I returned to Panama as my first stop in my 3.5 month backpacking trip about a week ago. Having lived and worked in Panama three years ago for a short 6 month stint, I was very curious to see how the city was looking these days. I lived in the El Cangrejo district three years back, but decided to stay in Casco Viejo this time around. 3 years ago, Casco Viejo was kind of a scary place that I didn’t really spend too much time in as I was warned about the dangers in that area. Having researched it with a bit more recent information, I decided to give it another shot.
As the cab driver drove me down Calle 50 (50th Street), slowly entering into Casco Viejo on my first night, I have to admit that I sunk a bit in the backseat as it wasn’t looking too hot. I finally arrived in the area that I was staying in and I felt a bit more at ease. The buildings weren’t worn down shacks, but were either newly renovated to have a very modern look or had a very French Colonial feel.
Mind you, I am a single girl in my mid-20s traveling around parts of Central and South America by myself.
The next day I decided to take a stroll around the streets. For the first 15 minutes, I had the same uneasy feelings that I had the night before when I first arrived. I was staying in the area below 10th street, which is the tourist area, and after turning some blind corners and observing the Panamanians in this area, I felt a lot more uncomfortable. For four days, I walked the streets of Casco Viejo in the tourist area and felt very comfortable. I had gone for an early morning run, caught taxis at night, ate dinner outside and walked around during the day for hours on end all by myself and felt very safe. Almost every corner in this area has some sort of government officer standing there and helped me with directions on more than one occasion.
The cafes in this area are very cute, the Kuna Indians set up shop in the middle of the street selling beautifully handcrafted items, the view of the Causeway from one side and the Panama City skyline on the other is fantastic from this area of Casco.
All in all, I found my trip to this somewhat mysterious area to be very worthwhile. I would suggest anyone- young, old, single, married, female or male – to visit and stay in Casco Viejo while you are in Panama City.