Beside the towering glass skyscrapers of bustling Panama City is the neighborhood of Casco Viejo. This Panama City historic district, also known as Casco Antiguo Panama or San Felipe, is characterized by its ancient buildings and fascinating colonial architecture, contrasting sharply with the surrounding modern metropolis. You’ll find a variety of things to do in […]
Beside the towering glass skyscrapers of bustling Panama City is the neighborhood of Casco Viejo. This Panama City historic district, also known as Casco Antiguo Panama or San Felipe, is characterized by its ancient buildings and fascinating colonial architecture, contrasting sharply with the surrounding modern metropolis. You’ll find a variety of things to do in Casco Viejo Panama, from enjoying a historical walking tour to savoring delicious traditional Panamanian food in exquisite local restaurants.
You’ll want to spend at least a few hours wandering the streets of old town Panama City, but you could easily enjoy a day or more here. The area is small and easily walkable but packed with attractions. Then, when the sun goes down, party the night away in one of the area’s rooftop bars.
We’ve compiled all our top recommendations into a Casco Viejo guide, plus a suggested walking tour route. Keep reading to learn more about things to do in Casco Viejo Panama, its history, how to get there, what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.
Casco Viejo was built on a small peninsula in 1673, a couple years after the original Panama City (Panama Viejo) was destroyed by pirates. Today, ruins are all that remain of Panama Viejo, but Casco Viejo lives on, proudly displaying the rich culture of Panama City. Both Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In addition to appreciating the city’s history, you’ll also enjoy the juxtaposition of ancient and modern architecture, ranging in style from colonial to art deco. There is a contrast between beautifully restored and woefully neglected buildings right next to each other. Panama City has embarked on a long-term construction initiative to bring all of the buildings back up to par.
Up until recently, Casco Viejo was controlled by gangs and not accessible to travelers. Today, it’s one of the top destinations in Panama City for tours, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. Throughout the neighborhood, you’ll find shops selling iconic Panama hats and indigenous Kuna women selling molas, textile handicrafts with brightly colored patterns and complex embroidery.
The easiest way to get to Casco Viejo is by taxi or Uber. Taxis in Panama City do not have meters, but instead operate on a zone system. Your driver should have a chart with the prices for different zones. Regardless, always agree on the price with the driver before starting your taxi trip.
Taxis to and from Casco Viejo may be more expensive than other parts of the city, especially at night, as the neighborhood attracts many visitors.
We do not recommend renting a car and driving in Panama City due to a combination of heavy rush hour traffic, one-way streets, a lack of sufficient street signs, and unsafe areas. What’s more, it can be nearly impossible to find a place to park in Casco Viejo.
Is Casco Viejo safe?
Yes, Casco Viejo is safe for travelers, even at night. You’ll have plenty of company with other visitors, locals, and policemen. That being said, you should not walk within the areas surrounding Casco Viejo such as El Chorrillo, Santa Ana, and Calidonia, especially at night. If you are staying outside Casco Viejo, we recommend taking a taxi to get back to your hotel.
By Public Transportation
If you would rather use public transportation, you can take the metro or a bus to Casco Viejo. Both options require a Metro Bus card, which you can buy at any metro station. Then, you can take the metro to 5 de Mayo Station. From there, the Cinta Costera, Fish Market, and Casco Viejo are all within 15 minutes of walking distance.
The second option is taking the “Panama Viejo-Via Israel-Mariscos” bus from Albrook Terminal, Avenida Balboa, or Via Israel. Get off at the Cinta Costera stop near the Fish Market. For more information about using public transportation in Panama City, see this blog post.
With a Tour
Planning travel logistics can be a hassle. Let us take care of all the details so that you can enjoy a stress-free experience. This private tour with a local guide takes you to all the city’s best spots, including Casco Viejo. You’ll learn all about the history and culture of Panama City and get some local tips.
The three main attractions of Casco Viejo are its historical buildings, high-quality restaurants, and popular nightlife, which are all within walking distance of each other. The best way to experience the neighborhood is on a Casco Viejo walking tour, with a local guide to tell you about each spot’s history.
