Casco Viejo Panama is one of the most popular places to visit in Panama City. Located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, this neighborhood dates back to the early 17th century. Its colorful buildings and narrow streets ooze with charm and history.
Despite its small size, Casco Viejo Panama is where tourists spend most of their time when visiting Panama City. This is undoubtedly thanks to the dozens of great hotels, rooftop bars, restaurants, and shops located here. Plus, it’s just a short drive from several other popular things to do in Panama City.
If you’re wondering what to do in Casco Viejo or if Casco Viejo is even worth visiting, this blog will share the top places to eat, stay, and visit in Casco Viejo Panama with a one or two-day Casco Viejo Panama itinerary.
Casco Viejo Panama history
You’ll often hear Casco Viejo Panama be referred to as Casco Antiguo, which translates to the ‘ancient or old district’. Spanish conquistadors arrived in Panama City in the early 16th century, establishing the original Panama City, called Panama Viejo, in 1519.
Panama City’s ideal location on the Pacific Ocean and access to neighboring Central American countries made it the most important city and port town for nearly two centuries.
You can visit the archeological site (ruins) of Panama Viejo which is about a 20-minute drive from Casco Viejo.
Unfortunately, Panama Viejo burned to the ground after famed pirate Captain Morgan attacked it in 1671. The Spanish decided to rebuild the city in Casco Viejo because it had easier access to fresh water from nearby Ancon Hill, but also because it could be fortified.
Over the last ten to twenty years Casco Viejo has made a name for itself as a top attraction in Panama City and billions of dollars have poured into its redevelopment. Today, Casco Viejo Panama is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the hippest neighborhoods to both visit and live in.
Parts of the Casco Viejo neighborhood were left neglected over the years as people moved to newer, more modern parts of the city. For that reason, you’ll still see several abandoned buildings, many of which are undergoing restoration as you are exploring.
Where to stay in Casco Viejo
If you’re wondering where to stay in Casco Viejo there are several hotels and vacation rentals for you to choose from. The heart of the district, near Independence Square and toward the waterfront is the ideal location to stay. We recommend avoiding hotels or vacation rentals near the perimeter of the district.
The neighboring district on the edge of Casco Viejo, called El Chorillo, is one of the most dangerous in all of Panama City. We stayed in a vacation rental on the perimeter for the first two nights. We had no issues with crime whatsoever, but there were armed military and police officers on every corner at all hours of the day and night.
For added safety, we recommend staying at one of the hotels in the heart of the district. We stayed at the stunning four-star Hyatt La Compañia Hotel in the heart of Casco Viejo on our last night in Panama City and were blown away by the grounds, decor, and rooms.
This hotel takes up an entire block of Casco Viejo and is connected to an old convent. There are five restaurants to dine at, a rooftop bar and pool, a gym, a spa, and a beautiful courtyard to relax in.
It has three wings dedicated to the countries that controlled Panama in its 500-year history, Spain, France, and the United States. We stayed in the American side of the hotel and loved our early 20th century-themed room.
Expect to spend $250 to $500+ a night at the Hyatt La Compañia Hotel depending on the room or suite you book. This pricing, while high is in line with most Casco Viejo hotels. I think this hotel is worth it for its amenities and location. However, you can check out other popular Casco Viejo hotels and vacation rentals above.
1 to 2-day Casco Viejo itinerary
Casco Viejo Panama is a small district. You can easily visit the top attractions in a day, but your trip can easily be extended into two days. You can also turn this two-day itinerary into a single-day trip based on your interests.
If you want to make the most of your time in Casco Viejo Panama I recommend taking a guided walking tour of Casco Viejo. This tour will visit all of the major attractions I share here but dive much deeper into the unique history of this area.
In total, we spent three nights in Panama City and felt that was the perfect amount of time to enjoy Casco Viejo’s amazing restaurants, shop, and sightseeing while also venturing out to other parts of the city.
Looking for more Panama City day trips and tours? Check out these popular activities with Get Your Guide.
This Casco Viejo Panama City, Panama walking tour has 30 active minutes of walking with 7 stops in total.
