The Rio Grande Basin of the Coclé region (a province of central Panama on the nation’s southern coast) has become famous in recent years for the discovery of extraordinary remains exhibiting the life and customs of pre-Columbian societies in the Neotropics. The El Caño Archeological Park, located close to Rio Grande, is of particular importance. In 2009, archeologists discovered the tomb of an important Coclé warrior buried with treasures such as breastplates, bracelets, belts, and ear sticks made of gold and copper, stone and bone. The artifacts found were so spectacular that an article in National Geographic Magazine (2012) entitled “The Golden Chiefs of Panama” describe El Caño and its surrounding areas as “Panama Valley of the Kings”. Since that time many more tombs have been identified and continue to be excavated.
Also known as Colonial Panama, Casco Antiguo is the historic center of the capital. It is a charming district of narrow streets overlooked by flower-bedecked balconies of two or three-story houses. At its tip lies the French Plaza, a monument to the French builders of the Panama Canal, and the French Embassy. On the walkway around the monument, visitors have a fine view of the Amador Causeway, the Biodiversity Museum, the Bridge of the Americans and the skyscraper skyline of Panama City to the east. A plaque on the walkway commemorates the firing of cannon shots to drive away a Colombian warship and consolidate Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903. To one side of the monument is an old Spanish structure called Las Bovedas, now home to an art gallery and French restaurant.
“Strolling about this 337-year-old neighborhood, enjoy both history and contemporary local culture- every corner has something of historical significance or local color. Another attraction is the sweeping ocean views of Panama Bay’s modern skyscraper skyline by day and night, the Amador Causeway islands and the ship-busy entrance to the Panama Canal.”
“Panamanian sounds and smells that fill the Casco Viejo air are part of that local color. Street peddlers cry out ‘bollo‘ as they sell soft corn wrapped up in corn leaves, a Panamanian favorite. At Panama’s “White House” the presidential honor guard’s cheerful cadence perform early morning calisthenics, local kids play basketball in a community court, Kuna Indians sell colorful molas in the Plazas as lovers stroll hand in hand catching glimpses of the distant Canal, old-timers settle on park benches as their grandchildren play soccer around groups of passing tourists. The best way to experience Casco Viejo is to stay in a hotel in one of the beautifully restored buildings. This is the place to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean free from Panama City’s sprawl and traffic, yet the business district is a short 10 minutes away.”
Some excellent museums, art craft shops, galleries, and boutiques are found in Casco Viejo, including the Canal Museum, which traces Panama’s history as the route connecting Atlantic and Pacific from pre-Hispanic to modern times. Next door is the old cathedral that is under major renovation, with gleaming spires inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Neary is a small museum dedicated to religious art found in the old Santo Domingo monastery, where visitors will also see the famous Flat Arch, which reportedly helped convince engineers that Panama was earthquake safe country. You can also walk towards the San Jose Cathedral or the beautiful Golden Altar, intricately carved of wood and gilded with gold. Another building that you should not miss is the Presidential Palace, which can be toured on Sundays.
If you visit Casco Antiguo at night is totally a different vibe, full of cafes, bars, and excellent restaurants. Don´t miss the opportunity to discover more about Panama’s history and book a biking or walking tour to Casco Viejo with one of our history expert guides.