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Casco Viejo – My Favorite ‘Hood in Panama City, Panama

Yup, it’s been a month since I posted something. I’m just going to pretend that gap of time didn’t happen, and continue blogging with some thoughts about our trip to Panama…

Our impression of the city was unexpected. I imagined a booming metropolis. I had read a New York Times article from April 2011 that said there were 30 skyscrapers under construction. I also thought the American influence/presence related to the canal would have heightened development. Then, after flying in and seeing the skyline, I really thought this would be a mini Chicago or New York City.

Turns out, I was wrong. Yes, the skyline is impressive (mostly residential), and there are lots of buildings under construction. However, I didn’t find the city to be that dynamic. With the exception of Casco Viejo (which I’ll get to later), there were no cute neighborhoods or shopping districts to explore. Getting around the city on foot was not possible. The only mass transit system was the bus, and it was way too hot for us to want to attempt that. Apparently they’re building a subway.

So, all in all, it seemed like Panama City might be on its way. But it’s definitely not what I would consider a booming metropolis at the moment. It’s a very large Central American city that is going through a growth spurt.

We did enjoy spending some time in the Casco Viejo Neighborhood. They call this the “old city.” Architectural character galore. Like the “new city,” it’s going through its own rebirth. There’s a huge contrast between old and new.

There are several squares, some nice restaurants, heladerias, boutiques and coffee shops. There are also buildings in complete ruin that are nearly crumbling to the ground, saved by the steel beams that support their collapsing walls. There are some streets that give you a very sketchy vibe. Not unsafe, but maybe not comfortable.

We traversed the neighborhood on cobblestone streets and narrow roads/sidewalks and ducked in to a few shops and restaurants.

Here’s a cute boutique we visited. It’s called Espacio Vintage, and it’s adorable. I would’ve bought LOTS of things if I knew I 1) didn’t have room in my suitcase and 2) didn’t have a huge list of baby stuff to buy. If you go to Casco Viejo, visit this shop. It was off Avenida A, but I’m not recalling the cross street.

We got Emily one of these bracelets, which was painted by a local artist. Same artist that painted the murals on the walls of the shop (inside and out).

We also went shopping at Diablo Rosso, which is off Avenida A and Calle 7. It’s another good stop if you go to Casco Viejo. Cute boutique, art gallery and cafe all in one.

A dress made out of felt balls! =)

We got a shirt here for Matthew, as a thank you for taking care of our Lola girl.

And then, lunch. We ate at La rosa de los Vientos, off Calle Octava. It was a very nice Italian place that looks out over the waterfront. Great pizza. They had an outdoor patio, but we opted to eat indoors since they hadn’t lifted the umbrellas yet.

This little guy entertained us during lunch while playing with a balloon in the street outside.

And then, more walking through the neighborhood. This area was probably my favorite spot in all of Panama City, and I’d highly recommend visiting if you go to Panama.

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