A Glimpse into Casco Viejo's Rich History
Before we dive into the delights of Casco Viejo, let's briefly touch upon its historical significance. Founded in 1673 after the infamous pirate Henry Morgan sacked the original Panama City, Casco Viejo became the city's new center. This charming district, also known as the "Old Town" or Casco Antiguo, boasts a unique fusion of architectural styles, reflecting the influence of various cultures, including Spanish, French, and American.
The neighborhood played a vital role in the development of Panama as a trade hub, particularly during the construction of the Panama Canal. However, by the mid-20th century, Casco Viejo had fallen into disrepair and neglect. Fortunately, a massive restoration effort began in the early 2000s, bringing new life to this historic gem. Today, Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrated for its vibrant culture, stunning architecture, and lively atmosphere.
Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square): Kickstart your exploration of Casco Viejo at Plaza de la Independencia, the neighborhood's heart and soul. This charming square is surrounded by historical buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Palacio Municipal. The plaza is a hub of cultural events and street performances, making it a vibrant place to soak up the local atmosphere.
Palacio de las Garzas (Presidential Palace): The Palacio de las Garzas, or Herons' Palace, is a historic gem located at the eastern end of Casco Viejo. While the palace itself is not open to the public, the exterior is a sight to behold, and you may spot the occasional heron in its picturesque pond. Don't forget your camera, this place is an Instagram-worthy spot!
Teatro Nacional (National Theater): Culture aficionados will appreciate a visit to Teatro Nacional, Panama's national theater. The beautifully restored neoclassical building hosts a variety of cultural events, from ballet performances to classical concerts. Check the schedule for upcoming shows or simply admire the stunning architecture.
Cinta Costera: Stroll along the Cinta Costera that surrounds Casco Viejo. It's a picturesque waterfront promenade, to enjoy panoramic views of Panama City's modern skyline and the Bay of Panama. It's a serene spot for a leisurely walk or jog, especially during the golden hour as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean.
Fun Activities for Budget-Conscious Travelers
Explore the Street Art: Casco Viejo is a canvas for talented street artists. Take a self-guided walking tour to discover colorful murals and graffiti art hidden throughout the neighborhood. Don't forget to bring your camera and capture these vibrant artworks.
Visit the Mercado de Mariscos (Seafood Market): For a taste of local flavor without breaking the bank, head to the Mercado de Mariscos at the entrance to Casco Viejo. Sample delicious ceviche, a Panamanian specialty, or grab a plate of fried fish with patacones (fried green plantains). It's a popular spot for both locals and tourists looking for fresh and affordable seafood.
Dining and Drinking in Casco Viejo
Casco Viejo has dozens of bars, restaurants and cafes. You can start your day with a coffee and croissant at a simple cafe, have lunch at a mid-priced Italian or Mexican restaurant, and then indulge in luxury for dinner at one of the many high-end restaurants.
Casco Viejo--with its rich history, vibrant culture, and evolving landscape--is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. Whether you're wandering the charming streets, savoring delicious cuisine at one of the many restaurants, or uncovering hidden gems, this neighborhood has something to captivate every traveler.
As an expat who has called Panama home for a decade, I've seen Casco Viejo's transformation firsthand, and I can't wait for you to experience its magic. So, come, explore, and savor the beauty and culture of this historical gem, just as I have. You will create memories that will last a lifetime in Casco Viejo, Panama.
As they say in Panama, Bienvenidos!