My favorite part of Panama City is the neighborhood of Casco Viejo (also known as Casco Antiguo). It’s full of beautiful pastel-colored buildings and small shops to get lost in for hours. Casco Viejo became the main part of the city in 1673 after pirates attacked the original area, Panama Viejo. The area is much quieter than the busy downtown Panama City where I stayed, so I preferred coming here during the day. Here are my suggestions of what to do in Panama’s charming Casco Viejo!
Eat at the Seafood Market
This was number one on my list of things to do in Panama City. I headed to the Mercado de Mariscos to get fresh seafood for lunch the first day. This open-air market has about a dozen different vendors where you can get an assortment of seafood dishes. I got shrimp ceviche and a beer for under $4 USD – you can’t beat that!
Shop at Hidden Markets
Panama is relatively cheap, but there are also some places that cater to tourists knowing they’re looking for a dirt-cheap deal. The problem with these places is the souvenirs you buy will probably fall apart quickly. Instead, head to the Mercado Artesanias on 5 de Mayo. If you type in this address, you’ll get a bus station, but the entrance to the market is just across the street from this. They have everything from handmade clothes to jewelry to ceramic bowls.
Explore Historic Buildings
The buildings here are beautiful, so make sure to bring your camera when walking around. I loved walking around the Plaza de la Independencia and seeing some of the areas that played a role in Casco Viejo’s history. There’s a park where you can get relief from the heat under some of the trees.
The Iglesia San Francisco de Asis is one of the smaller churches in Panama City, but beautifully decorated. I also loved seeing what the statues symbolized around the city.
Try Geisha Coffee
I’m a huge coffee lover, so naturally I had to try Panama’s famous Geisha coffee. It’s one of the most expensive coffees in the world and I wanted to see what made it so amazing. After a quick search, I found that Bajareque Coffee House served it. This eight-ounce cup cost $10 USD but was worth every drop. It was also a good chance to get in the shade and people watch for a little bit.
Buy a Panama Hat
There are plenty of places to buy a hat, but you don’t want to buy the first one you see. True Panama hats should be high-quality, so I wouldn’t recommend buying a hat for less than $20 USD. My research showed that Casco Viejo has one of the best places to buy a Panama hat at Victor’s Panama Hats. The guy who was working there took plenty of time with me to show how different hats would look on me.
I’m not normally a hat person, but after I felt the 100°F weather walking around Panama during the day, I made it a priority to buy one. They’re really comfortable and can roll up in your suitcase pretty easily.
Explore the Nightlife
While I always advise being on guard when you’re traveling alone, I felt pretty safe in Casco Viejo even at night. I loved the nightlife because there are not loud clubs, but rather small bars with similarly small crowds. If you go to one bar, I highly recommend going to Pedro Mandinga, which is a rum bar. I wasn’t even aware Panama made rum, but the drinks they serve here are delicious and will convert anyone to a rum lover.
Try Panamanian Food
When I go to a new country, I always have to try the local food. I was thrilled to find Diablocos, which served traditional Panamanian food. I got the patacones rellenos de mariscos, which is an amazing seafood and plantain dish.
The masks on the wall provided entertainment during my dinner. They were playing a video which showed traditional dances with the masks so I could see how they were used.
Is there something you always want to see in a new city first?
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