The first Sunday of every month, the office of Casco Antiguo puts together a flea market in the main square of Casco Viejo. The plaza is decorated with large tents to block the sun and the open-air gazebo is blessed with a nice breeze that comes off the ocean in both directions. The first time I visited this flea market, someone stole my wallet from my back pocket.
I wouldn’t notice until half an hour later when I went to purchase an antique Panama Canal document used during the US occupation: I patted my back pocket, then my front pocket, then stomped on the ground several times as if trying to squash a hoard of army ants.
The flea market in Casco Viejo has evolved over the years much like the Jazz Festival or any of its other regular events. Today’s market is packed with your obligatory knick-knack vendors selling small key chains, handicrafts, and paper weights with the image of the Panamanian flag. There are a small group of food vendors (although this group is growing) who serve traditional Panamanian delicacies, some Colombian food, and a variety of small hand-held treats good for browsing old books or trying on jewelry.
Set up for Casco Viejo’s monthly flea market begins the Friday before when groups of workers set up poles for tents. This group is often a makeshift team of local squatters and official Office of Casco Antiguo employees: all of whom wear the logo shirt and the obligatory Casco Viejo smirk on their face.
Entrance to the Casco Viejo flea market costs nothing and for vendors table rentals are minimal. It’s a great place to pick up crafts or Panamanian souvenirs, or a cold raspberry lemonade made by (my favorite woman) the Colombian empanada table: $0.30 for a fried corn empanada stuffed with braised beef and topped with a spicy onion and cilantro salsa. The market is about one-hour-interesting, so plan it into your morning followed by a Casco Viejo tour or lunch at the famous San Felipe fish market.