Stop 1: coffee + breakfast
Start your first morning in Casco Viejo Panama with a delicious cup of coffee. Panama is a world-class coffee producer. Their most famous cup of coffee, Geisha, costs as much as USD 13! Casco Viejo is chock-full of fun coffee shops to visit, almost all of which serve Geisha coffee. But our favorite shop was Café Unido.
They have pastries and breakfast sandwiches to start your morning off along with specialty coffees. Café Unido is right in the heart of the city making your stops after this easy to get to.
🍳 If you want a more authentic Panamanian breakfast, check out Day 2 for our favorite breakfast spot!
Stop 2: Independence Square
Plaza De La Independencia or Independence Square in English is the main square in Casco Viejo Panama. Its name is aptly given to it because it is where Panama declared independence from Colombia in 1903. Located smack dab in the center of the city, it’s a great spot to enjoy the beautiful architecture and vibes of Casco Viejo.
The Catedral Metropolitana or Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Santa Maria as it’s called in English is located in Plaza De La Independencia. This church which was built in 1688 took over 100 years to complete and it’s stunning both inside and out.
We loved how the iridescent shells lining the white clock towers would shimmer when the sun hit them.
Stop 3: Panama Canal Museum
Around the corner from Plaza Independencia is the Panama Canal Museum. This not-for-profit museum has an impressive collection of photographs, videos, and artifacts relating to the construction and control of the Panama Canal.
We didn’t get to visit the Panama Canal Museum because it is closed on Mondays and that was the only day we had time to visit. But we have heard it is a fascinating museum and a wonderful compliment to visiting the Panama Canal directly. Tickets for entry range from $7.50 to $15 depending on the age or discounts available to those visiting.
If you want to see our favorite museum to visit in Casco Viejo see stop 2 in our Day 2 itinerary.
Stop 4: Lunch at Casa Sucre
By now you’ve probably worked up an appetite from all that walking. Make sure to grab a bite to eat at Casa Sucre. This was one of our favorite restaurants we visited during our trip to Panama City.
They had affordable Panamanian and Central American foods (~$10 on average) as well as sandwiches, soups, and smoothies. Their menu features local organic ingredients and changes frequently. This is a great spot for breakfast, too.
Stop 5: Plaza de Francia
One of the most popular spots to visit in Casco Viejo Panama City, Panama is Plaza de Francia. This plaza, called French Square is in dedication to the Frenchmen who lost their lives during the original construction of the Panama Canal in the mid-1800s.
It’s estimated that 22,000 workers died due to harsh working conditions and an outbreak of yellow fever. France wasn’t ultimately successful in the construction of the canal, but this plaza remembers those who fought to make it a reality.
Behind Plaza de Francia, you’ll find Paseo Esteban Huertas. This promenade lines the water and is filled with vendors selling artwork, handmade goods, and other souvenirs. Out of all the stops on our day 1 Casco Viejo Panama itinerary, this spot should not be missed.
Stop 6: Convento de Santo Domingo
Convento de Santo Domingo are ruins of the old Dominican Convent. Most Spanish colonies from the 16th to 18th centuries built covenants to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity or Catholicism. This was one of the many covenants that were used for this purpose at that time.
Arco Chato, or the flat arch, is one of the most famous features of this historic covenant. This arch which is 50 feet long by 35 feet high has defied gravity for nearly 300 years. Supposedly, one of the reasons they decided to settle in this area was due to the low probability of earthquakes.
The arch’s unique construction was a testament to the lack of earthquakes in this area. Unfortunately, seismic activity led to the collapse of this arch in 2003 which has now been reconstructed. The Convento Santo Domingo is next to the Hyatt La Compañia Hotel making this a perfect stop to get refreshed and ready for dinner.
Stop 7: Dinner at Fonda Lo Que Hay
Your last stop for the day will be dinner at Fonda Lo Que Hay. This restaurant was voted in the top 50 best restaurants of Latin America in 2022. Its casual yet funky interior offers visitors a relaxed dining experience while still serving upscale Panamanian cuisine and superb cocktails.
