Panama City, Panama is now a viable vacation destination for the over-50 traveler, whether it’s on a cruise or an actual vacation. Intriguing and colorful, Panama’s “Old Quarter”, the Casco Viejo is a collection of historical colonial Spanish architecture, colorful plazas, sidewalk cafés and are the features of Panama’s Casco Viejo. The city is Central America’s oldest, and if you plan on visiting the Panama Canal, you’ll also want to do a walking tour of Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo is also known as Casco Antiguo as well as the district of San Felipe. It is a world apart from the modern metropolis of Panama City. In 1997, UNESCO awarded Casco Viejo World Heritage status.
In 1673 Panama city was relocated to a safe harbor following the attack by notorious pirate Henry Morgan. As a precaution, the Spanish government opted to construct a stronger fortress and huge surrounding wall to guard the city’s fortune of silver and gold. Today, the fortress and walls still exist, the ruins of the archaeological site Panama La Vieja, as well with numerous historic sites and monuments. There are many attractions for the senior tourist and these can be seen easily on a three hour city walking tour. Whether you purchase a walking tour of Casco Viejo from the many travel companies, or take a cruise excursion or do a walking tour on your own, senior travelers will love visiting Panama. Another idea which is catching on in many tourist destinations is the Hop On, Hop Off bus tours – most people catch it outside Multicentro Mall but you can hop on anywhere in the city at their bus stops. Total cost for the bus tour of Panama city is approximately $30 US at the time of writing this article.
In 1881, the French stayed in the area of Casco Viejo when attempting to construct the original Panama Canal. As a result, the city has much in the way of historical French architecture. Wrought iron balconies dressed up with pretty flowers combine to make an interesting mix with the Spanish architecture.
A walking tour of Casco Viejo will include the four plazas of Plazuela de Puerta del Mar, Plaza Bolivar to Plaza de la Independencia and end up in Parque Herrara. Walking the route between these four plazas will enable you to visit the historical highlights of the Quarter. Area highlights include the Church of the Golden Altar (or Iglesia de San José), Plaza Bolívar with its bars and cafés, the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco de Assis and the Teatro Nacional. Plaza de Francia with its obelisk and eastern sea wall at the tip of the peninsula. Plaza de Francia was named as a tribute to the French attempt at building the Panama Canal. The old ruins of Iglesia Santo Domingo and the Flat Arch (or Arco Chato) under restoration today. See also the heavily guarded Presidential Palace complex, a brilliant white Moorish building, another attraction on your seniors walking tour of Casco Viejo.
Construction began on the splendid Catedral Metropolitana on the Plaza de la Independencia in 1688 and finished in 1796. An eclectic mix of Moorish and Baroque architecture, it stands opposite the Casa de la Municipalidad. A few of the cathedral’s tower bells still survive. It is here in the Catedral Metropolitana that Panama’s independence from Columbia was signed in 1903. The Casa de la Municipalida is designed in the beaux art style by an Italian architect named Gennaro Nicola Ruggieri. Other Colonial era buildings and a pergola in the center make this a colorful impressive plaza to visit, especially in the dry season. The Pla where Panama’s Independence Declaration was signed.
Walking through Casco Viejo is like taking a trip back into the history of Panama. The city’s buildings, located next to each other, can have an age difference of more than three centuries. There is colorful laundry hanging out to dry on lines, cluttered wrought iron balconies with flowers and vines planted in pots that are over two centuries old. Within this eclectic mix, however, quite remarkably, nothing appears to be out of place, in spite of the fact that the buildings come from different historical periods.
As a peninsula, Panama is surrounded by the ocean. Statues of past heroes can be found in most of the area’s plazas. These statues are a respectful tribute to heroes of a forgone era. Ongoing renovations and reconstruction of Casco Viejo are turning the area into a highly desirable tourist attraction with plenty of cafés, chic restaurants, interesting museums and plenty of great shopping. Tourists are safe because of the high presence of tourist police in the area. Stick to the areas which are guarded and safe for tourists. Panama is a perfectly viable destination for seniors these days. It’s highly developed tourist destination which has a vested interested in making itself safe and accessible for visitors of all ages.
Photos courtesy of Velat Emirhanoglu.