Panama Travel Guide | Best things to do in Casco Viejo

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Welcome to Casco Antiguo, also known as Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic district and a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site. In the 1990s, Panama City’s Casco Viejo was one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, overrun by gangs, violence and turf wars. Today its a tourism touch point filled with luxury hotels, hostels, shopping, and dining. 

If you’re visiting Panama for the first time, Casco Viejo is an amazing place to stay as the area is ideal for walking, discovering history and enjoying a variety of local centered cuisine. 

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Panama Fast facts:

💰 Currency: The official currency in Panama is the Balboa. One Balboa holds the same value as one US dollar. Panama recognizes the US dollar as official currency. If you have USD or a US credit/debit card, you can easily use it here without the hassle of an international fee.

🇵🇦 Language: The native tongue here is Spanish, however, as a tourist you will find that being conversational or even limited in Spanish won’t hinder you from having an amazing time!

In the city, you’ll find that many locals are bilingual or can comprehend root words of the English language. In my experience everyone is super helpful and kind and willing to try and understand you even if a language barrier presents itself.

If all else fails, pull out your google translate app.

Depending on where you dine in Panama City and Casco Viejo you will find that some menus are not available in English, but upon asking you might be able to get one.

Again, I would refer to a translation app if you have no experience with the Spanish language at all.  

🚗  Getting around: You won’t have to worry about transport in Panama, its similar to the options you have available in America. Along with public transport like a bus, in Panama you can use Uber, Cabify and Easy Taxi to get around! 

There are 14 direct flights from the United States to Panama. Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Houston, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, New York (La Guardia), Newark, Boston, and Washington, D.C. 

You can find the latest visa requirements here and the latest on any covid restrictions here. 

☀️ When is the best time to visit: Between December and March is considered the dry season and a great time to visit the country’s cities and beaches, in my opinion. 

🚑 Insurance: It is always a good idea to protect your investment in travel. Whether you get sick, lose your phone, anything could happen during your vacation and having travel insurance gives you the peace of mind you need to have a safe and successful trip. Get a quote 

Things to do in Casco Viejo

Take a tour

The official Office of Casco Viejo “La Oficina del Casco Antiguo” (OAC) offers free guided tours through the historical part of Panama.  www.cascoantiguo.gob.pa.

Casco Viejo tour guides are both English & Spanish speaking

Costs are around $35  for 2-3 hrs (1-2 people) $5 for each additional Person.

LiveWalk offers a nice self guided tour with audio that lasts roughly 90 minutes and is available in both English & Spanish. 

Cost: Free

Visit a museum 

1. Conveniently located in old town, you can visit the beautifully restored Plaza de la Catedral which is home to the Panama Canal Museum.

Heads up! They’re closed on Mondays and the signs are in Spanish but English-speaking guides and audio tours are available for a small fee. 

address Plaza de la Catedral, between Calle 6 & Calle 5

opening hours  9:30AM – 5:30PM

You can visit the Panama Canal in person too for a tour. 

2. Learn more about the history of Panama at the Museo de Historia de Panama. Located on the second floor of the Municipal Palace building, the Museum grants you access to documents, ceramics, sculptures and pieces of the colonial period.

They’re open Monday-Friday, 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Cost: Adults & Tourists $1.00, Children $0.25, Retired $0.50, Student Groups $5.00

Panama
Panama
Panama

Explore by foot

I am serious, a brisk walk around Casco Viejo and you will quickly see why this area is a wonder to behold and a pleasure to experience. 

You’ll find everything from cool shops, cafe’s, and rooftops to the The Basilica Santa Maria la Antigua and Iglesia De San Jose. You are welcome into the church at no cost, though there is a ‘tour guide’ inside who will rushfully wisk you away to show you the various rooms of the church, the nativity, and more. I took the guide up on his offer to see everything and upon completion he asked for a tip, I didn’t mind it, so I gave him cash. But if you are visiting and merely want to experience the church on your own you can kindly decline their ‘tour’. 

Some history, the church was originally built in 1612 and has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times throughout the centuries. After its final rebuilding in 1737, it was sold and converted into a college chapel in the late 19th century. Iglesia De San Jose is one of the most popular visiting sites for tourists in Casco Viejo.  

Panama
Iglesia De San Jose

Enjoy old town from a rooftop

As Casco Viejo continues to grow and evolve there’s tons of rooftop options to choose from! 

Casa Casco is one of my absolutely faves! Offering a restaurant, club, and a rooftop bar! The rooftop has a Cosmopolitan vibe with the 360° view of the Panama City skyline and the Historic Quarter. Their Terrazzo rooftop has a cocktail bar and DJ! 

Casco’s Selina offers a spacious rooftop equipped with a pool, a full bar, and panoramic views. They have live bands or DJ’s some nights too! 

On top of the La Concordia Boutique Hotel you’ll find Numen, a lovely rooftop bar. La Concordia is an iconic building right in the middle of the Santa Ana and San Felipe neighborhoods. Numen offers a variety of cocktails, fusion tapas, hookahs, and live music. Not mention the panoramic views of  Casco Viejo, Panama City, and all the way to Amador and the Cerro Ancon.

Compadre has 5 floors, at the top is where you’ll find their rooftop bar with incredible views of Casco and the city’s skyline. It’s a pretty small intimate rooftop with string lights and a nice  ambiance. The menu offers everything from burgers, to sandwiches, and appetizers. 

