Old Town, or otherwise known as Casco Viejo, Panama, is getting a new look and it is going to be fantastic! Casco Viejo 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 the #1 place I would recommend seeing, outside of the canal, in the entire country. Fantastic buildings, a juxtaposition of incredibly old or new, hold interesting stories, history, and appeal for those with a thirst for wanderlust.
Fun Fact: Casco Viejo was first settled in 1673 and later declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.
Exploring Casco Viejo’s Offerings
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 located only blocks away at Palacio de Las Garzas.
Shopping & Dining at Casco Viejo
Come hungry and ready to shop when you arrive in the historic city. Typical stores offer Panama hats, handmade 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 overlooked the waterfront.
Two of our favorite places to eat in Casco Viejo, Panama are Tántalo Hotel / Kitchen / Roofbar and Barrio PIzza. Tántalo is an eco-chic boutique hotel with a stellar restaurant with a casual feel and popular rooftop bar. Ceviche, Mac & Cheese, and Roasted Pulled Pork are great choices for any time of day but save room for a hint of dessert. They are top-notch at Tántalo. At Barrio PIzza, the sky is the limit. Their pizza crust is to-die-for and toppings are fresh and tasty. Be sure to try the baked cheese with focaccia. Yum!
My camera had a workout as well as my feet from walking on the uneven cobblestones. The indigenous Kuna women, in traditional bright attire, were walking around the squares and craft markets. They will allow you to photograph them for $2. 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!
Casco Viejo Tops Panama’s Must-See List
A visit to Panama City wouldn’t be complete without checking out the architectural finds and exquisite history of Casco Viejo. Have a fantastic visit!