En route from Bocas del Toro, I had the chance to stay over in Panama City for a couple days. Since it was an unexpected stop, I hadn’t anything planned. Nor did I know much about Panama City. Suffice it to say, my friend and I decided to simply play it by ear and see what we could find on our own, without help from the internet. We walked around a bit, soaking up the crowded city, amazed at the heavy traffic. We found a quaint restaurant with amazing omelets and fruit smoothies. We shuffled around a bit more, before hailing a taxi to take us to the Panama Canal site.
While there (aside from learning more about the canal’s amazing history), we happened upon a photograph of Casco Viejo. We thought it looked interesting, so we hopped in a taxi and— between the two of us— conjured enough spanish to get there. We were dropped off at the mouth of the neighborhood. From my limited comprehension of the language, the taxi driver told us we should start at that point and explore on foot to get the best experience. So that’s what we did.
As we made our way through the historic Old City, we were instantly in awe, wondering why we didn’t opt to spend more time here. Currently under a process of restoration, the area shows what’s been there since 1671. Crumbling building façades sit amongst newly restored buildings, providing excellent contrast. The overcrowding of downtown has disappeared, so the streets are clear enough to walk down without looking over your shoulder. The ocean is just a breath away, so you hear it and smell it as you walk, wondering when it will grace you with its presence. The sound of laughter filters through the place, as people congregate in front of their spaces, socializing and enjoying life. Interesting shops, bars and restaurants are scattered about, welcoming patrons (we stopped frequently, especially for the amazing Panamanian beer, Balboa). The cathedral on Plaza de la Catedral— its old rusted core sandwiched between the stark white of its newer construction, juxtaposed against the sharp blue of the sky and ancientness of its surroundings— is beautiful. Keep walking. Eventually land runs out and you’re at the water (Las Bóvedas, a waterfront promenade with views of the Pacific)— and what excellent views you have! From one angle you see downtown Panama City, from another angle you see a far off island; others you see miles of ocean. It’s serene; calming; beautiful. When night falls, things liven up, and it becomes even more magical.
I for one never wanted to leave. I definitely have to make it back one day. -VJ