I watched as he climbed down the sandy bank then as his figure disappeared into the deep foliage. I glanced around at the old decrepit buildings, the pile of bricks in the distinct shape of a wall that must have once resembled part of a fort. An old man walked past slowly and looked at me with feigned interest. I looked back and smiled. Then realising that there was no one else around, I glanced back over to the ruins where my friend had disappeared.
“Alex?” I called.
“I'm here. Come down, it's beautiful down here,” he replied, sounding far away.
Not wanting to risk the climb (and wearing the most impractical white jeans), I decided to stay where I was and as I waited for Alex to finish exploring, I allowed myself to drift into my surroundings, enjoying the peace and quiet of Panama Casco Viejo, Panama's Old Town.
Along cobbled streets we continued, with Alex stopping marvelling at each derelict building with an overgrown garden and shouting “I'll be back,” as I waited patiently for him to continue his exploration of ruins, of which we soon discover, there are many.
Declared a historical monument by UNESCO, the Old Town or “Casco Viejo,” as it is known in Spanish is a unique area to explore. Founded in 1519, Panama's Old Town is the oldest European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Built on a peninsula, perfectly situated for defensive walls, the Old Town is now home to some of the most preserved buildings in Panama City.
There is an air of calm here and being so close to the water, the Old Town seems a world away from the modern skyscrapers that create a stunning skyline in the distance.
Meandering through the old streets with a blend of coloured architecture, you can notice the Spanish and French influence in the decor. Quaint art galleries with old courtyards, and tiny ice-cream parlours all provide a relaxing way to spend an afternoon and a respite from the Panamanian sun.
A monument dedicated to the Panama Canal stands tall amongst Parisian style lampposts providing light along the promenade, which leads back to the modern city. Local sellers selling artisan goods line the walk back and this route is popular with cyclists, and runners and families on an evening stroll.
But not everywhere here is old. Restaurants and bars open up like a secret oasis and their modernity will surprise you. With a mix of open air bars where you can enjoy a cerveza and ceviche sat on a wooden swing in the breeze to the more sophisticated air conditioned restaurants, the Old Town has something for everyone, and although it's not as famous as Havana in Cuba, Panama Casco Viejo is perfect, especially if you have a passion for exploring ruins like Alex!
The best way to get to here is either by taxi from the city centre or walking along the promenade which takes approx 45 minutes. There is also a metro which goes near but it is still a 15 minute walk and takes you through the downtown area.
Although I didn't stay here, I did spend the day to check the place out and Luna's Castle seems the place to be here. With an on-site cinema and nightclub, people even come from the city to party here so it's great if you are looking for somewhere sociable.