Wow, this was a gem, and the absolute highlight of my trip. It’s known by several different names: Old Town, Casco Antiguo, the Historic District, San Felipe or Casco Viejo. Lotsa names for one area, all meaning the same thing…the location the city moved to prior to the attack of Henry Morgan.
Henry Morgan, we’ll go back to him shortly. In fact, he probably deserves his own post. Did you know our favorite spiced rum was named after an actual pirate? No? Neither did I. But the name continued to pop up in my panama travels so upon my return I did a bit of research and the interwebs told me so. And we know the interwebs don’t lie.
I chose to call this area Casco Viejo because that’s what TripAdvisor calls it, and much like the interwebs, they too do not lie. If planning a trip here, have all of the names above in your arsenal because this is how my convo with taxi went:
Hola, Casco Viejo? Strange look. San Felipe? Even stranger look. Ummmm…old town?? Ahhh, si señorita. Ten Dollars.
Ten dollars. That is apparently too much for a taxi from the new city to the old city, according to the only honest taxi driver in the country. When he picked me up, I felt confident in my negotiations because I was driven there by driver affiliated with my hotel, and they wouldn’t price gauge, would they? I have to stop being so naive all my life. Seriously.
When I was ready to go back to hotel, I somehow managed t0 flag the taxi down and he said to hop in. I wouldn’t get in until we agreed upon the fare. I was still reeling from the airport taxi driver and was certainly not going to get ripped off again! We are in middle of road, cars beeping, I’m about to flee and he says ‘mi Amiga, get in, whatever you paid to get here is what I am going to charge you’. Wait, is that English and did he just call me Amiga? I don’t know much Spanish, but I do know he just called me his friend. He’s my friend – I’m in! After telling me that my Espanol is terrible, (thanks, I wasn’t aware), he must’ve decided he liked me because he then told me I overpaid the to get to Old Town from the city by about 50%. So, only a couple bucks fare from new city to Casco Viejo but I chose to give him the ten for his honesty. Cuz I’m nice like that. And not like he offered to cut the fare down anyway.
I only spent a few hours in the Old Town because, well, I didn’t plan, and arrived right in the midday heat. And whew, it’s hot in Panama. Also, I forgot sunscreen and my hat. So rather than fry to a crisp my first day in the country, I decided to spend only a couple of hours walking around, snapping pics and taking it all in. My only regret of this trip, if I have one, is that I didn’t spend enough time or make more time to go back in the evening. It’s really that interesting.
There are a multitude of plazas, churches, museums, restaurants and even the Presidents residence. I went on a weekday and it wasn’t crowded at all. I’ve read that the crowds can be tough but it wasn’t the case for me, in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday.
Put this on your list. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.