Once in the hands of local gangs, Panama City’s historic district of Casco Viejo is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most trendy area in town. With beautiful colonial mansions, art galleries and a bursting gastronomic scene, the small neighbourhood is an absolute must-see. Read our guide and discover the best things to see and do in Casco Viejo.
Lose yourself among the beautiful colonial buildings
Casco Viejo is one of the few areas of Panama City where it is possible to just wander aimlessly. Walk the narrow cobblestone streets and discover colourful colonial manions, the Metropolitan Cathedral, beautiful churches, plazas and some of the most significant Spanish architectural landmarks of Panama.
Panama City’s historic quarter is known as the Casco Viejo (pronounced CAS-coh Bee-EH-hoh; also called the Casco Antiguo, which translates as “old shell”). It’s spread over a small point in the city’s southeast corner, where timeless streets and plazas are complemented by views of a modern skyline and the Bahía de Panamá. The Casco Viejo’s narrow brick streets, wrought-iron balconies, and intricate cornices evoke visions of Panama’s glorious history as a major trade center.
A stroll here offers opportunities to admire a beautiful mix of Spanish colonial, neoclassical, and art nouveau architecture. And though many of its buildings are in a lamentable state of neglect, and some of the neighborhood is poor, it is nevertheless a lively and colorful place, where soccer balls bounce off the walls of 300-year-old churches and radios blare Latin music, even as trendy restaurants, bars, shops, and hotels welcome an increasingly stylish clientele.
Movie fans may spot a few places used as settings for the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace—Panama stood in for both Bolivia and Haiti in the movie, with the shell-like remnants of the Club Unión used for a party scene, and the National Institute of Culture serving as a fictional hotel in Bolivia
Taste finest signature chocolate
Oro Moreno is a tropical chocolate café, a charming venue in Casco Viejo that promises to offer the best of Panama in chocolate. The idea is that of providing a “tree to bar” process: grown in the Bocas del Toro, the cocoa beans are mixed with local ingredients such as passion fruit, coriander and pineapple, to create some unique treats made in Panama that are 100% natural.
Learn about the Eighth Wonder of the World
Located in an emblematic building in the heart of Casco Viejo, the Interoceanic Canal Museum reveals the tumultuous history of the construction of the Panama Canal, whose capacity was recently doubled. A collection of objects and materials reveal the technology and functioning of this engineering marvel that has been called by many “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Discover Panamanian talent at Diablo Rosso art gallery
DiabloRosso is an art gallery and creative think-tank that was established with the goal of supporting and empowering young local talent, educating the public and provoking social impact. Located in Casco Viejo, the gallery is open to visitors and regularly showcases screenings and live performances too.
Gaze at the city’s skyline by night from one of the city’s best rooftops
Casco Viejo is considered Panama’s hottest district because of its smashing nightlife, its design hotels and fine-dining venues. Enjoy Panama City’s tropical weather while sipping a cocktail on one of the city’s best rooftop bars and take in the stunning panoramic views of the city’s skyline by night.
Go on a journey through indigenous crafts
Considered the most creative neighbourhood in town, Casco Viejo is also the place to go to find alternative concept stores and handmade traditional crafts. Discover the most beautiful indigenous creations, ranging from Guna Yala’s fabrics (the molas), to woven baskets and masks, to ornamental objects carved in wood.