unlike any other hotel you have recently experienced. As a result, I highly recommend that you try it, even if it is not luxurious, and more than a little quirky.
Actually chose the hotel as I’d enjoyed breakfast in the lobby four years previous. And when I needed to stay in Guatemala City the night before my flight, I figured I’d try it as an overnight spot.
What makes The Pan American so interesting is that it is old. Not historic and spruced up, mind you. Just old. Extremely well maintained, and notably clean. But not updated. I’d have to imagine that the hotel looks much like it did in the mid-40s, when the Astoria hotel became The Pan American.
The building is interesting, if not huge, on the outside--but the interior is grand in scale. The lobby ceiling is three stories high, and the resulting atrium houses the hotel’s restaurant. The bulk of the rooms are on the second floor--and the ceilings in this building are notably high.
Check-in was awful, frankly. I reserved through Hotels.com, but the communication between that website and the hotel had to have faltered--as they couldn’t find the reservation. Finally, I got room keys--but didn’t really like the room. The front desk clerk found four other rooms, and sent an attendant with me to see my alternatives.
All the rooms were of similar size--all with an interesting tile pattern, and a sagging double bed. Two of the rooms had walk-out balconies--very nice--but they faced the noisy street, so I returned to my original room.
Because the ceilings are so high, the rooms can seem smaller than they are. And the lighting is neither great, nor flattering. But all is quite clean, and in good repair. Remarkably so, given that nothing looks renovated. Repeatedly, you will walk around this hotel, and marvel at how spectacular some money and TLC would make it a showplace. Right now, it is just a period piece.
All the surfaces are quite live, so any noise in the atrium carries to the rooms. Of particular note, the hotel locks its front door, and any later guests returning have to ring a door buzzer--which you will hear. Just warning you. Selecting a room at the back of the hotel, however, really made things quieter. (Bring earplugs, anyway)
Some reviews of the hotel will note that there are hair dryers in the rooms, and a complimentary airport shuttle. Neither is accurate. . .no hair dryers anywhere (I asked) and you are on your own to get back to the airport. Taxi fare is about 90Q ($12 USD).
My rate included breakfast, and I really like breakfasts here. The Sunday buffet is quite complete, and the service for coffee, water, etc. possesses good follow up. Food is good too. Sitting in the lobby is a great way to watch goings on here.
The hotel’s bar has been buffed up--probably the spiffiest space in the hotel. Then again, it wasn’t open when I was there.
You can’t write about The Pan American without discussing its neighborhood, Zona 1, or as the hotel tries to rebrand it in advertising, the Centro Historico. Zona 1 (pronounced zona una) is Guatemala City’s historic downtown center, and The Pan American is in the very heart of it. The National Palace, The Cathedral, and the plaza on which they are centered are just a half block away, and other important buildings are nearby as well. While there is rich architectural detail around the hotel, much of Zona 1 is quite grungy as well--and the district has a reputation of being quite dangerous, particularly at night. It would be great if vacated for six months and all steam cleaned--but that is not going to happen. (In fact, the State Department prohibits personnel from staying in Zona 1). What has happened, however, is a rather dramatic clean up of Avenida 6, now blocked to traffic and called Paseo de la Sexta. I had dinner at Altuna--four blocks from the hotel--and asked the front desk if I could walk. Was surprised when he said yes--but he suggested walking down Avenida 6 rather than Avenida 5, where the restaurant’s front door is. The Saturday night I made the walk, Paseo de la Sexta was filled with couples and families strolling--and the street was spotless, nearly gleaming. Nice to see the progress--and as soon as you veer off the street, you will see the less well-lit, dirtier streets. Use caution--which included cabs most times after dark--and you will likely be fine.
The Pan American is not luxurious, but it is unforgettable. I would definitely recommend giving it a try for a short stay in Guatemala’s capital.
PS--The Municipal Market is a block away from the hotel, just in back of the Cathedral. As this market isn’t pretty, and since Guatemala City--especially Zona 1--doesn’t get all that much tourist traffic, the prices here are likely the best you will see on certain items during your trip to Guatemala. . .including shop and stall-filled Antigua and Chichi. If your travel in Guatemala includes Zona 1, be sure to shop here, and you might even want to hold off buying elsewhere for things like t-shirts, coffee burlap bags, etc.
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- Also Known As:
- Pan American Hotel Guatemala/Guatemala City