We have been living in Panama for 10 months and have not even scraped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to visiting all the sites this country has to offer. We’re adjusting to the slower paced tropical life (i.e. we’re lazy sometimes), but there are a few other reasons we haven’t done everything there is to do in Panama just yet.
1. We’re not on vacation! It was hard to remember this when we first moved. When visiting any place new, we tend to go sight-seeing crazy because we don’t want to miss anything before we head back home.
2. We don’t like traffic. Some of the attractions we want to see are in Panama City and there is a ton of traffic if you don’t know how to avoid it (i.e. routes and times to circumvent).
3. Hobbies. We like to do things we enjoy to fill our time. I think it’s important to have a hobby if you just retired (or semi-retired) and are moving abroad. I’ll talk about this more in another post…but in the meantime just trust me and find a hobby!
Onto the important stuff…Casco Viejo (aka Casco Antigua)
Founded in 1673, Casco Viejo is a beautifully preserved area in Panama City where the Spanish originally settled. Filled with 16th and 17th century Spanish Colonial architecture, tourists, and popular restaurants, it is often referred to as the SoHo of Latin America. I have never been to Europe and this was like getting a little bit of Spain right in the middle of the tropics. Casco Viejo was Panama’s city center until the 1930s.
La Marced was the first thing to catch my eye, after the narrow cobblestone roads and beautiful balconies! This church broke ground in 1688 but wasn’t finished until 1796. It looks like they were on “island” time back then too. The bells are even older than the towers housing them. One was made in 1232 and shipped in from Spain while they were building the church!
Around the corner were artists creating new pieces at their boutique. They had statues and sculptures on their balcony to draw you near.
Casco Viejo runs along the water and the views are amazing. We finally got to see Panama City’s downtown skyline from the other side and now understand why it’s known as “the other Miami!” If it’s raining while you’re down there, don’t worry, there is a covered walkway so you can put down the umbrella and enjoy the scenery. Artisans sell crafts under the covered walkway. We stopped to watch an indigenous Ngäbe woman sewing a purse to sell to a tourist walking by.
If the view of downtown wasn’t enough, we followed the walkway to a view of “La Puenta de Las Americas” (the bridge of the Americas) and a beautifully preserved park. This bridge spans the Panama Canal and essentially connects North America to South America. We drive over this every time we come and go from the city.
From this spot, you walk down steps to the view of the central park. The trees shade the entire area and we saw owners playing with their dogs off leash within the park’s fence! A great find for us since we’ve been incessantly searching for a place to let loose with the pooch.
It was interesting to see modern businesses operating inside of the historic buildings throughout the area. In the picture above, you can see a restaurant sign for Las Bóvedas. We saw the open sign on and stopped in to take a look. We happily found the owner and chatted until the sun started to set.
Las Bóvedas means dungeons (or vaults) in Spanish and this restaurant was just that when it was first built during Spain’s reign over Panama. Restored in 1983, the restaurant has meticulously maintained the monument throughout its 26 year history. The original walls are exposed and minimal holes are created when hanging fixtures to protect the building’s integrity. A refined ambiance fills the atmosphere while live jazz or salsa music plays on weekend nights. Presidents, officials, and celebrities frequent Las Bóvedas and are free to leave, unlike the guests associated with this building’s history.
There are so many places left to see in Casco Viejo. We will enjoy frequenting this area and discovering all the nooks and crannies hidden away in the old city center.