Panama’s Casco Viejo, known as Old Town, is getting a new look and it is going to be fantastic! It is already a fun place to visit, adorned with restaurants, impressive architecture, and colorful Panamanian wares. Parking is a bit of an issue with the ongoing construction, but we did manage to find an inexpensive lot beside the waterfront.
It is hard to imagine that before the canal was built, all of Panama City’s population was in this small historic enclave. After a growing population forced neighborhoods to move outwards, urban decay set in and the Old Town Casco Viejo became extremely run down. The buildings are currently being revitalized, renewed, and reinvented to bring back the elegance of years gone by. Even with simply a fresh paint job, the town is shaping up quite nicely. Still, the cobblestone streets and boarded-up and abandoned properties give Old Town a gritty feel that I, for one, am attracted to.
Must see buildings include Metropolitan Cathedral, Arch Chato, Palacio National, Society of Jesus, Panama Canal Museum, San Francisco Church, and the National Theater. The President of Panama also lives here on the waterfront in a highly protected and guarded area. I find it pretty cool to know that the President of Panama is only blocks away at Palacio de Las Garzas.
Come hungry and ready to shop when you arrive in the city. Typical stores offer Panama hats, hand made table runners, and traditional Panamanian clothing is plentiful. Also, a few high-end art galleries scattered throughout. We came across many coffee shops, a gourmet market, some trendy restaurants, and a tiki style bar that overlooks the waterfront.
I chose Diablo Rosso for lunch, which has an artsy, funky vibe, and the most original artwork. The food and presentation will knock your socks off. My family had the chicken skewer with peanut sauce, roasted pepper bruschetta, and the grilled cheese with caramelized onions and guava jam. I was not expecting this level of food or sophistication, and I would highly recommend. Delicious!
My camera had a workout as well as my feet from walking on the uneven cobblestones. The indigenous Kuna women, in fancy and bright clothing, were walking around the squares and craft markets. They will allow you to photograph them for $2, which I refused to do. If you are an animal lover, bring some treats as there are many strays and you can feed them. Do not miss your Panama City skyline photos from the waterfront, they are divine. Drink plenty of water, as it gets very hot, and enjoy!
Beware of your surroundings. It is easy to get lost in the tall buildings and alleyways. Watch the construction as we saw a couple of falling object accidents while there.
Fact: Casco Viejo was first settled in 1673 and later declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.