A Quick Guide To Panama’s Casco Viejo Neighborhood
Casco Viejo is a unique location to stay in Panama City, Panama if you want to be steps away from the city’s best restaurants, nightlife & things to do.
In The Guide
Casco Viejo (also called Casco Antiguo) is my favorite neighborhood in Panama City, and I recommend staying in this area if you can. It’s a stark contrast from Panama City’s chaotic metropolis and instantly feels like you have traveled to an entirely different world, even though it’s only a few minutes away.
It’s the hip & trendy area of the city to be in as it has undergone a major facelift in recent years. Casco is a mix of restored Spanish colonial buildings that are now boutique hotels & hostels, apartments, rooftop bars, and restaurants. Interspersed between these are condemned buildings where a few local families live that proudly blast their music all day, with their windows and doors wide open, and a good view of what they are watching on their large flat screen TV.
Here’s a quick guide on what to do, see, eat, drink, and party in Casco Viejo.
5 Travel Tips
Stay in Casco Viejo: Whenever I’m giving tours, people often wish they had chosen to stay in Casco Viejo rather than the city center. It’s unique, beautiful, and you’re going to end up coming here a lot anyway so you might as well stay here.
Download Live Walk PTY: Go on an interactive self-guided audio tour of Casco Viejo with Live Walk PTY. The buildings, plazas, and streets will come alive in your imagination as the app guides you through over four hundred years of history in the places they took place. Download for iPhone or Android
It will be empty during the day: If you’re visiting Casco Viejo during the day, don’t be surprised if you only see tourists around. Panama City is a place where people live and work so locals will not be out in the afternoon on a weekday. Come back at night to see the place come alive.
Experience the nightlife: Casco is where the locals head to party so if you want to experience the nightlife in Panama City, this is the place to be.
Get Lost: Casco Viejo is the kind of place to wander around and get lost. Stop at a rooftop bar, have a coffee, or a raspao (Panamanian snow cone) along the way.
Where To Stay
Casco Viejo is usually one of the more expensive areas of the city to stay in, but you can find accommodation options for just about any budget. A bed in a hostel dorm starts around $15 / night or $30 for a private room. Hotels start at $70 / night depending on the time of year, but you could easily spend $300 / night to stay at a luxury boutique hotel. Alternatively, you can find some great deals on Airbnb! Anyway, here are a few of my top picks on where to stay in the historic district.
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Things To Do
Panama Canal Museum: The Panama Canal Museum located in Casco Viejo is arguably better (and cheaper) than the one that is located at the locks. However, be sure to request the English headphones because a lot of the information is in Spanish. My advice is to visit this Museum in Casco Viejo during the day and then make a dinner reservation at the Atlantic & Pacific Co. restaurant (this is at the Miraflores locks) and request to sit on the balcony so you can see the boats and locks operate at night. Open Tues – Sun from 9 am – 5 pm. Located in Plaza de Independencia. $10 admission fee.
Diablo Rosso Art Gallery: The art gallery at Diablo Rosso features a new exhibit approximately once a month and highlights works from local and international artists. Open Tues – Sat from 1 pm to 7 pm. Located on Calle 9a Oeste and Calle Jose D. de la Olbaldia. Free admission.
Have a beer at the “Beach”: You technically cannot drink in public in Panama, but you can be discreet about it. Buy a beer at one of the small convenience stores in Casco Viejo and then have a drink at the “beach” located at the end of Calle 5.
History Museum of Panama: This museum makes a great pit stop if you get caught in the rain and only has a $1 admission fee. Located in Plaza de la Indepencia.
See the golden altar at Iglesia San Jose: The mystical golden altar located inside Iglesia San Jose has inspired many legends and was said to have been rescued from Captain Morgan’s pirate attack on the city in 1671. While this is just a legend, it is one of the churches you must see in the area. Located on Avenida A and Calle 8a Oeste.
Take a Spanish survival class: Just have a limited time in Panama City? The half-day Spanish for Travelers course at Casco Antiguo Spanish School is an excellent way to equip yourself with basic Spanish for the remainder of your trip.
