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.
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.
Here’s a quick guide on what to do, see, eat, drink, and party in Casco Viejo. For exact locations of recommendations please use Google Maps to look up spots because Panama does not have a proper address system.
Stay in Casco Viejo: 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. Plus it’s amazing being able to walk to everything.
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.
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. Whether you’re looking for a boutique hotel, hostel, or apartment – here are a few of my top picks on where to stay in the historic district.
Casco Viejo is the type of place where you can wander around but it does have some help to have guidance on what to do through the knowledge of local guides, museums, and unique sites to visit. Here are some of the top things to do while you’re in Casco Viejo.
Museo de la Mola
Museo de la Mola is one of my favorite museums in Panama and it’s completely free to visit. Here you’ll learn all about the indigenous Guna culture and the meaning behind the intricate tapestries they create. Open Tuesday – Friday from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am – 5 pm. Free admission.
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. Open Tues – Sun from 9 am – 5 pm. Located in Plaza de Independencia. $10 admission fee.
Experience the two faces of Panama City
Want to experience the other side of Casco Viejo? Victor Peretz is a passionate local taking visitors off the beaten path in El Chorillo, the forgotten side of Panama City. Get off the beaten path with Victor and see where boxer Roberto Duran trained, learn about how the U.S. invasion of Panama affected this neighborhood, try local food and drinks, visit the park where dominoes are played, chat with the locals in their homes and get to know the people of this area, and learn about the gentrification that has taken place in the now trendy Casco Viejo historic district. Reserve your spot here.
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.
Get professional photos taken in Casco Viejo
Join Rafaela for a 1.5-hour photoshoot filled with beautiful & memorable images in Casco Viejo! This photo route is filled with popular architecture, beautiful hidden gems, and even photos at one of Casco’s cutest bars for the most memorable experience and photos. This session can accommodate 1-2 people and you’ll receive 50 edited high-resolution images. Reserve your spot here.
Learn to dance salsa with an expert
Join local salsa expert Martha in her gorgeous apartment in Casco Viejo, where she will teach you all you need to know about how to dance salsa during a private lesson. Sip on a welcome cocktail and enjoy the historic setting while you’re taught the timing & counting of salsa music, as well as the steps, to help you quickly master the basics & beyond. You will practice together for several songs, and learn some ‘pro tips‘ to add a little flair to your dancing! Your new skills will be put to the test while dancing the night away at a local rooftop bar! Feel the electricity in the air & become a part of the global salsa community. Reserve your spot 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.
Take a Panamanian cooking class
Learn how to cook the best Panamanian food with local chef, Ana Patricia. A changing menu per class includes seasonal fruits and vegetables for a 3 course meal: appetizer, main dish, and dessert. She can work around any food restrictions and allergies if she knows in advance. Reserve your spot here.
The Golden Altar: One of the most visited churches in Casco is Iglesia San Jose, which is home to the famous Golden Altar. Legend is that this altar was saved from Captain Morgan’s pirate attack of the city in 1671 but this is pure storytelling. It was actually constructed later on and then covered with gold leaf in 1915. Regardless it’s still impressive to see. What is equally impressive is the addition of a massive nativity scene on display in the back room.
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.
Ride around with the top down in a classic car
Feel the exhilaration of cruising through Panama City in the coolest car in town, a bright green 1971 VW Safari. Turn the music up and feel the wind in your hair as you are chauffeured through this dazzling city with the top down. In the daytime tours, you will ride through the old world of Casco Viejo and enjoy incredible views of the ocean as you drive down Avenida Balboa and Amador Causeway. In the nighttime tours, you can see the breathtaking views of the city all lit up including the spectacular view coming over the coastal beltway back into the city center. Whether you choose a day tour or a night tour, this is your chance to let your hair down and just have fun while taking iconic photos and videos. Reserve your spot here.
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.
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 11:00 AM – 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM – 6:00 PM. Located in front of Parque Santa Ana. Free admission.
Watch the sunset from a rooftop bar
There are many rooftop bars in Casco Viejo (check them all out here), but the one at Casa Casco offers the best view of the sunset. Arrive there at 5:30 pm, order a cocktail and watch the sun go down. Located in Plaza Herrera.
Or go on a guided sunset walk
Take a historical walk during sunset with a local going around the narrow streets and appreciating the mix of the architectural styles present in this colonial town, visiting several churches and squares, and the ancient fort that protected the city. You’ll have the opportunity to interact with locals along the way and visit the different shops offering souvenirs or enjoy some local street food due to the different options in the area. The day will end seeing the sunset over the colonial town from at Las Bovedas fort. Reserve your spot here.
Try Geisha Coffee
Want to try one of the world’s most expensive coffees? The Geisha variety of coffee beans has put Panama on the map as a premium coffee-growing region and you should try it once while you’re here. At Sisu in Casco Viejo it’s going to cost $10/cup so you might want to share it with a friend. Just please don’t add milk or sugar because it doesn’t need it! You’re probably not going to be mind blown by it but at least you can say you’ve tried it. If you want to order something unusual, order a “te de cascara” which is a special tea made from the coffee cherry.