Terraza Rooftop
Terraza Rooftop

Where to Dine

When you come to Panama be sure to bring an appetite. There’s tons of local cuisine that will have your mouth watering for more. Be sure to try the country’s traditional “rice and chicken”, “cevhiche” and “sancocho”.

Specifically in old town, you have access to that and more.  

Panama City

My first trip to Panama I stayed at the American Trade Hotel and the staff highly recommended Donde José for dinner. I took them up on it and had a delectable dining experience. Donde Jose moved within Casco Viejo at the beginning of 2020. You’ll find them between Calle 8 and 9. I highly recommend their ceviche with plantains. 

Panama City

Casa Catedral is a MUST when you visit Casco Viejo! I celebrated my birthday here once and had an amazing time! It’s home to more than 400 years of history, with classic cars and stunning around surrounding you as you dine. Conventiently  located, diagonally to the Museum of the Interoceanic Canal, in the heart of the Old Town of Panama.

Feeling for Italian? Look no further than Madre Cucina Italian. They offer authentic Italian dishes with fresh ingredients. You have to try their Rigatoni Trombette dei Morti and the Pizza al Tartufo. 

Casa Blanca is a must in Casco Viejo, you’ll find them in  middle of the historic center by Plaza Bolivar. Offering fusion cuisine with seafood, meats, and traditional Panamanian food.

You have to try their patacones a la Morgan, that comes with fried plantains for you to dip into a seafood dish with white sauce. 

Tantalo is a hotel, restaurant, and rooftop bar all-in-one. Here you can enjoy Tantalo’s food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast for around under $15, and an average lunch or dinner for $20 to $25.

Blue Moon Taphouse is perfect for those looking for a mix of North American and Latin American cuisine. They have everything from beer, to burgers and wings. I love their black empanadas, that come with shrimp and a  a side of pineapple chili pepper sauce.

Need a coffee fix? Some of my recommendations while in Casco Viejo are Nomad Eatery , BenissimoCasa Sucre  and Tiempos coffee shop located inside of American Trade Hotel

Where to Shop

Some refer to as Casco Viejo as The “Soho of Latin America”,for its lovely local shops, galleries, and boutiques. In Casco you’re able to shop and support local store owners, which is awesome. 

 

Galeria de Arte Indigena

A walk through Casco and you’re bound to find tons of cute local shops and boutiques! Some of my faves are….

Galeria de Arte Indigena is a  gallery and shop in Casco Viejo with an amazing selection of indigenous handicrafts from the Panamanian rainforest. They have everything from Embera baskets, to hammocks, Panama hats (imported from Ecuador), jewelry, and even  embroidered cloth and shoes made with local Panama designs and fabrics.

Mitchelle Q. Joyería in Casco Viejo is an amazing designer known for modern yet organic one-of-a-kind jewelry! You can buy her hand made pieces locally. Many of her designs incorporate recycled elements.

Mamitas is a gem, founded by local designer offering Gisela Sanchez offering vintage clothing that you can purchase online too! You can find them at Calle 6, across from Diablo Rosso in Casco Viejo. 

The Emerald Museum or Museo de la Esmeralda located at Plaza Catedral is great for jewelry. You can order online too. 

Super Gourmet  in Avenida A & Calle 6 in Casco Viejo is great for grabbing gourmet Food!

Where to stay

American Trade Hotel
American Trade Hotel

I personally can’t recommend American Trade Hotel enough! The staff is impeccable, the rooms are divine, and the history behind the walls with make your mouth drop! The team behind the hotel did a phenomenal job renovating the building and bringing luxury to old town. 

 

@imaubreyjackson

Hey babes 👋 I’m having a blast exploring #Panama 🇵🇦 here’s a look inside my room at the beautiful AmericanTradeHotel. #traveltiktok #visitpanama #cascoviejo #travelwriter #traveltips #hotelreview #luxurytravel @smallluxuryhotels

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American Trade Hotel
Hotel Magnolia
magnoliapanama.com

Hotel Magnolia Inn

is a boutique hotel and hostel located in the heart of Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City, Panama. Offering comfortable and spacious deluxe private rooms in their restored French colonial mansion.

Central Hotel Panamá

The Central is the most luxurious hotel in the Casco Viejo, sitting in a handsome 19th-century neoclassical building overlooking Plaza de la Independencia. There’s a rooftop pool with gorgeous bay-and-ocean views, plush rooms and a destination restaurant serving Argentinean steaks. Roosevelt stayed here during the construction of the Panama Canal. The hotel has been renovated since, and won a design award for its 2017 refit. Decor is bright and modern in creams and dark woods. Suites come with French windows opening onto large balconies.

Central Hotel
centralhotelpanama.com
Las Clementas
lasclementinas.com

Las Clementinas

With exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling balcony windows, polished wood floors and strong blocks of color offset by warm pool lighting, Las Clementinas is a modern, urban boutique housed in a balcony-fronted early-20th-century building. There’s a zippy bar serving great cocktails and comfort food, and a tranquil inner garden courtyard. But the best feature is the rooftop sun terrace, with wonderful views over the tumbledown terracotta of the Casco Viejo and the boat-filled bay to the modern Panama City skyline.

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