The modern city of Panama was founded in the late 1600s, and constructed on a peninsula protected by the sea and by defensive walls – some of which can still be seen in the neighborhood of Casco Viejo today.
Now a World Heritage Site, Casco Viejo is a marvelous mix of old and new, with old ruins, colorful colonial architecture, and modern tourist ventures.
Casco Viejo should have been a must-see. But based on everything I’d read online, I was a bit apprehensive to check out the neighborhood, even though it is Panama City‘s beloved and best known historic district.
Blog posts warned of a dangerous atmosphere and guidebooks told of robberies. Everything I read cautioned against the surrounding neighborhood, and to be especially careful getting in and out of Casco Viejo.
I decided to chance it anyway (I am a serious sucker for colonial architecture and historic districts in general, and the waterfront location only adds to its appeal).
I was definitely tense on the taxi drive in, I kept my eyes peeled for suspicious characters, sketchy streets, and shady alleys.
Instead, I found a welcoming, police-patrolled, and extremely safe-feeling in Casco Viejo.
I rarely wander around with my camera out around my neck, but Casco Viejo felt so secure that I took advantage of the safe vibe and went snap happy.
And good thing, because there’s a LOT to photograph!
From capturing Panama City skylines
To sometimes old, sometimes new, but always bright and beautiful buildings
And even older ruins
While Casco Viejo is without a doubt picturesque, and surprisingly safe (regardless of what you’ll read), a visit does come with a certain price tag, especially if you’re planning on dining.
Like, literally. It’s pretty damn expensive!
I had a decent lunch and a simple bottle of water at one of the most recommended restaurants, Veggie Moon, at the not-too-decent price of $50. A simple bottled water will cost you $8 (WTF?) and the meals average around $25. Yikes.
The restaurant was beautiful, and looks more like a chic furniture store than a Central American restaurant. The food was good, but not THAT good, and I honestly wouldn’t do it again. It wasn’t worth the price tag.
If you’re on a strict budget, it might be best to eat before, and arrive to Casco Viejo with a full belly ready for exploring.
But don’t let the steep prices or even the rumors of danger keep you away from Casco Viejo – it’s definitely worth a wander!