Fortaleza “Gang” Tour: The Casco Viejo that you see today is a huge contrast from as little as five years ago. Many parts that you will walk through now were once extremely dangerous “red zones” run by several gangs. During the Fortaleza “Gang” Tour, you will hear the real stories of the area with a former gang member as your guide. To set up the tour you can contact Jaffet using Whatsapp at +507 6031 8961 or booking here.
View the hidden nativity scene: Years ago one of the Panamanian families used to set up a massive nativity scene in their garage that everyone in the city would visit. Once the Iglesia San Felipe de Neri was restored in 2014, the family decided to donate it to the church, and it’s now on display year round. However, it’s a little bit hidden. Once you enter Iglesia San Felipe de Neri, you need to open the large wooden doors located on the back wall, and you will see the breathtaking nativity scene. Located on Avenida B and Calle 4a Este.
Walk along Paseo Las Bovedas: Along this walkway, you will find local artisans selling molas, Panama Hats, painted feathers, bracelets and more. It’s also the perfect spot for a photo of the Panama City skyline.
Cultural Institute Of Spain: While you are on the Paseo Las Bovedas be sure to stop at the Cultural Institute of Spain for a viewing of their temporary art gallery. Free admission.
Watch the sunset from Casa Casco: There are many rooftop bars in Casco Viejo, but the one at Casa Casco offers the best view of the sunset. Arrive there at 6 pm, order a cocktail and watch the sun go down. Located in Plaza Herrera.
Panama Detour: Discover the pulse of Panama City with a 5-hour personalized urban walking tour. Visit the historic district & eclectic local neighborhoods while sampling flavorful dishes. Take in city views and back alleyways filled with street art, sample the world’s most expensive coffee, uncover the local craft beer & cocktail scene, hike in the rainforest, bargain at artisan markets, or be spontaneous and take on the day! Click here for more information.
Whether you are looking to buy souvenirs or trendy clothing from local designers, Casco Viejo has plenty of spots for buying one-of-a-kind items.
Viviendo: Viviendo creates sustainable fashion from recycled products and incorporates many traditional touches like molas and Embera basket weavings into their products. Located on Avenida A and Calle 4.
Franklin: This boutique store in Casco Viejo features luxury scarves, ties, shoes, and other items with designs inspired by Panama’s indigenous Guna community. Located on Avenida B and Calle 7a Este.
Lupa: Lupa is a platform for new designers in Panama to feature locally made clothing and artwork. Located on Avenida A and Calle 5.
Undercover Store: Discover unique items made in Panama like clothing, skincare products, jewelry, bags, and the store’s iconic rainboots. Located on Avenida A and Calle 5.
Victor’s Panama Hats: Panama Hats are actually made in Ecuador, but if you want to get one while you are here then Victor’s is the place to go. Located on Calle 3a Oeste and Avenida Central.
Galeria de Arte Indigena: This store has one of the best selections of woven masks and baskets by the Embera as well as wood carvings and other crafts by local indigenous artists. Located on Calle 1a Oeste and Avenida A.
Weil Art Gallery: This is the spot to go if you would like to pick up a unique painting from a local artist. Located on Avenida A and Calle 3.
Hangertips: Buy creative and stylish souvenirs for your trip home! Located on Avenida A and Calle 9a Oeste.
Canal Zone Antiques: If you want to ditch the traditional souvenirs then stop by Canal Zone Antiques and find unique items from the Panama of the past. Located on Avenida B and Calle 12 Este.
Domingos de Mercado: Once a month local artists gather together at Villa Agustina to sell uniquely made items you won’t find anywhere else. Be sure to check the Domingos de Mercado Facebook Page for upcoming market dates. Located on Avenida A and Calle 9a Oeste.
The gastronomic scene in Casco Viejo has exploded over the past five years and is now a foodies paradise. According to Degusta, there are now over 90 dining options just in this neighborhood. So how do you narrow down the best eats? Here are a few of my favorites.
Cafe Coca Cola ($): Originally opened in 1906, this is the oldest still operating diner in Panama. It’s located on the border of Casco Viejo and Santa Ana and is a great spot to go for an affordable local style breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Open daily from 7 am to 11 pm. Located on Avenida Central and Calle 12 Este.
El Corazón ($): This Filipino street food restaurant located inside of Luna’s Castle Hostel serves up some amazing lumpias! Located on Calle 9a Este and Avenida Eloy Alfaro. Open Thursday – Saturday from 8 pm to 3 am.
