Don’t let the name Downtown Panama fool you, there’s plenty of new blood being injected into the historic area of Panama City. Yet you can still discover the rich history and traditions all around you in this vibrant, bustling corner of the city. There are several names for this beautiful part of town, including Casco Antiguo (“Old Quarter Panama”) but all roads lead to its majestic scenery, historic buildings, and bustling commerce.
Read on to find out more about everything Downtown Panama has to offer, whether you’re a longer-term resident, on business, or taking a relaxing vacation.
Discovering Downtown Panama
Downtown Panama has long been considered a UNESCO Historical Site. The district dates all the way back to 1673 and is known for its beautiful brick-paved streets and vibrantly colored plazas. A popular activity in Downtown Panama is simply walking through the streets, taking in the scenery, browsing at the many boutiques and shops, and stopping for a bite to eat at one of the many fine-dining restaurants lining the streets. Locals and out-of-towners agree this is the place to be at any time of day or night, with several bars and nightclubs adding to the city’s already vibrant nightlife.
Many of the city’s best museums are in this district, from the world-famous Museo de Canal (Museum of the Canal) to Museo de la Mola, dedicated to traditional textile art made by the indigenous tribe the Guna. At the Panama National Theater, you can see beautiful frescos painted by the famous Robert Lewis. All the way, you’ll have views of Panama Bay and the city skyline.
Ruins and Historical Monuments of Old Quarter Panama
Back in 1519, the Spanish conquistador Pedrarías Dávila oversaw the original construction of what would later become Panama City. It was the first European settlement on the Pacific side of the Americas. The settlement was later abandoned in the mid-17th century, it was replaced with what is now Old Quarter Panama.
A must-see historical monument is the convent and church of Santo Domingo. If you’re an architecture buff, you might be particularly impressed by its famous flat arch, a feat of masonry you won’t find anywhere else. Constructed by Dominican friars at the founding of Downtown Panama, the convent was burned in a large fire in 1756, which destroyed all the woodwork in the church. However, the famous arch of course survived, and it rises 35 feet high and 50 feet wide. The arch has long puzzled architecture experts and historians for centuries. The grounds and existing structure are worth a tour whether you’re an expert or not.
Museums and exhibitions in this part of the city
Another must-see is the Panama Canal Museum. If you’re in Panama for any stretch of time at all, you simply must learn about one of the greatest engineering feats in human history, the Panama Canal. The wonderful museum has everything you could want to know about one of the most important trade routes in the world and explains the human cost of how the canal was constructed, along with the massive efforts of planning and clever engineering that allowed the flow of goods between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for decades.
The museum is located in a recently restored building across from the beautiful Plaza de la Catedral, which houses another historic and beautiful Cathedral, a sight to see and tour all on its own, rivaling many of the old churches of Europe in architecture and beauty.
Cultural Experience and Guided Tours through Old Quarter Panama
The Plaza de la Catedral is a great place to sign up for a guided tour to soak in and appreciate the beauty and history of the area. You can also get a guided tour of the Panama Canal Museum. Be sure to look for one of the many guided tour experiences that take you around the entire Old Quarter Panama area.
A cultural experience you can’t miss is visiting the Fish Market. Not only can you shop for a wide array of the freshest seafood possible, you can even select your fish and take it upstairs to the restaurant to have the chefs cook it for you any way you want. Be sure to grab a cup of fresh ceviche from one of the “Ceviche Girls” while you wait in line for only a dollar.
Planning Your Visit to Downtown Panama
When planning your visit to Downtown Panama, be sure to create some time to explore on your own and mix in a few guided tours to pique your interest in the rich history and beautiful architecture all around you. It’s worth it to pay a little extra to get all the information about the main attractions and cultural experiences found throughout the area. No matter what you decide to do here, you can’t lose.