The Emerging Travel Destination of Casco Viejo Panama

By: Kara Winters

Panama City's historic district of Casco Antiguo, or as some call it Casco Viejo, is to many a diamond in the rough. After being nearly deserted years back by the capital city's elite residents, today it is experiencing the kind of revitalization that draws a kind of visionary crowd: one with the kind of foresight to renovate tall buildings in a single bound.

Walk down its narrow passage ways and you might mistake Casco Antiguo's old-world charm for Europe. However, its distinct Caribbean flare and Latin ambiance are enough to shake that correlation. Spanish is spoken, as is English, French, and a number of hybrid languages confusing enough to put your deduction skills to rest.

The neighborhood sits on one giant peninsula, visible from high points in the city mostly for its tall chapels and out-of-character pastels. The beaches of Casco Antiguo are spotted with local children bobbing in the wake with surfboards donated by local surf shops (part of a program to encourage beach clean up).

The streets are buzzing with energy: this old-fashioned sort of charm that is reminiscent of Havana or Cartegena prior to upgrade.

Some visitors are turned off by Casco Antiguo's squatter population or deteriorating buildings, but others simple believe that's part of the charm-part of what one signs up for in the world of truly up-and-coming tourism and real estate hot spots.

While the expat community is still somewhat limited, there exist a handful of Spanish, Dutch, and North Americans simply enamored with what they seem to call their own little paradise.

Rush-hour traffic and car horns are not common sights or sounds in Casco Antiguo, where a preservation motto to remain the neighborhood the proportions of prior-automobile era. Taxis hobble down cobblestone streets, people go for breezy walks, and local snow cone vendors set up shop on corners where post-school children form long lines.

The character is absolutely unique and one that sharply contrasts the otherwise commercially booming Panama City. Panama seems to be blessed with yet another astounding tourism destination, and as the sun sets over the Western hills, things appear to be bright for Casco Antiguo.

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