Panama Travel Diary Day 7 – Panama City (Casco Viejo)

Planning a trip to Panama City was a bit like doing a jigsaw; post pandemic, most tourist attractions are only open a few days a week and putting together an itinerary which incorporated everything I wanted to do was fiddly. Then I caught Covid and we had to change all our flights. The result – our only full day for sightseeing is a Monday, when most touristy things are closed, so we plan to mostly spend the day wandering around looking at the outsides of things.

Casco Viejo

Our first stop (after the breakfast buffet – you can’t keep the old man away from a breakfast buffet) is the Casco Viejo – the old town. Or to be more precise, the old new town. The original site of the town (Panama Viejo) was a few miles to the northeast. After it was sacked by Henry Morgan in 1671, the city was rebuilt in its new location, hence Casco Viejo is the old new town or is it the new old town?

Casco Viejo

We consult my guide book and plot a route, starting at Palacio de las Garzas. My guide book helpfully informs me that this is the residence of the President of Panama. It omits to mention that the area is heavily guarded, so getting anywhere near it is impossible. Our Uber drops us as close as it is permitted, and we set off for out next destination on foot.

Metropolitan Cathedral

To be honest, it’s such a picturesque neighbourhood with interesting buildings and plazas up every little street, so we switch to the old man’s favourite mode; aimless wander and just pootle around taking photos, sitting on a bench in the shade from time to time as it’s too hot to walk for any length of time.

Arco de Chato

The Casco Viejo contains an eclectic mix of buildings – from embassies and fancy boutique hotels to slums and ruins. And several churches. The most interesting church is the Iglesia de San José. My guide book tells me that this contains a golden altar removed from Panama Viejo. Rumour has it, that shortly before the pirates arrived, the priest concealed the altar. When infamous pirate Henry Morgan asked where it was, the priest replied that it needed repairing and asked for a donation. Henry allegedly replied that he thought the priest was a bigger pirate than him! My guide book has omitted to mention that taking up most of the crypt, is the biggest, tackiest nativity scene I’ve ever seen.

Nativity Scene

We continue to the furthest point of the Casco Viejo; Paseo las Bóvedas – a flower covered walkway with views over the ocean and canal, which leads to Plaza de Francia, where a monumental cock pays homage to the French attempt to build a canal. Which could probably best be described as a monumental cock up!

Paseo las Bovédas

From the Casco Viejo we take an Uber to the Canal Zone and the Canal Administration Building; this contains a set of murals depicting the building of the canal. I have double checked the opening times on the website. However, when we arrive, a security guard informs us that the murals cannot be viewed due to Covid.

Canal Admin Building

We walk down the hill to McDonalds so we can connect to wifi and order an Uber back to the hotel. They don’t have wifi so we have to make do with a McFlurry instead. We could just get a regular taxi – there are plenty of them driving about looking for passengers. However, the old man will not be derailed from his original plan to find wifi and thence an Uber. He decides we should walk to the mall. This involves crossing an 8 lane highway plus a motorway. He thinks this will be fine if we run! It’s not the best plan: Firstly, I haven’t seen him run in months. Secondly, the motorway is elevated. And thirdly, we would have to run across right next to police headquarters.

Street Art

Instead, we walk along the edge of the highway for another mile or so before he finally relents and we hail a taxi. The 4 mile ride back to our hotel costs $4. Walking a mile down a motorway in the scorching midday heat has saved us 38 cents.

Street Art

After several drinks, a cool down in the pool and a restorative bag of chips, we have an early night. It has been a tiring day and we have a day of travel ahead of us tomorrow.

Plaza Paitilla pool

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