City Guide: Casco Viejo, Panama

Casco Viejo, Old Panama City - Jet-setting Spirit

Old Panama City

Casco Viejo, also known as Casco Antiguo, and commonly referred to as Old Panama City by Tourists is the Colonial district of Panama City, sitting on the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. Literally translating to “Old Quarter,” Casco is known for its colorful buildings, that were built by the Spanish and French in the late 17th century.

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In 1904, when the United States began to break ground on the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo was the only Panama City.  Eventually being abandoned due to the modern city’s expansion, Casco became a more dangerous slum. Today, Casco is undergoing a transformation, turning it from slum into up-and-coming neighborhood.

After being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, many poor-er residents were forced out of the pastel-facaded buildings into the city’s outskirts. Rey, our tour guide, explained that the government, in order to preserve the city’s colonial appearance, has placed a height-restriction on the preservation efforts, meaning that if a new owner comes in, they are not allowed to make the current structure any taller than it already is.

What to See

Casco is home to many historic buildings, such as churches, and houses the home of the Panamanian President. The presence of police and security is very obvious, as this is considered a more dangerous area of Panama City. However, not once did I feel unsafe while exploring with our group.

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While walking around, our group peaked into unique art galleries, explored ancient churches, and passed by unique street art (basically everything a modern city has to offer!).

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We spent several minutes looking around La Iglesias de San Jose and looking into the Compañia de Jesus. The Arco Chato is still standing from colonial times, which is remarkable. IMG_5699

Rey pointed out the Canal Museum, which costs $2 USD to enter and $4 for an English-speaking audio tour. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to visit  the museum. (We had been fortunate enough to watch a vessel pass through the Miraflores locks earlier in the day!)

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We visited the city during the day time, and started to head back towards Rio Hato by sundown. Casco Viejo is known for its nightlife something I hope to experience in the future. I guess that will be just another reason (of many) why I should visit Panama again.

How to See Casco Viejo

I purchased my tour through Apple Vacations’ local affiliate, Gamboa Tours. I loved my experience with Gamboa. My only complaint was regarding the two hour bus ride, each way, to and from our resort in Rio Hato. However, the interactive manner of our tour guide, Rey, made the experience slightly less miserable. I also saw a number double-decker ‘City Sightseeing’ bus tours around the Panama City area. I have used City Sightseeing in other locations, and am sure they would be a great resource in Panama City.

12 Comments

  1. March 10, 2016 / 7:37 pm

    I have been to many places around the world, but never in Central America. I would love to one day visit Casco, even though through your description I feel as if I was there with you!

  2. March 16, 2016 / 8:58 am

    I have only been to Colombia so far and i loved it. The only problem was not many people spoke English. How is with English in Panama?

  3. March 16, 2016 / 8:59 am

    Love how you included a brief history of the city! Great read and good resource!

  4. March 16, 2016 / 9:10 am

    Not gonna lie, I’ve spent about 0 seconds of my life thinking about Casco, so you’ve not only taught me something, but shown me that this place should be on my list! So pretty. Nice work!

  5. March 16, 2016 / 9:11 am

    I have never been in Central America, and your post makes me wanna go so much! I love the pictures, it looks like it has been a gorgeous day 🙂

  6. March 16, 2016 / 9:39 am

    I’ve heard so many mixed things about Panama, but it does look pretty darn great I must say! I’m definitely intrigued to go!

  7. March 16, 2016 / 9:41 am

    this city looks so mysterious! Thank you for sharing this tips with us! where’s the closes airport?

    • Jet-setting Spirit
      March 16, 2016 / 4:29 pm

      Since Casco is the older portion of Panama City the nearest airport is in Panama City (PTY-Panama Tocumen International Airport), 20 minutes away.

  8. March 16, 2016 / 2:18 pm

    Very interesting as I embarrassingly don’t know too much about Panama. The shot with all the skyscrapers in the distance and the colonial buildings in other photos show an interesting contrast.

  9. March 17, 2016 / 3:05 am

    I have never been in South America. Panama looks like interesting destination for future travels. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. March 17, 2016 / 6:24 am

    I hope to get to visit this awesome place. More photos please! I pinned it on JustTravellingSolo board, if you don’t mind.

  11. March 17, 2016 / 8:23 am

    Very informative post! Panama definitely seems to be getting more popular as a holiday destination from the US. Casco looks beautiful!