We highly encourage trying some of their local dishes like Mondongo, a stew made from seafood and pork, their Pollo Frito, an upscale fusion take on fried chicken, or Tamal de Olla, a slow-roasted tamale made in a pot. Portions are generous here, but dishes are made to share.
Our day 2 Casco Viejo walking tour has 20 active minutes of walking with 8 stops in total.
Stop 1: coffee + breakfast
Start Day 2 at La Panaderia (one of the restaurants inside the Hotel La Compañia) for some coffee and carimañolas. Carimañolas are boiled yucca rolled into balls then filled with meat and spices and deep fried to perfection. They have a firm outer crust but a super soft interior that melts in your mouth.
These traditional Panamanian treats are typically served at breakfast and were our favorite thing we ate during our entire trip. 😋
We loved these carimañolas so much that we went to La Panaderia every day to get them! They have two carimañolas to choose from — traditional beef which can be ordered at their cafe/coffee shop or an upscale version with duck that can be ordered at their Spanish sit-down restaurant.
Stop 2: Plaza Herrera
Once you’ve fueled up on carimañolas walk to Plaza Herrera. This is another large plaza that is home to several statues and historic walls of the old fortified city. Herrera was a general who helped fight against Columbia in the war of independence for Panama.
There are several coffee shops, restaurants, and shops surrounding this plaza making it a great spot to explore if you have time.
Stop 3: Mola Museum
The Mola Museum was one of our favorite places we visited in Casco Viejo Panama. This free museum explains the cultural and historical importance of Molas. These detailed needlework tapestries are made by the Guna people, one of the seven indigenous tribes that call Panama home.
This museum is fascinating and a must-visit for people who want to learn about the native tribes here. It’s a small museum but well worth your time!
Stop 4: Lunch at La Rana Dorada
As delicious as carimañolas are there’s a good chance you’re getting hungry by now. Grab some lunch and escape the heat of Panama City at La Rana Dorada, one of the only microbreweries in Panama City. This brewpub serves American-style food, think burgers and fries, along with a nice selection of beers.
Stop 5: Palacio de Las Garzas
Palacio de Las Garzas, also known as the Heron’s Palace was once a royal palace for the Spanish in the 18th century. It was converted into the Presidential residence of Panama in 1922. You can take a free tour of the Palace, and if you are lucky get a wave from the President or his wife during your visit. But you must make reservations for this tour weeks in advance.
If you don’t have a tour pre-booked for your visit it’s still worth visiting. You can walk around parts of the first floor and admire the grand building!
Stop 6: Plaza Simón Bolívar
Plaza Simón Bolívar is another plaza on the north end of the city nearing the waterfront that has beautiful buildings, a grand church, and loads of shops and restaurants to visit in the vicinity. The architecture and colors of the buildings in this area are especially beautiful, so keep your eyes peeled for beautiful shots.
Stop 7: Tántalo Rooftop Bar at sunset
If you’re walking tour ends a bit early, head back to your hotel or vacation rental to hop in the pool. We loved the rooftop bars featured at both of our stays and made an effort to escape the heat in the pool daily. Then, about 30 minutes before sunset head to Tántalo Rooftop Bar. This hotel also has a restaurant and rooftop bar with stunning views of Panama City.
Sunset is a great time to visit this rooftop bar and enjoy a cocktail before heading off to a wonderful dinner.
Stop 8: Dinner
On your last night in Casco Viejo Panama City, we recommend eating at Kaandela Restaurant. This upscale restaurant is located in a boutique hotel in Casco Viejo and is one of the best restaurants in the city currently. The restaurant is small but incredible. The architecture and interior design are reason enough to visit. They have international cuisine as well as local specialties with a seasonally changing menu.
If you’re not up for a fancier meal or want more options for dining, visit La Cuadra Market. This indoor marketplace was below the vacation rental we stayed at and had close to a dozen different restaurants to choose from. They had everything from burgers, sushi, tacos, pasta, and Panamanian cuisine.
Other things to do in Panama City
Casco Viejo is just one of the top places to visit in Panama City. There is a lot to enjoy and discover beyond its walls. We highly encourage you to use this area as a home base while doing other fun activities in the vicinity. We have a blog post all about the top things to do in Panama City to make the most of your time here.