Tacos La Neta ($$): Authentic Mexican tacos with a tropical twist. Every Wednesday you can also enjoy open tacos for $20. Located on Calle 3 next to the Teatro Nacional. Open Tuesday – Sunday 12 pm – 12 am.
Mahalo ($$): Mahalo serves up fresh, natural food with lots of vegetarian options. I’m also a big fan of their Sunday brunch which includes watermelon mimosas. Open Tuesday – Sunday 8 am – 10 pm. Located on Avenida A and Calle 5.
The Fish Market ($$): Not to be confused with the Mercado de Mariscos, The Fish Market is a gourmet food truck in the middle of one of Casco’s abandoned buildings. Open Tuesday – Saturday 6 pm – 11:30 pm. Located on Avenida Central and Calle 10 Oeste.
Barrio Pizza ($$): Enjoy an artisanal thin crust pizza at this casual eatery. Open every day from 11 am. Located on Avenida Central and Calle 8.
La Septima Central ($$$): A fun atmosphere with creative food. Once the clock strikes 11:30 pm the music starts, the lights go down, and it’s time to party! Open Tuesday – Saturday from 6 pm – 12 am. Located on Avenida Central and Calle 11.
Nacion Sushi ($$$): A fun spot for sushi in the beautiful Casa Casco building. Located on Avenida A in front of Plaza Herrera. Open every day from 12 pm.
Pastisima ($$$): Authentic homemade pasta and Italian dishes. Open daily from 11:30 am – 12 am. Located on Avenida A and Calle 9.
Ochoymedio ($$$): A beautiful tapas restaurant from chef Andres Madrigal. Open Monday – Saturday 7 pm – 11 pm and Sunday 10:30 am – 4 pm. Located between Calle 8 and 9 in Plaza Herrera.
Tomillo ($$$): An open air restaurant in the shell of one of Casco’s ruins featuring creative tapa dishes. Open Tuesday – Saturday from 7 pm – 11 pm. Located on Calle Victoriano Lorenzo and Calle 11.
Caliope ($$$$): A magical restaurant that creates a special dining experience with top notch service and flavorful dishes. Open Monday – Saturday from 7 pm – 10 pm. Located on Avenida Central next to Teatro Amador.
Donde Jose ($$$$$): Donde José provides one of the most unique culinary experiences you can have in Panama City with an intimate maximum 16-person seating per meal. They focus on using local Panamanian ingredients and dishes and come out with a new set menu every few months.
Coffee & Cafes
Bajareque: A small coffee shop in Casco Viejo is home to some of the best coffee in Panama. Bajareque Coffee House features high-quality coffee from the Elida and El Burro Estates in Boquete, Panama. What’s great about this place is that the farms and coffee house are the same owners, so you know you are getting their best batches of coffee. If you’re in Casco, you must swing by and try a pour over of their award winning Geisha coffee! Located on Avenida Central and Calle 1.
Cafe Unido: Unido’s cozy, chic cafes make a great spot to hang out for a cup of coffee in Panama. They opened their first cafe in Panama City’s Coco del Mar neighborhood in early 2014, and since then they have opened coffee shops in Casco Viejo, Costa del Este, Marbella, and Multiplaza. Their stores feature six different blends of gourmet roasted coffee from Panama, and they also serve fantastic breakfast, sandwiches, and salad options. Located on Avenida Central inside the American Trade Hotel.
Nomada Eatery: The just opened Nomada Eatery is a great spot to enjoy a quick sandwich, coffee, or a craft beer. Located on Calle 9 next to Luna’s Castle.
Dodo Pan: A cute basement cafe in Plaza Francia with a good selection and vegan options. Located on Calle 1 in Plaza Francia.
Super Gourmet: An excellent place to go for breakfast or lunch that won’t break the bank. They feature a large selection of salads, sandwiches, and deserts. Located on Avenida A and Calle 6.
Lumaca: A well designed established with coffee, juices, sandwiches and more. Located on Avenida A and Calle 8.
Oro Moreno: An amazing selection of locally produced chocolate in the mansion of one of Panama’s former presidents. Located on Calle 6 and Avenida A.
Granclement: This is one of Casco’s original establishments before the restaurant boom and still features the best ice cream. Located on Avenida Central and Calle 4.
