We’ve covered the proper tourist attractions that I visited in Panama and they are definitely worth visiting but I spent several days in Casco Viejo and most of the fun I had in Panama was just hanging out pretending to be a local.
If you like chain hotels, casinos and cosmopolitan glitz, you will be happy in Panama City proper. If you want culture, charm and a sense of discovery, you will be beguiled by Casco Viejo. I saw Panama City on the Hop on Hop Off bus and nothing enticed me to cross the causeway.
I’ve already mentioned some of my favourite places to sleep, eat and enjoy the evening. There are plenty of great options and everything is an easy walk. There are a few other pleasures in which to indulge.
As previously noted, Casco Viejo is undergoing a renaissance so for lovers of history and/or architecture, you can wander the streets and old colonial squares and admire the restorations amid the decay. You need to pay attention to the hotel’s instructions but there are plenty of streets that are perfectly safe and full of worthy sites.
It took some time to find Plaza de Francia. You should likely ask for directions 🙂 You definitely want to find it as you will have great views to the rest of Panama City and you will find all sorts of enticing stands showcasing local crafts. It’s an homage to the French role in the building of the Panama Canal and to the 22,000 workers who died building it.
If colour and local crafts are one of your passions (guilty as charged), Panama will prove deadly to your wallet 😉 There are several indigenous tribes still creating intricate and colourful crafts based on centuries of tradition as well as some young artisans using the past as inspiration for 21st century creations. A lot of the traditional crafts yield accessories that look surprisingly contemporary.
I became a little obsessed with bib necklaces and earrings rendered in sophisticated beading. The earrings generally cost about the same as a chai latte at Starbucks – and will certainly last longer. My other addiction was molas. Molas are produced by the Kuna women from the San Blas Islands. It’s a form of quilting. Traditionally it is an intricately patterned cloth panel used to adorn their traditional blouses. Brightly contrasting fabrics are combined using intricate stitching and embroidery to form panels that depict traditional life.
Traditional molas have now become collectors’ items. The concept has also been translated to lots of everyday items. You can help save the planet by purchasing a high quality brightly decorated bag to carry your purchases 😉
You can also find baskets, nut carvings and masks.
You definitely want to spend some time at Plaza Bolivar. It’s a tribute to
Simon Bolivar, possibly the biggest hero in Latin America. It’s surrounded by lovely colonial buildings and there are plenty of places to enjoy food or a drink under an umbrella people-watching. The other gorgeous plaza is Plaza Herrera where you will find the American Trade Hotel and Casa Casco, already noted as great places to spend time.
If fun in the sun is more your thing than indigenous crafts or colonial architecture, you can also hang out in a beach resort in thoroughly modern Panama. It doesn’t matter your purpose. It’s the 21st century and Panama is part of the zeitgeist. Go while it still has character and locals are excited to welcome new visitors!