After a major day visiting the Panama Canal, we decided to go to the Casco Viejo Panama in the afternoon. After our epic adventure getting lost trying to get to the Aguas Clara locks, I certainly needed something familiar to show Ben in the afternoon.
What is Casco Viejo Panama?
Also known as Casco Viejo, San Felipe is the old city’s heart, popular for its lively dining and nightlife scene. Cocktail lounges, rooftop bars, and global restaurants line streets decorated with elaborate murals. Colonial-era landmarks include the twin-towered Metropolitan Cathedral and the waterfront Palacio de las Garzas presidential home. Local shops sell traditional handicrafts.
For me, the cobblestone roads are so unique and transport you to the colonial era in no time.
Casco Viejo Panama – The First Attempt
I know the theme of this post is the second attempt to visiting the Casco Viejo, but I need to spend at least one paragraph making you aware of our experience during our first night in Panama.
As many of you know, I was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and so I have lots of family and friends there.
When my besties realized I was going to be in Panama for a weekend getaway, they quickly organized a dinner on Saturday night with everyone’s significant others so there were no excuses.
I suggested we’d go to Casco Viejo Panama because I thought that way I could kill two birds with one stone, and show Ben the area at night.
My friends who are the locals suggested few places and decided on a “fancy” rooftop restaurant called L Azotea right on the entrance of the Casco Viejo.
Well, I’m sorry to say this was the worst restaurant of our entire trip.
To begin with, Panama is very affordable, but this place was priced as if I never have left the US.
That was the first hard bite to swallow, but we knew that before we even got there because to reserve a table we had to prepaid half of a fix price menu.
The prices were such that we were all expecting excellent service at the very least.
To our disappointment, the food was mediocre, the drinks were watered down and the service was terrible.
Now, the company of my friends and the view were priceless.
Besides the fact that this place did not meet our “foodie” standards, this meant that I needed to take Ben again to the area to rectify his perception.
Why you might ask?
The answer is simple and quite frankly egocentric. I wanted to make sure Ben remembered fondly the places that are close to my heart, L Azotea didn’t help me with the experience except that I did get some awesome pictures with my besties on the rooftop, but I don’t think we needed to pay so much for that.
Casco Viejo Panama – The Second Attempt
So since the first attempt to impress Ben with what I consider to be an amazing place, in fact not only me but by Unesco who has categorized this historic place as a World Heritage Site, We had to go back.
Given our busy scheduled we decided to go back the same day we went to the Panama Canal (and got lost going to the second set of locks), but I knew Casco Viejo Panama would be a great place to end the day and maybe stay for a redemption dinner.
So we drove all the way from Colon straight to Casco Viejo and we were there just in time to enjoy a nice walk around the area before it got dark.
One of the most sees when you go to Casco Viejo Panama is the famous Golden Altar inside of Church of San Jose, so we strategically park the car walking distance from it.
The Golden Altar is very important for us, Panamanians because it was one of the few things that were saved from Captain Morgan’s attack to the Old City Panama La Vieja, during the pirate attack.
However, this altar is actually made of carved wood and overlaid with gold flakes. In order to save the altar the Jesuit priest in the Order of St. Agustin painted the Golden Altar black to hide the gold from the pirates.
The pirates lead by Captain Henry Morgan sacked and burned Panama La Vieja, leaving this altar behind.
When the new city (now called Casco Viejo Panama) was built, the Golden Altar was moved to it.
If you want to go see it this altar is located in the intersection of Calle 8 and Calle Boquete in Casco Viejo Panama.
More to see in Casco Viejo Panama
As we continue our tour of Casco Viejo Panama from the Church of San Jose, towards Plaza de Francia where El Paseo de las Bovedas begins and it’s a walk that you want to definitely do as it provides views of Panama City that are hard to top off, we were able to see ruins of many convents and other churches along the way.
Casco Viejo Panama is an area that’s being currently restored by Panama and slowly has come around.
Still, it presents the contrast of being one of the poorest areas in Panama coupled with the beauty of this historic site, but don’t worry security in the area is great, so you can feel free to roam around.
As in any place in the world these days, use your discretion and trust your intuition.
Other things you will be able to see in Casco Viejo Panama are the Cathedral where the Pope offered mass during the World Youth Day 2019, as well as the National Theather of Panama where performance like the ballet and others occur.
Dinner Redemption at Casco Viejo Panama?
You know I couldn’t end the visit without making sure we had a redemption dinner in Casco Viejo. The good news is that we were able to accomplish that. The bad news is that the food was so delicious that I for sure ate more than I should have had.
We went to a place called Marzolla Parrilla, and the place was so fantastic that I’ll be covering it on a post about Best Restaurants in Panama.
To keep you interested in reading the review, I’ll tell you this much. This was a one in a kind place with amazing atmosphere and fantastic food!
Casco Viejo Panama, Wolrd Heritage Site designated by Unesco is a must do destination when you travel to Panama.
Please don’t hesitate to ask us questions if you have any.
Until our next post, please keep traveling and remember that Life is your getaway!