Palettamerica: Gelato popsicles are popping up all over the place in Panama City, and Paletamerica has some of the best. You have to be sure to order one with leche condensada inside. Located on Calle 8 and Avenida B.
Bars & Nightlife
The majority of the nightlife in Panama City has now moved to the historic district, and this is where you’ll find the city’s trendy rooftop bars and vibrant nightclubs. You’ll notice that locals here dress up when they go out, so I recommend doing the same (no shorts guys). Bars are allowed to stay open until 3 am Sunday – Wednesday and at 4 am on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Drinks and cover charges can be expensive in this part of the city, so I recommend picking up a Soy del Casco Night Pass if you want to save some money. Here are some of the hottest bars and nightclubs to visit in Casco Viejo.
Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar: Pedro Mandinga is the type of place that I feel has successfully captured the essence of Panama. It is Panama’s first artisanal rum distillery and bar and situated in the heart of Casco Viejo near Plaza Herrera and across from the iconic Rolo de Sedas mami murals. It is the kind of place you can hang out for hours, sipping the amazing house specialty rum cocktails and losing track of time with old friends.
Teatro Amador: This restored theater has turned into one of Panama’s top spots to party at! They normally have electronic music every Thursday and a mix on Friday and Saturday.
Casa Jaguar: One of the newer spots to open up in Casco. Once the clock strikes midnight, Casa Jaguar starts to get wild on any given Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. They have one room that plays mostly reggaeton and another solely for house music.
Tantalo: Stringed lights, good DJ, skyline view, and trendy Panamanians and foreigners always create the perfect party atmosphere at Tantalo’s Rooftop. On Tuesday’s they have Artes Martes where they have a live artistic performance, Wednesday is Latin Night, Thursday is Ladies Night, and on Friday, Saturday, & Sunday you’ll find a trendy crowd dancing to the latest DJ mixes.
Casa Casco: Casa Casco is one of the more “exclusive” party spots at the moment and where you’ll find Panama’s rich & trendy crowd popping bottles of Moet. Expect to pay $20 cover and $10 – $12 cocktails after 11 pm.
Marietta: A full nightclub experience with good DJs, lights, and bottle service.
Moloko: The best spot for a night of dancing to underground electronic music. Entrance is through a sketchy back alley after midnight, so you know it’s going to be fun.
Relic: This was one of the first really good bars in Casco to open, and it’s still a popular place to go. It’s located on the bottom floor of Luna’s Castle Hostel with a large outdoor terrace and a cave-like indoor bar. Relic usually has a good mix of backpackers, foreigners, and locals. It gets extremely crowded on Friday and Saturday so if you want a more chill atmosphere to go on Thursday. Free cover here.
La Rana Dorada: La Rana Dorada is a favorite spot to go for their local house-brewed beers. Be sure to get the boat sampler before you order so you can try them all! Be sure to visit during their happy hour from 12 pm – 6 pm Monday – Saturday for half off all of their craft beers!
Piña Calavera: They just moved to a new location on Avenida B, and this is a great spot to go to enjoy the local live music scene.
Villa Agustina: The open-air bohemian vibe of Villa Agustina sets the perfect mood to let loose and party the night away. The venue is extremely casual, and it’s one of the few bars in Panama you can fit in wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Visit their Facebook Page to see their full event schedule.
Jeronimo: A gallery / tapas / speakeasy bar that is great for enjoying a few cocktails.
Danilo’s Jazz Club: Enjoy an outstanding jazz performance at the Danilo’s Jazz Club from Wednesday – Saturday.
La Buat: La Buat plays a good mix of dance music, reggaeton, and just about anything else and they are always bringing in guest DJs. They also have good deals on bottles and drinks, so it’s a good place to go for a night of drunken fist-pumping!
Malibu: A cheap spot to go when you need a beer!
Chupitos 507: Panama City’s first shot bar features over 70 creative shots ranging from fire, beer bongs, and a few unusual toys. Most shots are $5, but you can also pay $25 for open shots all night, so it’s a fun spot to pregame at before heading to one of the nearby nightclubs. Be sure to also stop by their ladies night every Thursday where girls drink for free from 9:30 pm to 11:30 pm.
Malecon: This is the place to go for live salsa music in Panama City!