I haven’t been to Casco Viejo in about a month – it’s amazing how quickly it transforms. It slowly awakens to new life, as old buildings are restored and new restaurants and stores open. If you are unfamiliar, Casco Viejo is the historic part of Panama City. Buildings with balconies from previous centuries line narrow brick streets. Plazas are filled with cafes and cathedrals. But, like many cities, it fell into disrepair in the middle of the 20th century as wealthy citizens moved away in search of more space and fresh country air.
Casco has recently enjoyed a revival and is now one of the must-see places in the city, despite numerous buildings that remain in ruins. Squatters serve as a reminder to visitors that Panama is still a country with significant poverty and an income gap. Regardless, it’s an amazing place to be. You can easily see the frequent comparisons to Havana, Cuba or San Juan, Puerto Rico.
A few places that opened in the summer of 2009:
An international coffeeshop/lounge chain that has another location in Panama’s fancy mall, MultiPlaza. OK, so they haven’t opened yet, but the sign is up.
Serving fast and fresh food, Tomato is a great stop for a quick sandwich, salad, or waffle. They also have a location in MultiPlaza.
This gallery/café recently moved from another part of the city and is a great addition to Casco. The gallery was cool to visit and it offered hip gifts for those who aren’t interested in another Mola.
The people behind the amazing restaurant, Ego, have just opened a ceviche and beer restaurant in the same plaza. I have yet to try it, but it looks terrific and it brings more life to the already-bustling Plaza Bolivar.
Another cafe/art gallery/store, not quite as refined as Diablo Rosso, but still a great addition to the ‘hood. They purport to sell recycled and green souvenirs.
The popular hostel, Luna’s Castle, turned one of the historic vaults in its basement into a bar. Not only is it a gorgeous spot, but the slew of international backpackers staying upstairs give it an undeniably festive, if not just plain crazy, vibe.
It is almost hard to believe that so many places can open within a six-block area in just a couple months, but it is a testament to the attraction of Casco. Poised to become a special place for travelers and residents alike, Casco Viejo offers cultural immersion and connection to history, unmanufactured charm, and a real sense of unique place.