Panama City is a modern metropolis steeped in a grand historic past. First settled in 1519 by conquistador Pedro Arias Davila, Panama City served as a link between the gold and silver of the Americas and Spain. Visitors wanting to experience the colonial past of Panama City should visit its first settlement among the ruins of Panama Viejo (Old Panama), located on the southwest peninsula of the city. Panama Viejo flourished until 1671, when the city was set ablaze by the famous English pirate Henry Morgan. What is now considered modern Panama City was reestablished in 1673 at the site of Casco Viejo (Old City), along the southern coast.
Start your tour at the Centro de Visitantes, located along the Via Cincuentenaria just as you enter Panama Viejo. Let the artwork and colonial relics found in the museum tell the story of transformation of Panama City from a small village to one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Central America. Keep traveling along the Via Cincuenteraria and you will find the main plaza, or Plaza Mayor, original settlement. Here guides will take you through the ruins of Spanish colonial architecture and the lush tropical scenery that has grown up around it.
Visitors looking for a quick shopping excursion should visit the Mercado de Artenania, a small market filled with shops and stalls of local artisans and craftsmen, located next to the Centro de Visitantes. The Mercado sells everything from blankets, woven hats and Carnivale masks to molas, traditional fabric pictures of the indigenous Kuna people of Panama.
After exploring the city’s beginnings, reconnect with modern Panama by visiting the Panama Canal and Casco Viejo. Located at the western edge of Panama City, the Panama Canal is one of the biggest landmarks in the country and the most significant tourist attraction in the city. Construction on the Canal began in 1881, and upon its completion in 1915, it connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This key feature of modern naval trade makes it unnecessary for commercial ships to travel around the continent of South America, cutting travel time in half. Due to the significant expansion of the Panama Canal over time, Panama City prides itself as the economic and financial center of Panama.
Casco Viejo, located along the southern coast, is no longer one of the richest neighborhoods in Panama City, but it is still the second-largest tourist draw here. Narrow brick streets and a mix of colonial and neoclassical architecture offer visitors a vibrant, romantic atmosphere as they explore the old quarter. Located within the neighborhood is the Palacio de las Garzas (Heron’s Palace), the official governmental office and residence of the President of Panama, and historic churches such as La Catedral Metropolitana. At night, Casco Viejo comes alive with a vibrant mix of restaurants and nightlife. After spending the day exploring the history of Panama City, dance the night away in one of the many hot spots modern Panama City has to offer.