Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.
Casco Viejo - A Day Well Spent
CASCO VIEJO, PANAMA CITY, PANAMA - After visiting Old Panama City (Panama Vieja) I ended up moving one step closer to the present by visiting Casco Viejo. Old Panama City was the original capital of Panama in the mid 1500s. After pirate attacks, fire, earthquake and destruction of the city, the capital was moved to this location on a peninsula southwest of the current day location of Panama City.
Catching a bus near my hotel, I arrived to the entrance of Casco Viejo, disembarking near the fish market, a white and light blue building. There was a lot of activity in the market with freshly caught fish displayed and customers making their purchases, some heading upstairs to have their fish prepared.
I continued on past the market, map in hand, to explore the area. Casco Veijo is a small area, only about 12 blocks by 5 blocks, so there wasn't a lot of possibility of getting lost, and I used my map only to identify the many historical sites I planned to see, including churches, plazas, ruins and more. History at every corner.
In 1997 Casco Viejo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is apparent why as it is filled with varied architectural styles, including Spanish, French, neoclassical and some art deco.
This is the hippest area of Panama City. It teems with culture and history and plenty of nightlife. I walked for hours, from one end to the other, back and forth on the crossing streets. Casco Viejo stole my heart, much like Antiqua, Guatemala did when I would spend weekends there years earlier.
The early morning rains has stopped by the time I arrived and everything felt freshly showered. Although still very hot and humid, it was mild in comparison to the previous day at Panama Viejo. The overcast skies helped.
Each plaza I passed through was unique in character and the churches told their own story. One that I entered was called Iglesia San Jose. This church is located near Plaza Herrera. It is an old façade from Casco Viejo, taken brick by brick and rebuilt on site here. On each side stands a bell tower built in a different era from the ruin in the center. It is a visual mesh of history past and current (during that time). Inside the huge wooden doors were tall pillars, rows of dark wooden pews and in the front, an altar of gold. Stunning to say the least. The altar, from Casco Viejo, was saved by a priest who covered it with mud, or painted it black. The story varies. But he basically concealed it when the town was under siege. The pirates had no idea there was gold underneath and it survived the destruction of the battle. Ultimately, it was removed from the remains of the city and moved to its current location.
Early afternoon, I stopped at a plaza at a restaurant called Casablanca and enjoyed a veggie burger, fries and an ice cold 'Panama' beer, while sitting at an outside table under a large umbrella and just took in the beautiful architecture and surroundings.
Plaza Francia, the original main square of the city, afforded me a stunning view of Panama City in the distance with the skyline rising high into the dark ominous clouds. Quite an impressive view. I continued walking through the covered arbor where many vendors were displaying traditional crafts and molas for sale.
The arbor where the handicraft vendors are shaded from sun.
With the skies getting darker every minute I decided it was time to catch the bus back to a Panama city before the rains hit. This had been a day of surprises at every turn, from stunning views of the modern city in the distance, wonderful plazas, churches, architecture and history spanning centuries. It was a day well spent.
View from Casco Viejo to the skyline of Panama City in the distance.
The best part of travel for me is finding the 'Old Town' in a city, fully rich in history. Casco Viejo (Old Town) Panama City is just such a place, made up of a combination of restored homes, buildings in disrepair and ancient ruins. Walk through the streets of old town and you walk back in time.
Population: Approx. 3262
Other names for Casco Viejo: San Filipe or Casco Antiguo
Places to see:
Churches and Cathedral
Some traditional foods to try: