Outside of Panama City’s hyped real estate boom, Boquete (Chiriqui Province) has long been the focus of journalists and press agents looking for the next story to break. Boquete emerged somewhere around five years ago as an inexpensive, immaculately-climated retirement option: the ultimate and cutting edge investment alternative for older people who either couldn’t afford or didn’t enjoy retirement in Europe or North America. But as Boquete’s buzz has started to lessen with its main contributing factor, the real estate market, on a down slope, a new niche destination in Panama seems to be taking its place.
Throughout press about Panama, Casco Viejo has been more ever-present than any other destination in Panama in the past year. While it’s hard to pinpoint just why it’s surfacing now, there is an overwhelming sense of progress and development in the niche community: highlighted by the acclaim its getting from expert sources abroad. Four of the most recent press sightings for Panama and Casco Viejo are featured below:
In a recent GQ Magazine issue (March, 2009), Casco Viejo was featured as one of three “up and coming destinations for down and out times.” As cited by visiting journalist Brett Martin, “The neighborhood, where the Spanish set up shop in the 1500s sits on a peninsula attached to the noisy, skyscraper-filled part of town like a forgotten appendage. Indeed, its narrow streets and gracious plazas were once left to molder. (Imagine if New Orleans had ignored the French Quarter for a century.) Now the neighborhood vibrates with the rough energy of transition. Locals blast reggaeton beats into the street while nearby, chauffeured SUVs drop off an international set at Manolo Caracol, which has an ever changing menu of whatever’s fresh…”
According to Danielle Pergament of the New York Times, “Even if you’ve never been to Cuba, Casco Viejo also conjures up your most romantic notion of Havana: dilapidated stone buildings, massive cathedrals and balconies with bougainvillea pouring over the railings. But for every narrow alley, there is a skeleton of a once-glorious building, with the light of the blue Pacific pouring through the hollow windows and trees growing out of the roofless shell and crumbling chimney.”
Time Magazine even cited Casco Viejo in late February, 2009: “Casco Viejo, Panama City’s quaint, compact, colonial-era Old Town. Dating from the early-16th century and surrounded on three sides by the Pacific, the Casco – as it is affectionately known by locals – was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and served as the backdrop for much of the action in the latest James Bond film Quantum of Solace. The Casco’s appeal is clear: grand cathedrals, fountain-filled plazas, timeworn cobblestone streets, even a bullet-scarred Presidential palace, which was attacked during the 1989 U.S. invasion. And now its mélange of Spanish, French, neoclassical and Caribbean architecture is being lovingly restored by farsighted investors.”
Casco Viejo may not have reached the level of hype of Boquete just yet, as it’s still dealing with some growing pains of progress. But as much of Panama’s presence in media nowadays revolves around the impending real estate and economic bust, Casco Viejo does retain a refreshing and optimistic flare.