Casco Viejo, Panama

Dilapidated shell in Casco Viejo

We feel like time travelers wandering through the old city of Casco Viejo, which sits on a peninsula that juts out of the Bay of Panama. Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, the architecture is a testament to its diverse rulers and settlers, from the Spanish and the French to the English and the Colombians, notwithstanding the three fires in the 18th century that all but reduced the city to ashes.

Ruben Blades' mansion in Casco Viejo

We come across a plaza with indigenous women hawking their wares to tourists. They are camera-shy and won’t let me take a photo unless I was buying something. Her little girl, however was not so shy and squealed with joy at all the attention lavished on them.

Mansion

Street

We made our way through the narrow streets with its embassies, the presidential palace, celebrity mansions juxtaposed against dilapidated shells with various shrubbery growing out of the crumbling brickwork, we made our way back to our car. We made a wrong turn and crossed an imaginary boundary into El Chorillo, the barrio just north of Casco Viejo, the origin of most of the city’s organized crime. Pastel colored walls splashed with graffiti, shabby wooden shacks and make-shift cinder block houses with rusting corrugated roofs were all the eyes could see in a brief terror-filled few minutes when we were lost.

We get back to the hotel and walk to a nearby tapas restaurant with a patio and enjoy grilled snapper and local beer.

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