After my excursion to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, I asked my driver Luciano to drop me off at Panama City’s fish market, El Mercado de Mariscos for a late lunch. I had read in my guidebook about the top floor restaurant, which naturally has the freshest seafood in the city. Upon entering the market, I was overwhelmed by the fish smell and afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it through a meal there, but very quickly adjusted to the stench.
The fish market
The restaurant overlooked the below market. I ordered a plate of mixed seafood, which came in a tomato sauce. It was OK, but the sauce was a little too salty for my liking.
Fish market restaurant
Mixed seafood in tomato sauce
On my way out, I stopped at one of the many stands outside the market and bought a cup of ceviche for $2.25, which was outstanding. If I was to do it again, I would try several types of ceviche at the different stands instead of eating at the restaurant.
The beginning of a long row of ceviche stands
Ceviche and accompanying cocktail crackers
I walked along the waterfront from the fish market to Casco Viejo, which was just a short distance with lovely views.
Casco Viejo in the distance
I wanted to further explore Panama City’s historic neighborhood, Casco Viejo, since I only saw it briefly on my historic trolley tour. As mentioned previously, I found the area to have a very strange vibe. The lovely French and Spanish colonial architecture is reminiscent of New Orleans and Cartagena, but the area is undergoing major transition. Many of the buildings are owned by foreign investors and are being renovated, but there is still at least one dilapidated building on every block. There are upscale hotels, boutiques, and restaurants, alongside rundown homes with squatter-ish looking people lingering around. Casco Viejo is a big tourist attraction and the location of the President’s Palace, so there is a strong police presence. However, Casco Viejo also borders three of the poorest neighborhoods in Panama City and until those areas receive aid, I think the district will remain dicey.
Typical street in Casco Viejo
I tried to photograph some of the charming architecture, but there were literally construction projects on every block, which took away from the picturesque potential.
The renovated portion of one block
I walked around Casco Viejo for awhile and visited some cute boutiques. I liked the store Reprosa for reproduction pre-Columbian jewelry and Karavan Gallery for local design pieces, though the latter was a bit pricey. I also stopped at the much heralded French ice cream parlor, Granclement, which lived up to its reputation, but was difficult to find due to the construction project in front.
Around 5PM I decided it would be a good idea to head back to my hotel before it got dark and I started the arduous task of finding a taxi. There are a lot of taxis in Panama City, but it could be challenging to find one around rush hour. Another issue, which I experienced at heightened levels in Casco Viejo, is that Panamanian taxi drivers like to overcharge. Taxi fares in Panama City are set by zone and should never be more than $2-3 dollars. I always asked the cost of a ride before getting into a taxi and usually passed on too-high rates. However, in Casco Viejo all of the taxi drivers were quoting me ridiculous fares ($8-10) and eventually I settled/bargained down to $5. because I was tired and just wanted to get out of there.
Colorful trash cans in Casco Viejo
I went back to my hotel and rested before heading out to dinner and a folkloric dance show at Las Tinajas, which is one of the city’s most famous restaurants for traditional Panamanian food. I had wanted to eat at Las Tinajas on my first night, but the dance show dining room was booked (note – you need reservations for the dance show, because it’s a popular tourist activity).
I ordered fish soup to start (in retrospect, this day could be called fish, three ways). For my entree I ordered the “typical plate,” which was probably not the best choice for me since I don’t eat ham/pork, but there was enough food so that I didn’t leave hungry. The plate featured a meat I don’t eat, rice and chicken, a grilled plantain, and an unidentifiable, but tasty side dish of orange mush with olives.
Typical Panamanian platter
I enjoyed the folkloric dance show, which was fun without being too cheesy. I especially liked the women’s traditional pollera costumes.
After the show I headed back to my hotel room to prepare for my upcoming trip to El Valle de Anton.