Highlights of Historic Casco Viejo

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Casco Viejo is a historic quarter featuring restored colonial buildings converted into high-end stores and galleries, restaurants and boutique hotels interspersed with condemned structures with collapsing façades and gutted interiors. The neighborhood depicts the perturbing extent of Panama’s wealth disparity. But the convergence of beautiful and gritty, old and new is what makes this area of Panama City the most fascinating. I recommend booking a hotel in Casco, rather than downtown, and allowing a few days to explore the neighborhood. Here are the stops that I recommend checking out.

Casa Latina

The interior of Casa Latina, a shop selling colorful handicrafts in Casco Viejo, a historic quarter of Panama City
The interior of Casa Latina, a shop selling colorful handicrafts in Casco Viejo, a historic quarter of Panama City - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

This upscale gallery with beautiful handicrafts, colorful masks, handwoven baskets and multihued artwork is a good place to buy memorable souvenirs.

Casa Latina
Avenida A at Calle 5a Oeste. Tel. (507) 228-9828

Danilo’s Jazz Club

Outdoor patio seating at Danilo's Jazz Club in Casco Viejo in Panama City
Outdoor patio seating at Danilo's Jazz Club in Casco Viejo in Panama City - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Founded by renowned Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, this atmospheric 50-seat jazz club in the American Trade Hotel is a pleasant way to spend the evening, enjoying local talent with a glass of wine or a cocktail.

Danilo’s Jazz Club
Plaza Herrera, Calle José D. de la Obaldía. Tel. (507) 211-2000

Franklin Panamá

The interior of Franklin Panamá in Casco Viejo, Panama City
The interior of Franklin Panamá in Casco Viejo, Panama City - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

This designer boutique offers luxurious scarves and ties for women and men. The high-quality items feature unique mola patterns and color schemes inspired by the indigenous Guna Yala community in northeast Panama.

Franklin Panamá
Avenida B. Tel. (507) 388-4396

Diablicos

This restaurant is famous for its nightly shows of traditional Panamanian dancing. The authentic costumes, lively band and spirited dancers create the convivial atmosphere of a house party. The food is second-rate, but I recommend ordering a dessert and drink from the lengthy menu while enjoying the performance.

Diablicos
Avenida Central. Tel. (507) 228-9495

Madrigal

Grouper in marinara sauce at <em>Madrigal</em> in Panama City
Grouper in marinara sauce at Madrigal in Panama City - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Madrigal is an excellent restaurant serving Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine that employs local ingredients. The daily changing menu offers unique dishes that combine unexpected textures, aromas and flavors. I suggest ordering the sautéed octopus with a cumin, paprika and picona pepper glaze. The main course of cannelloni stuffed with ropa vieja (traditional stewed beef) was exceptional.

Madrigal
Avenida A at Calle 5a Oeste. Tel. (507) 211-1956

Oro Moreno

Oro Moreno, a shop carrying artisanal Panamanian chocolate in Panama City
Oro Moreno, a shop carrying artisanal Panamanian chocolate in Panama City - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

For artisanal Panamanian chocolate, head to the tropically designed Oro Moreno. The wide assortment of sweets made from sustainably grown cocoa all sound tempting. Oro Moreno refers to its process of production as “from tree to bar,” and the knowledgeable and passionate staff are wonderful to chat with. Our favorite is the sea-salt-and-caramel dark chocolate bar made with 60 percent cocoa, but the passion fruit bar is also hard to resist.

Oro Moreno
Calle 6a Oeste. Tel. (507) 388-6843

Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar

The Daiquiri de Pedro from Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar in Panama City
The Daiquiri de Pedro from Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar in Panama City - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Panama’s craft rum distillery, Pedro Mandinga, has opened a bar in Casco. As the first dedicated rum bar in the neighborhood, it is a buzzy hot spot ideal for afternoon or post-dinner drinks. The air-conditioned interior is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity, and the signature house cocktails, tropical-print furniture and salsa music lend a festive mood. The artisanal rums are distilled from raspadura, a traditional Latin American and Caribbean unrefined sugar boiled down from cane, made on a family-run farm in Chiriquí. The frothy egg white topper in the “daiquiri” was perfectly balanced with the flagship silver rum and candied lemon.

Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar
Avenida A. Tel. (507) 391-5596

Victor’s Panamá Hat

Victor's Panamá Hat shop in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City
Victor's Panamá Hat shop in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City - Victor's Panamá Hat

Panama hats originated in Ecuador, but Panama got the credit because the hats were shipped from its ports. The hat’s origins go back to the 17th century, when the conquistadores obliged natives by adapting the straw hats to European styles. They became particularly popular with the gold rush forty-niners, many of whom made their way to California via Panama. When construction began on the Panama Canal, workers favored the hats because they breathed. Theodore Roosevelt also donned one when he visited the Panama Canal, which helped to further boost its appeal. In my opinion, the Montecristi label, based in New Mexico, produces the most superior incarnation, and I bought a high-quality one from Orvis a few years ago. But if you’re in the area and wanting to purchase a traditional Panama hat, Victor’s is the place to go.

Victor’s Panamá Hat
Calle 3a Oeste. Tel. (507) 211-0756

CasaCasco

This beautiful five-floor colonial-style structure on the Plaza Herrera boasts panoramic views of the bay — dotted with ships docked waiting to pass through the Panama Canal — the colorful Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo and the gray high-rises of the downtown skyline. CasaCasco comprises three restaurants, a nightclub and an impressive rooftop terrace. I recommend heading to the rooftop in the early evening, ordering tapas and Champagne, and watching the sun set over the water.

CasaCasco
Plaza Herrera, Calle 10 at Avenida A. Tel. (507) 6288-9024

Read more about our editor’s trip to Mexico & Panama

By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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