If you want to see a side of Panama City that’s not normally visited by tourists and be immersed with locals, you must spend a day with Victor Peretz, the founder of @localinpty.
He’s taking visitors to the neighborhood of El Chorillo, just a few blocks from the trendy Casco Viejo historic district, but contrasting in every way. People normally perceive El Chorillo as being run down with social problems, crimes, violence, and former gangs. It is one of the poorest areas in Panama with a population of about 20,000 people.
However, Victor is doing something incredible and revealing the beautiful 20,000 souls that make up this neighborhood (check out his tour here).
My day with Victor started in Casco Viejo, where you’ll find beautifully renovated colonial buildings, stylish restaurants, fancy bars, and boutique hotels. Nowadays, it is a safe area to walk around and very popular for tourists and locals. However, only 20 years ago it was a dangerous area, often ruled by gangs.
We learned how the rapid gentrification of Casco Viejo has left the surrounding areas and its people to be forgotten. When the government and private investors started seeing the potential of this area, they started removing the poor people from this area to El Chorillo. It’s still a sore subject for the people who used to live here and large banners reading “The country has been sold to the highest bidder” and “Without inhabitants, there is no heritage” are seen in the plaza.
But only a quick moment is spent in Casco Viejo as Victor takes you down the back streets of the neighborhood to start the real part of the tour. The contrast is night and day as you transition from the newly upscale buildings to the dilapidated streets of El Chorillo.
I don’t want to reveal everything about what you’ll do because part of the experience is enjoying the spontaneity of the day. However, you can definitely expect to meet the local entrepreneurs that make this place special. We visited Scott’s Pots, a guy that recycles old towels into usable plant pots, tasted fresh ceviche, visited the oldest Panama Hat repair shop in the city, got to step inside the boxing ring where legendary boxer Roberto Duran trained, and danced a little salsa at the local cantina.
Victor knows everyone in the neighborhood and makes you feel comfortable in an area that is simply misunderstood. El Chorillo is home to some of the most friendly locals that you’ll find in Panama that are literally ready to welcome you into their home.
If you’re wanting to experience the real Panama, then you can book a spot on Victor’s experience here.