Panama represents a contradictory mixture of old and new more than anywhere else in Central America. The city’s skyline is dotted with big buildings and huge malls but oddly enough, the poverty is still very much out there making it one of the most diverse and interesting destinations to visit.
Even though Panama is most famous for constructing the Canal, one particular landmark got my attention. Casco Viejo, which is “Old Town” in Spanish, is an incredibly gorgeous and very walkable neighborhood. I can’t think of a place that’s not harder to fall in love with, nor one that harbors so much history and mystery with its sense of self. Completed and settled in 1673, Casco Viejo was built following the near-total destruction of the original Panama City, Panama Viejo in 1671, when the latter was attacked by pirates led by Henry Morgan (yes the guy on the rum bottle)
However, after decades of neglect and with the neighborhood turning into a slum, it was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. More investors and visitors started to come, increasing the popularity and improving the conditions of the area. It still work in progress since there’s a lot of construction going on. It’s not only the buildings that are being refurbished, but also the streets.
Walking through this historic district, the sun shines through hollowed-out abandoned 17th Century Spanish Colonial homes on to brick-lined roads revealing layers and layers of centuries past. Charming art galleries, quaint retail shops, and fancy restaurants all provide a relaxing way to spend the entire day and work as a respite from the Panamanian sun. A little known fact, the Panama Hats ….are actually made in Ecuador! Yup…. real Panama Hats are made in Ecuador! One more thing, Panama has the sweetest Mojito! It feels like I’m drinking sugar cane juice.
I think it would be a shame to leave Panama without seeing the Canal. At first I was not totally interested to see it but after watching a short documentary about building the canal, I was quickly fascinated by it. The Panama Canal is considered one of the world’s greatest engineering feat linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Moving something as massive as those container ships up 50 feet to meet the water level in the interior was quite incredible, especially considering that there is only 2 feet of room on either side of the ship between canal’s edges. I have to admit it was impressive to see how the ships were raised and lowered through the Canal’s locks.
My trip to Panama was nothing short of amazing. I got to enjoy swimming at the hotel’s pool which, by the way, had an impeccable view of the ocean. One funny thing that I remember – our taxi driver was talking about getting us a prostitute in the city and even pointed out the area on where to get one. He was speaking Spanish and I did understand somehow, and I know that prostitution is legal in Panama but do I look like a perv? Oh God! Haha!