Self-Guided Casco Viejo Walking Tour
Below, we’ve put together a suggested walking tour route and itinerary to give you an idea of the Casco Viejo highlights, including plazas, churches, museums, historical buildings, and more. Zoom in and click on the icons of the interactive map below for a better understanding of the neighborhood’s layout.
This route is about 2 miles (3 km) long and can take anywhere between a half day and a full day, depending on if you decide to enter the buildings or browse any of the museums. Customize your visit and how long you spend at each attraction based on your interests.
Start in Casco Viejo’s main central plaza: Plaza de la Independencia, also known as Plaza Catedral. Admire the buildings surrounding the plaza: the Central Hotel to the east and the Panama Canal Museum and the Panama History Museum to the south.
Then, enter the Cathedral of Panama City (La Catedral Metropolitana), the city’s main Catholic church, on the western side of the plaza. The cathedral was built in 1796 and was last renovated in 2003. Appreciate the architectural contrasts between the ancient core and the modern, white towers to either side of the main facade.
Next, head to the north side of the plaza and stop for a coffee and pastry at Rene Cafe. After your delicious Panamanian coffee, head another couple of blocks north to see the Palace of the Herons (El Palacio de las Garzas), a government building where the President of Panama lives. The building gets its name from the African herons which live on the property.
After walking around the palace, make your way to Plaza Simon Bolivar, passing by the San Felipe de Neri Church. From the plaza, you’ll be able to see the Bolivar Palace, another important government building, along with the San Francisco de Asis Church and the National Theater.
Head towards the ocean to the east and walk past the Old Union Club to find Paseo Las Bovedas, also known as Paseo Esteban Huertas or Calle 5a. This scenic path takes you on the old city wall next to the ocean to Plaza de Francia and Las Bovedas Monument. From there, you can look out onto the ocean and watch ships waiting to pass through the locks. You’ll also have great views of the rest of Panama City.
Continue past the monument on the city wall, back towards the main part of the peninsula. You’ll arrive next to the Museum of Religious Art and the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, which include the ruins of an ancient church now called Arco Chato (Flat Arch). The original church was built in the 1600s and was destroyed by a fire in 1756, but never rebuilt.
Once you’re done exploring the museum and ruins, it’s time for a sugar rush! Stop by Tropical Chocolate Cafe for a scrumptious taste of high-quality chocolate and bonbons.
Then, head west a couple of blocks to the Church of San Jose and admire its famous golden altar.
Return to Plaza de la Independencia, walking past the Church and Convent of the Society of Jesus and the Municipal Palace (Palacio Municipal). Explore the History Museum of Panama and the Panama Canal Museum at your leisure.
Finally, catch a taxi or walk for about 15 minutes to the Fish Market (Mercado de Mariscos) to enjoy fresh ceviche and other delicious seafood. Alternatively, you can stay in the main Casco Viejo area and enjoy a meal at one of the many quality restaurants (see our recommendations below).
If you have more time in Casco Viejo, consider adding these attractions to your list:
For more information about things to do in Casco Viejo Panama, see this helpful website.
Casco Viejo is the best neighborhood for dining in Panama City. You’ll find many high-quality restaurants serving a variety of cuisine, from traditional Panamanian food to international dishes. Make sure to try a cup of Panama’s famous local coffee; you won’t be disappointed!
If you’d like to experience the tastes of Panama like a local, try our food tour in Casco Viejo. Your local guide will lead you on a walking tour, then show you the best places to get ceviche and other local favorites.
Although Casco Viejo hosts many visitors during the day, the neighborhood comes alive at night as locals come to socialize in bars and clubs. To enjoy delicious drinks, fun music, and a fantastic view of the city, head to a rooftop bar.
If you are looking for where to stay in Panama City, look no further. Staying in Casco Viejo, you’ll be close to all the best restaurants, nightlife, and sightseeing spots. Here are some of our hotel recommendations:
Visiting Casco Viejo is a must-do while in Panama City. With its fascinating history, plentiful restaurants, and old-town charm, you’re sure to enjoy exploring this neighborhood. Join this tour to see Casco Viejo, the Panama Canal, and Amador Causeway all in one day!
For more ideas about things to do and see in Panama City, check out our city guide.