Casco Viejo is the old town of Panama City and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
This might come as a surprise, especially since we went to actual paradise, the San Blas islands and spent time with the Kuna Indians.. but.. I think Casco Viejo is my favourite part of Panama so far.
We have stayed in 3 different areas of Panama City - El Cangrejo, Al Alameda and Casco Viejo. I would 110% recommend everyone to stay in Casco Viejo.
This past week we have been in Al Alameda and we have done nothing exciting. It's a residential area with nothing to see or visit. There is the park close by but it's too hot during the day to walk around in the sun and the park closes at 5pm.
And although El Cangrejo was a nice part of town, especially if you want to go out for dinner & drinks etc, it doesn't have the same feel to it as Casco Viejo.
I think the thing I like so much about Casco Viejo is that it feels like home. It feels like a cute old town in France or Italy. The buildings have history and are decaying beautifully.
There are lots of cafés, restaurants, shops and churches to visit. And I'll be honest, I was expecting the food to be basic, the shops to be very touristic and the churches to be nothing special. But I have been pleasantly surprised.
We have found a great pizza place, amazing ice cream parlours and somewhere with delicious ceviche. Although there are touristic shops selling handmade jewellery etc, there are also several shops selling well designed and 'funky' items.
I could really see myself living in Casco Viejo as it has everything I would want from a place. Great restaurants, history, culture, beautiful architecture, cute cafés, rooftop terraces and decent wifi.
If you are going to Panama or Panama City, please stay in Casco Viejo for at least 1 night to have a look around and really get lost in it's beautiful streets. You will feel like you're in Europe - I promise!
Apparently a couple of years ago, Casco Viejo was the place where the gangs lived and operated. It wasn't safe to visit or walk around but things are starting to change. And infact, you can take a tour with ex gang members who will show you around all the interesting spots.
It is totally safe now and you can see that Casco Viejo is in the middle of a huge identity change. Lots of the buildings have already been restored, and others being restored at the moment. So much so, that I think if you come back in 5-10 years time, it will look completely different. Now is the time to visit to see how it was/is before it becomes even more touristy and new.
The charm of Casco Viejo is the old buildings, the peeling paint and the beautiful architecture. It won't be long before everything is repaired, new and glistening. Hiding the real Casco Viejo.