Quintessential Casco Viejo: Panama’s historic, bohemian treasure

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Casco Viejo, Panama is the Panama City’s top destination for tourism (as well as the country’s), and there’s little to know discrepancy as to why. Casco Viejo is the historic old city at the southwest end of Panama City, just a few minutes drive from the Canal Zone. Known as just “Casco” to most people, it is the most culturally and historically significant neighborhood in Panama. It’s also home to the office of the presidency. Casco is Panama City’s heart, and where the country was founded and fought for many times, as it went from colony to colony, and eventually independence. During and after the Noriega regime and the following decade or two, Casco went through a bit of a “slump” due to the economics and politics of the day. However, these days, the area is undergoing a renaissance, and it’s only just the beginning.

Beautiful Casco Viejo, Panama.

Casco Viejo’s Renaissance into Panama’s bohemian, cultural capital again

As it is often in the case of urban renewal, there are many misnomers and disagreements about why a neighborhood is changing, and whether or not that’s a good or bad thing. This is completely natural, and always a healthy debate for residents (and even non-resident businesses to have). Casco has always been the cultural center of Panama, even before it was a popular tourist and small business center. Whether or not people realized it was irrelevant. What’s going on now, though, is nothing short than coming out party. The neighborhood now has some of the country’s best restaurants, bars, hotels, residential real estate, and commercial real estate in all of Panama City. So much so, in fact, that Casco’s popularity has actually hurt other popular city tourist destinations by simply driving business towards them (eat, play, stay, etc.).

Casco Viejo has also done a really good job of keeping its cultural heritage, and making sure new businesses and hotels abide by a strict code for building and operating. The result is one of the most diverse, bohemian small business scenes in all of Latin America. Boutique clothing shops sell traditional Panama hats and Guayaberas, new fashion pop-up shops come and go in the neighborhoods small corners and alley stores, and each street seems to have its own artisan food store, cafe, or restaurant. There’s a Canal Museum in one of the central squares, the Teatro National near the eastern edge, a classic art gallery in the center, and of course, colonial-era churches that exude the beautiful history of 18th and 19th century European architecture.

Keeping Casco “cool”, yet authentic, is a challenge that’s being met head-on

The resurgence and growth of Casco Viejo is a culmination of many things, however none of it would be possible without a significant effort at historical preservation. Historical preservation is tantamount to Casco’s success, and because so, has a lot of interest put on it. Panama’s government has debated the particulars of this, but in general, the consensus is to develop wisely instead of hastily. New condos are often made from renovated old buildings, many of which are condemned or on the verge of collapse. There are style guidelines for developing, and even sign restrictions to keep the vibe of the neighborhood intact. Casco even has special “tourist police” to ensure everything stays on the up-and-up, and that there are extra resources to help people unfamiliar with the area.

All of these efforts, from local government to local businesses, are creating a very welcoming atmosphere for tourists, expats, and locals in Casco Viejo. It’s the most desired place to live, work, and play, and it looks like that demand will only grow for now. This comes with a price, of course, as Casco is also one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. Many also feel that gentrification is driving lower income residents completely out. However, the overall reputation remains positive, and big steps are being made by advocacy groups and residents to keep it both affordable, and traditional. Casco Viejo is right now, right in the middle of an incredible bohemian Renaissance. We highly recommend you check it out, in any way you can.

About Manoj Chatlani

Manoj Chatlani is a Senior Partner at POLS Attorneys, a full-service law firm in Panama City, Panama. Specializing in offshore services, including asset protection, estate planning, offshore banking, and offshore corporations, as well as Panama immigration and real estate transactions, POLS Attorneys offers clients a streamlined solution to all their Panama legal needs. Manoj is a Panamanian lawyer and holds a law degree from USMA and earned a Masters in Communication Law and Panama Tax law.

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