Many flights venturing to South America experience at least one layover–some of these in Panama City. If you are lucky enough to have a long layover here, make sure to head into the city to see what this beautiful Central American municipality has to offer. To make the best use of your time, make your way to “Casco Viejo,” a region of the city that dates back to the 1600’s. Not only will you be mesmerized by the spectacular architecture, you will also enjoy what has become of the historic area. Boosting with culture, the “old quarter” has also developed into a place full of various dining options and exceptional nightlife.
From Start of the Layover to Finish
Begin at the entrance of Casco Viejo at the fish market or “Mercado de Mariscos”
to sample some of the local fish and beer. The budget-savvy area offers fish dishes starting at approximately $10, and don’t forget the $1 beers. What’s not to like about that? The “corvina” or sea bass is an excellent choice, and wash it down with a can of “Atlas”–one of the local Panamanian beers. Don’t let the picture below scare you, the meal is truly delicious–just be cautious of the fish bones while eating.
From here, trek over to the main area of Casco Viejo. One of the must-see’s here is the Old Santo Domingo Convent (Convento Santo Domingo). This convent, which dates back to 1678, is one of the oldest structures in Casco Viejo, suffering through two fires. The only parts of the structure that remain are its walls and arches; however, it is still a wonder to see given its history. If your timing is right, a local market will be taking place outside the convent offering crafts that are unique to the indigenous people.
If you are a lover of old churches and cathedrals, Casco Viejo will not disappoint. Even in the small area of the quarter, you will encounter three churches and one cathedral: Iglesia de San Jose, Iglesia de la Merced, Iglesia San Francisco de Asis, and Catedral Metropolitana. Built in various periods, each building possesses different architectural styles ranging from baroque to gothic to romantic. So be sure to keep an eye out for all four buildings.
If you are an art aficionado, make a stop at Paula Nani. This small restaurant, which doubles as a small art gallery (for lack of a better word) is a fantastic location to pick up a piece of artwork to take home with you. And if you are lucky, one of the local artists will be painting in the front area of the eatery, where you can discuss some of the ideas behind the marvelous compositions.
From here, head down a block or so, and check out one of the newer restaurants in Casco Viejo, known as “Mahalo.” This healthier food option opened in July of 2016 by two Canadian sisters. The cute venue offers options such as cold-pressed drinks, sandwiches, salads, and more. If you are not hungry, but in need of something cold, the sangria is a must!
By now, the sun is probably starting to go down, so trek on over to the French Square (Plaza Francia) to watch the sunset. Grab a seat on the wall, and let the Panamanian sky do the rest, as it shows off it brilliant hues.
For dinner, try “Casablanca” for some true Panamanian fare. This restaurant offers a wide variety, so the sky is the limit with respect to food options. While waiting for your food, grab one of their flavored mojitos while listening to one of the local musicians play music and enjoying the people watching in Plaza Bolivar.
To end the night, journey over to Tantalo–a popular spot known for its nightlife. This hoppin’ rooftop bar has some of the best views in Panama City; however, you are going to pay for it drink prices. Nonetheless, it’s a good stop for a night cap.
Things to know before leaving:
Currency: Panama has its own currency known as the Balboa; however, this currency can only be found in the form of coins (similar to that found in the U.S.–1, 5, 10, and 25 cents). Otherwise, the U.S. Dollar is used as the main form of currency.
Tipping: 10% is seen as a sufficient tip for receiving good service at a restaurant in Panama; taxi drivers do not expect a tip.
Heads up: Taxis can add up quickly, not to mention that the driver will more than likely try to charge you more upon realizing you are not from Panama. Best to stick with using Uber for flat and honest rates. If you do opt to go the taxi route, make sure to negotiate prices before getting into the car.