Learn how to make chocolate
Love chocolate? During the Panamanian Chocolate Experience, you’ll make your very own chocolate bar to take home! You’ll learn about the entire chocolate-making process, from bean to bar, at a chocolate factory in Casco Viejo. You’ll also get to sample some of the store’s signature “bonbon” chocolates and enjoy a special chocolate drink. It’s guaranteed to be a “sweet” time! Book your spot here.
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.
Portomar: For high-quality linen and swimwear items designed exclusively for men, stop by Portomar. Located on Ave Central & Calle 8a Este.
Anai: The best spot to shop for clothing and accessories from Panamanian designers.
Nina Peñuela: A boutique and café that features clothing & accessories from emerging Latin American designers.
Franklin: This boutique store in Casco Viejo features luxury scarves, ties, shoes, and other items with designs inspired by Panama’s indigenous Guna community.
Lumaca: One of the best stores to buy t-shirts and other souvenirs that are not cheesy.
Undercover Store: Discover unique items made in Panama like clothing, skincare products, jewelry, bags, and the store’s iconic rain boots. Located on Avenida A and Calle 5.
El Guayacano: Panama Hats are actually made in Ecuador, but if you want to get one while you are here then El Guayacano is the place to go.
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.
The gastronomic scene in Casco Viejo has exploded over the past five years and is now a foodie’s 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.
Fonda Lo Que Hay ($$): This spot takes Panamanian cuisine to the next level. They serve up super creative dishes with local ingredients and the menu changes often to keep things fresh.
Santa Rita ($$): One of the best tapas-style restaurants in Casco Viejo.
La Barbara ($$): A speakeasy sushi restaurant and bar secretly located behind a hair salon.
Masa ($$): Santa Ana’s best new pizza and pasta restaurant with seating in the Santa Ana Plaza.
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.
Tacos La Neta ($$): Authentic Mexican tacos with a tropical twist. Every Wednesday you can also enjoy open tacos for $20. Located on Selina Rooftop
Mahalo ($$): Mahalo serves up fresh, natural food with lots of vegetarian options. They now have two locations in Casco Viejo, the snack shack and a new larger location with full dining service. Open Tuesday – Sunday 8 am – 10 pm.
La Pulperia ($$): Excellent spot for quick and creative tapas-style dining and top-notch service. They also have a menu of the day lunch for just $6.
Nacion Sushi ($$$): A fun spot for sushi in the beautiful Casa Casco building. Open every day from 12 pm.
The Vegan Shack ($): The only truly vegan café in Casco Viejo
Tantalo ($): One of the best spots for lunch. They have a special of the day for $6 on weekdays that includes a drink and a full meal.
Tres Fuegos ($$$): An intimate restaurant where you can actually get to know the chefs through a fusion of Panamanian and Argentinian flavors. Be sure to ask about their multi-course tasting menu.
Goza ($$): Asian & Japanese cuisine with an amazing cocktail bar. They also feature a chef’s table dining experience.
Mercado San Felipe ($): Head to the “Fonda” section of the market for over 15 stalls of Panamanian food. You can typically have a full meal for under $5. Only open for breakfast and lunch.
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.
Sisu: One of the most high-end coffee shops in Panama City right now and perfect for trying the famous Geisha coffee.
Saint Honoré: An authentic French bakery with amazing pastries and coffee.
Casa Sucre: Casa Sucre Coffeehouse is a cozy getaway in Casco Viejo where you can enjoy one of their many varieties of Panamanian coffee and breakfast/lunch options. Located on Calle 8 and Avenida B.
Nomada Eatery: 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 desserts. Located on Avenida A and Calle 6.
Lumaca: A well-designed cafe with coffee, juices, sandwiches, and more. Located on Avenida A and Calle 8.
El Vivero Coffee Bar: This is the first independent coffee shop to open in Santa Ana at the new La Manzana building.
Baloo Cafe: A cute café with a “secret” rooftop that’s perfect for enjoying dessert & coffee.
Nomé Chocolate: An amazing selection of locally produced chocolate using unique tropical flavors. Located on Calle 11 and Avenida A.
Raspao: If you need to cool off from the heat, try an authentic hand-shaved snow cone known as a Raspao from one of the many street vendors in Casco Viejo.
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 wearing shorts guys). 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. 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.
El Viejo Santana: An overall bougie spot to party with Panama City’s fancy crowd. They typically play a mix of reggaeton and current pop music.
Selina Rooftop: Selina is where you’ll find the cool kids of Panama City sipping on cocktails and craft beer. The decor is tropical chic, utilizing lots of plants and vibrant murals splashed along the walls. They organize lots of weekly events like live salsa music, electronic music DJs, acoustic concerts, and more – so you can always count on something going on. You can also stay at Selina if you want to always be in the middle of the action.
Tantalo: Stringed lights, good DJ, skyline view, and trendy Panamanians and foreigners always create the perfect party atmosphere at Tantalo’s Rooftop. On Tuesday 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.
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!
Vista Corona: Fabulous place to watch the sunset and enjoy a drink. If you are there around sunset they give all attendees a Coronita beer for a group cheers.
Element: A premium cocktail bar with a steampunk theme tucked away on a sidestreet in Casco Viejo.
La Tana: Lively nightclub with a different theme every weekend.
Buena Vaina Social Club: Best spot to enjoy reggaeton music in Panama.
Lazotea: Trendy rooftop often hosting live music and special events on the weekend.