Backpacking in Panama: Touring Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s Old Town

Backpacking in Panama: Touring Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s Old Town

Casco Antiguo (Panama’s Old Town) hits you like a hot, sweaty kickabout down the park. It’s not in an easy or obvious location either. But it had to be seen.

My first glimpse of The Old Town was from the edge of the New Town! The Old Town sticks out like a mini peninsula, with it’s Cathedral and antique buildings on view against the Pacific Ocean’s calm waters. 

I had met Eduardo from Brazil by total chance getting a packed bus from Panama International Airport into the city centre of Panama. The bus took just over an hour and I was sweated to the max after it. Luckily I had decided not to bring my backpack for the day out. It was just too hot, but I did wear my jacket fleece, as the sun’s rays were strong, and I had not quite anticipated the heat of Panama City. Similarly to Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja, the Casco Antiguo sticks out like a thumb on the hand of Panama City.

We knew we would get to Panama City’s Old Town with ease – it was a simple route. I had a small Panama guide book and a map of all parts of the city. Eduardo and I both agreed once we got there we would first stop off for a beer in the heat. In the previous couple of months I had already done my fair share of former Spanish colonial sightseeing, in places like Buenos Aires, La Paz and Quito. With all that in mind, I expected Panama to be a filler rather than a thriller. It was an added bonus to be there, as I hadn’t originally intended to do Panama (or Trinidad and Tobago) on this trip.

Our walk took about 20 minutes in hot conditions, we squeezed through a local market in a poor area to get to the start of the Old Town.

Eduardo walks past an elegant re-painted old style building.

Some of the old buildings have succumbed over time and others have been knocked down completely.

And then we found our pub! It was open, it was 11 am and there were no customers. A beer was needed so Eduardo and I rocked right up to the bar. Panama City old town! This was going to be a Caribbean or Central America bar experience with a difference. I’ve never been to Cuba, but would it sound ridiculous to say “it felt like we were having a beer in Cuba”. Maybe but that’s the way it felt.

Funny it was exactly what I expected a bar in Panama City to look like. It was typical of what you perceive – no taps – lots of cold fridges full of beer and of course lots of Caribbean Rum!

But beer it was and a new one for me. This beer was just gorgeous – Atlas – Panama’s own. So refreshing, so cold, so needed.

Check out the rum selection. I thought of my brother Marko who loves Rum. He’d love this bar!

The barman was dead on, talking away to us, very friendly. Eduardo mainly spoke in Spanish to him.

Enjoying my amazing Panama City old town beer. We hung around for 2 as it went down a treat and would have a beer again later on after doing the Old Town and the Canal.

We did pass by a few watering holes before that, but this bar was right in the heart of the Old Town – it’s name was Vieja Havana (Old Cuba!).

A disused telephone booth in Old Town Panama.

A truck struggles up a cramped old town street.

More ruins in Panama City Old Town. Despite it being run down, these buildings add a charm to the area.

Outdoor gardens to sit by the main square and while away the Panama City hours.

Plaza Bolivar – the main square as I saw it.

There was randomly free wi-fi in the square. I didn’t have a laptop with me – nor do I carry a phone when I travel, but Eduardo whipped out his laptop and had an online chat with his sister!

We knew it was safe when we saw signs like this. The Police have it covered.

Relaxing at the yellow and white Palacio Bolivar in the Old Town.

And a few photos of aimless dreaming as I relax in Plaza Bolivar. The statue behind is of the Venezuelan General Simon Bolivar.

Best mates for the day! Eduardo and I in awe of the amazing Plaza Bolivar.

An old theatre. Hadn’t seen a city like this before. Every building had its own uniqueness for some reason.

Another church.

It was time to join the locals for lunch. We went for relaxing outdoor barbecue, Panama City Old Town style. There was a bit of a queue but well worth sampling.

The Panama City Old Town lunch! Very very appetising. Rice. Chicken leg and thigh. Barbecued banana, cold vegetables in a pink sauce served in the shape of an ice cream scoop. Everyone in the queue was eating the same thing. This was an amazing lunch. 

We ate our lunch right on the Pacific Ocean by the harbour where buildings were old, eroding and worn. Birds tried to chip into our food, but we had scoffed it too quickly.

These buildings need restoration work, this one could easily succumb to the Pacific Ocean in extreme weather, Tsunami or high tide or even just erosion over the years…

Our lunchtime view. Incredible. A busy world of commuters seemed miles away in the totally uncommercial Old Town of Panama City.

Eduardo at lunch.

One of many beaches in Panama City – this one un-used but in the Old Town.

There are so many cliches – one would have to be “when in Panama, buy a Panama hat”. I didn’t actually, but Eduardo did. I was travelling light and already had 3 hats on me, one of which I had bought in Bolivia.

Another restored pretty corner building in the Old Town.

A Panama City taxi – we took one later when we went to the Canal.

Eduardo picks his hat, then bargains with the local saleswoman. It’s very untouristy, it was nice to be one of only a few tourists.

From the historic Old Town, you can gaze down at the commercialist skyscraping metropolis that is Panama New City. Americanisation you could call it. These buildings were higher than most in South America’s colonial cities.

I found a flag flying opportunity with my Northern Ireland flag beneath the Panama one by the Panama Old Town Police Station.

A mini supermarket – very local and devoid of brand names. This was another reason which made me think it may be similar to Cuba. But I’ll have to reserve judgement as I ain’t been to Cuba yet…

The Panama City Old Town Police Station and vehicles.

More excellent architecture in the Old Town. These buildings have been restored.

We were heading to the Canal de Panama next so felt no real need to visit the Canal Museum. As interesting as it will be, I’m sure – some man made structure that – and some history behind the construction of the awesome canal.

Just to prove it works – Eduardo gets online in Panama City Old Town, using the free Wi-fi connection!

Next stop was to head by taxi out to the Canal to feast our eyes on that marvel.

The taxi took us through some very old fashioned living areas, almost slums, as I enjoyed the wond coming through the wind in a day so so hot.

Eduardo looked the part in his Panama Hat as we said goodbye to an incredible time in the Old Town (Casco Antiguo) of Panama City. Well worth a visit. With days like this I don’t want this travel dream to ever end. An amazing time was had here in Panama Old Town.

Where – Old Town (Casco Antiguo), Panama City, Panama

Who Went – Jonny Blair, Eduardo

Nationalities Met – Brazilian, Panamaniacs (that’s it)

Strange Currencies – US Dollars

Bar Visited – Viejo Havana

Beer Tried – Atlas (superb)

Transport Used – Local bus, taxi

Souvenirs bought – Panama Hat (by Eduardo)

Key Song –

(this would have sounded amazing as we relaxed by the pier eating lunch)

My Videos –






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