I spent over 3 weeks in Panama City, and my favorite part, by far, was Casco Viejo – or the old historic district. It’s by far the most Instagrammable place in Panama City and I’ve put together this Casco Viejo old quarter guide so you know exactly where to go.
This neighborhood is jam packed with the prettiest historic buildings – some perfectly restored, and some crumbling (but kinda in a pretty way).
It’s also the artsy neighborhood, packed with shops, galleries, boutiques, restaurants, cafes and nightlife. And it’s a little peninsula surrounded by the Pacific ocean, so there are picturesque views on all sides.
I highly recommend spending most of your time in Panama City in Casco Viejo, before heading on to explore other parts of the country – like the Caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro, the cloud forest of Boquete, the surf towns of the Azuero Peninsula, or the picture perfect San Blas Islands.
Casco Viejo is a great place to stay, or just go to wander the streets, eat at one of the restaurants, or do some shopping.
Casco Viejo Old Quarter guide: What to Do
Walk & Photo the Historic Streets
The best activity in Casco Viejo is just to wander the colorful and charming streets! Be sure to pack your camera and stroll slowly so you can take in all the details.
The neighborhood is actually quite small, so you can do this fast if you’re short on time, or you can take your time and wander each street and alleyway.
People Watch in the Plazas
There are several pretty parks with benches and trees for shade. They’re each surrounded by beautiful buildings, and are great for people watching.
Grab an ice cream and sit in the Plaza de la Independencia, the Plaza Tomas Herrera, Plaza Simon Bolivar, and the Quinto Centenario.
Quinto Centenario has a great view of Casco Viejo as well as of the modern high-rises on the opposite side. It’s a great place see the melding of old and new that defines Panama City. And in the evening, it’s usually filled with people.
See the Historic Churches
Be sure to check out the beautiful historic churches in this area – including Iglesia de la Merced, Iglesia de San Jose, Iglesia San Francisco, and La Catedral.
Also, look for the ruins of the Iglesia Santo Domingo. This church was built in the 16th century but destroyed in a fire in 1756.
Check Out the Other Historical Sites
The churches aren’t the only noteworthy historic buildings. Be sure to check out the Palacio Municipal (the city hall), the Palacio de las Garzas (the presidential palace which was built in 1673), and the Teatro Nacional (the national theater).
Walk the Old Wall & Shop
Take a stroll on the Paseo de las Bovedas or Paseo Esteban Huertas – the old stone wall built in colonial times to protect against pirate attacks – on the southeastern side of Casco Viejo.
This wall curves around the coast, giving a great view of the modern skyscrapers, ships, and the ocean.
You’ll find lots of vendors here selling traditional goods, including the Kuna Yala people who make beautiful and bright textiles. You can do some shopping for souvenirs here.
Casco Viejo: What to Eat
Mercado de Mariscos or Seafood Market
If you’re in Panama City, you HAVE to eat at the Mercado de Mariscos (Not to be confused with the restaurant called Fish Market). It’s an institution here – a large market next to the ocean that gets fresh fish dropped off every day from the many fishing boats that pull into its port.
Walking around the market is interesting in its own right – you’ll see expert fishmongers carving up fish for ceviche or filets. And if you go up to the second floor, you’ll get an aerial view of what everyone has, sometimes seeing giant fish below!
But while you’re there, you have to sample some of the super fresh seafood. Outside the market, there are tons of food vendors in a line selling everything from ceviche to fish prepared in different ways.
Look for one of the vendors that’s busy (that means it’s good! One of my foolproof ways of finding good and safe street food in Latin America). Sit down and order some of Panama’s famous ceviche – it’s really delicious here! Another great dish to order is the fried fish filet served with plantains and salad.
La Rana Dorada
This is a local brewery chain that has a location in Casco Viejo. Their in-house beer is great, and they have a nice happy hour deal. There is a seating area outside and a view of the water from the front. It’s a great place to grab a beer after an afternoon of wandering the streets of Casco Viejo. They also have great bar food. Their burger was delicious!
Maisa is a great, slightly upscale version of the local ceviche. Prices are still affordable, but they take a twist on the classic Panamanian ceviche, and add different flavors.
They’re well known for their delicious and unique salsas. You can choose which one you’d like on your ceviche. Some of their choices are pineapple, buffalo, guayaba, maracuyá (passion fruit), tamarindo, chimichurri, etc.. Yum! They also have outside seating.
Casco Viejo: Where to Drink:
La Rana Dorada
Again, La Rana Dorada is a great place to sample some local beer. The atmosphere is a comfortable and casual brewery. It’s great for happy hour drinks inside or out, or a casual evening drink.
Mojitos sin Mojitos
Mojitos sin Mojitos is a cute bar on the southeast corner of Plaza Herrera. The decor is rustic and hip. Don’t let the name confuse you, this bar doesn’t actually serve mojitos. It’s a beer bar that also serves some mixed drinks. They also are famous for their bbq burgers. Prices are very reasonable and there is always a good crowd there.
Pina Calavera is an underground nightclub in Casco Viejo. You’ll find live music and events here. It’s a great place to go to dance and have a good time.
If you’re looking for a true club experience, head to Tantalo where the trendiest Panamanians go to have fun. Their rooftop bar has a great view of the skyline, and the crowd is a nice mix of locals and tourists, dancing to the DJ’s set.
Casco Viejo: Where to Stay
American Trade Hotel
The American Trade Hotel is the most stylish place to stay in town. The building is breathtaking with gorgeous tile, jungley greens, and clean mid-century modern furnishings inside.
Las Clementinas is a beautifully restored vintage building with 6 large suites. The rooms are furnished with clean modern furniture, and beautiful touches are everywhere like the pretty tile in the shower, or the colorful ethnic pillows on the bed.
If you head to Panama, you will surely be passing through Panama City on your way in and out of the country. Be sure to check out the best part of the city – Casco Viejo. You’ll find all the charm of a historic neighborhood with hip and modern restaurants, bars and shops.
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