Casco Antiguo, the old, historic disctrict in Panama City, is a great area to stay in when you visit. We stayed at this great B&B called Los Cuatro Tulipanes — very spacious, central, and right next to the best ice cream spot in town.
“El Casco”, also known as Casco Viejo or San Felipe, roughly reminded me of La Habana (although I have to say I visited Cuba about 15 years ago). Men play dominoes and children play out on the street; people sit at their doorstep or overlooking their balconies, watching the hours go by. They live live in old, worn-down buildings that are practically falling apart – but they seemed happy. Despite their materially “poor” conditions, these people don’t seem to have much to worry about.
The balconies and colorful, the chipped facades add a lot of character to “el Casco”, making the neighborhood feel “real” — but apparently some of these buildings are not the safest to live in. A few days ago I received a text and a photo from my friend saying “You know where you took the photo of those kids? Well, their house burnt down. It was all made out of wood, and the sockets were exposed. They can’t find 2 of the kids.” And this was one of those moments when your heart kind of stops and you feel how fragile life really is.
(Don’t worry, the newer buildings and hotels have been remodeled — so you’ll be safe!)
Despite these conditions, the area is up and coming. New apartment buildings have been remodeled, there’s a cool community of expats living in the area; it’s safe, you can walk everywhere, there’s great restaurants, bars and hotels. I don’t think we could have chosen a better place to stay at.