A Favorite Neighborhood in Panama City, Casco Viejo
Panama is a country with a wealth of diverse destinations and though internationally renowned for the Panama Canal, there is so much more to experience beyond this engineering wonder.
The vast array of places to vacation in Panama range from the city to the mountains to the beaches to the rainforest. Each offers its own charm and will accommodate the needs and wants of the international traveler.
The second most visited site in Panama is Casco Viejo, also know as Casco Antiguo or The Old Quarter. UNESCO named Casco Viejo a World Heritage Site in 1997.
The walled city, built in the 16th and 17th centuries by Spanish colonists and the Catholic church, has been undergoing urban revitalization projects to restore the Spanish colonial buildings, improve access and green spaces for the public for the last twenty years.
Restoration follows strictly enforced standards for historical authenticity and condemned buildings sit side by side with the refurbished exclusive properties.
The old city in Panama has a wide selection of accommodations so you can base your stay right in this vibrant neighborhood. For the budget minded, hostels start from $15 USD per night for dorm style accommodations to upscale private rooms for four. Many of the restoration projects have been converted into boutique hotels offering old world elegance with modern amenities for the discerning traveler. Rooftop bars, pools, spas, elegant dining abound.
Casco Viejo is known for quiet days and party nights. During the day, the streets are relatively peaceful and you can wander the cobblestone streets at your leisure. Interactive self guided tours, online tours, guided walking tours, gastronomic and bar hopping tours are available online in English and Spanish and can be a significant savings. The narrow streets and compact area make the neighborhood very walkable.
Restaurants and cafes surround the plazas and are a meeting place for residents and visitors alike. Musicians entertain while you enjoy the weather on the patios.
Wander the Panama Canal Interoceanic Museum (English headphones available), the History Museum of Panama for $1 USD fee or the Cultural Institute of Spain for free, marvel over the golden altar of Iglesias San Jose cathedral, check out local and indigenous art in the galleries as you navigate the streets.
Shop for Emberá masks and baskets, local wood carvings, clothing and art, souvenirs and luxury goods at the many retailers. Stroll through the Villa Agustina monthly market for unique and eclectic finds.
Dining has made Casco Viejo one of the best places to visit in Panama Central America. Sample Filipino street food, Mexican, Hawaiian themed, pizza, sushi, authentic Italian, tapas to local Panamanian and finish with some of the best chocolate around, gelato popsicles or homemade ice creaming one of the many cafes.
Panama nightlife has centered in Casco Viejo around rooftop bars with awesome city and ocean views. Sunsets from the rooftops are a lovely start to an evening of fun. Bars and club are open late, 3:00 am Sunday to Wednesday, 4:00 am Thursday to Saturday. Many have pricey cover charges and drinks. Shorts and flip flops are generally not allowed to access the clubs so dress to accommodate.
There are self guided or guided tours with stops at multiple bars and clubs (including cover charge) each offering a drink usually of Abuelo, Seco or Balboa, the national drinks for about $25 USD per person. You can save considerable cash while getting a glimpse into the nightlife. Check online and book your party night in advance.
From daily, weekly and monthly events to the big annual festivals, Jazz in January and Pride in June, Casco Viejo is a meeting place with something to offer everyone. Food and dining specials, games, sporting events, and music throughout the year add to the entertainment of this vibrant, cultural and historical neighborhood. Christmas preparations have begun, lights are being strung, decorations on display adding to the magic. Panamanians love Christmas and it shows.
Many of us first came to determine if Panama is truly a retirement haven as advertised. We were pleasantly surprised with the modern metropolis of the city, friendly locals, diversity of landscape, affordable lifestyle and wealth of adventure and experience and it was enough to cement our retirement escape.
Come and visit. Spend a day, a week, or longer. Just make sure you experience the old city, this world class historical gem for in person, it is a beautiful representation of the rich and diverse country of Panama.