Do you know Casco Antiguo?

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.

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Exploring the City of Panama, Central America

By Marius Leidig

In my first week here in Panama I tried to explore Casco Viejo on my own and I really thought that my guidebook would be enough to get all important information. Today I know that I was mistaking: There is nothing like a sympathetic, well-educated guide to explore a beautiful place.

But first of all I would like to introduce myself. My name is Marius and I am a German tourism student doing an internship in Panama. I am very happy to be part of the Ecocircuitos Team for five months. Right now I am part of the operations department.

Even if I like the work at our office a lot, I was happy to be invited to join a half day city tour with our staff guide Fabio Trujillo.  I was very excited to see the old parts of the city with a guide who knows a lot about the history of Panama. At 9:00am we picked up our client who booked the tour.   From El Cangrejo we headed for the outskirts of the modern city of Panama where we got a vivid description of the historic district.  Fabio explained that Panama Viejo was the first city built on Panamas Pacific coast. Founded in 1519;  Panama Viejo has been for more than 150 years an important base and reloading point for the captured treasures.   A walk between the remaining ruins such as the tower of the old cathedral are perfect to put oneself into the position of Henry Morgan who was a famous pirate that attacked the city in 1671 which lead to a huge fire that destroyed most parts of the city.

After Panama Viejo has been destroyed, it was rebuilt in today’s Casco Viejo. So the old town of Panama became our second attraction. In my eyes, Casco Viejo is the loveliest and most colorful district of Panama City.  It is a vivid place with plenty historical buildings and nice cafes and restaurants. Numerous varicolored modern street arts contrast the ancient buildings which creates a special atmosphere.

One of the attractions that stayed in my mind is the golden altar from Iglesia San Jose. When pirates attacked the city, the altar was painted black to cover its beauty to make it uncomely to the buccaneers. Obviously, the plan worked.

Passing plenty of indigenous street vendors we headed for the French quarter. Plaza de Francia with its monument dedicated to the French workers who died during the attempt to build the canal offers a great view to Amador Causeway and the impressive skyline of Panama City.

A visit at one of the best ice cream parlors I have ever been named Granclement in the Old Quarters was a worthy end of a special day in Panama!

For more information about this tour and others, you can visit our website www.ecocircuitos.com or write an email at info@ecocircuitos.com.