Tag Archives: Casco Viejo

Panama – Day 2 – PM: Lunch at el Mercado de Mariscos, walk around Casco Viejo, and dinner and a dance show at Las Tinajas

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

Miami-esque skyline

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

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.

Casco Viejo

The renovated portion of one block

Casco Viejo

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.

Granclement

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).

Las Tinajas

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.

Fish soup

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.

Pretty costumes!

Folk dancing

After the show I headed back to my hotel room to prepare for my upcoming trip to El Valle de Anton.

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Panama – Day 1 – AM: Historic Trolley Tour of Panama City

Hola!  I recently got back from a five-day solo trip to Panama.  I will be writing about the trip in the upcoming weeks.  Hope you enjoy!

Panamanian Souvenirs

DAY 1:

I arrived in Panama City late Monday night.  Upon clearing customs, I was given a card for one-month of free health insurance, which is provided for all visitors.  I immediately decided that I liked the country.

A half hour taxi ride later, I checked into my first hotel, the Toscana Inn.  I chose the hotel based on positive online reviews regarding cleanliness, safety, and location.  I figured it would be decent, but I was pleasantly surprised by the décor and the helpfulness of the staff.

My room at the Toscana Inn Hotel

For my first full day I wanted to do a city tour and the concierge recommended Tranvia Tour, which operates tours on historic trolley cars.  Forgetting about the one-hour time difference, I woke up at 6:45 AM to reserve a 9AM tour.  After hitting up the breakfast buffet, I went for a walk around the surrounding neighborhood, El Cangrejo, which is a commercial and residential district where most of the City’s upscale hotels and casinos are located  (look for photos of my walk and more about the neighborhood in Panama post #2).

My selection from the complimentary breakfast buffet (I stuck with the cold foods, which were good.  The hot food looked a bit strange and not particularly Panamanian, unless chicken nuggets are a delicacy that I don’t know about).

The Tranvia Tour trolley picked me up at my hotel at 9:15 and then we picked up the other passengers at their respective hotels.  Due to traffic, this took awhile, but I enjoyed the scenic tour of the city.  There were about eight other people on the tour who were all from neighboring Latin American countries.  The tour was supposed to be in Spanish and English, but after ascertaining that I speak/understand Spanish, the tour was only in Spanish (note: I think that if I had requested English the tour would have been in English as well, but I decided it would be a good exercise to just hear it in Spanish).

Tranvia Tour Trolley

Our first stop was Panama City’s #1 tourist attraction, the Miraflores Locks Visitor’s Center, which overlooks the Canal.  The tour dropped us off for one hour.  I purchased the complete ticket package for $8., which included access to the observation decks, exhibitions, and a short introductory film.  Unfortunately, half of the visitor’s center was under renovation, so only the first two floors of the center and observation decks were open.  I enjoyed the exhibits on the construction of the Canal and native insects of Panama, but it would have been nice to see the whole center, since I heard the exhibits are fantastic.

A ship passing through the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal – an amazing engineering feat at the time of completion in 1913 and today!

Adorable school children dressed in traditional costumes for a class trip to the Canal

Next, we made a brief stop at the Amador Causeway to take photos of the panoramic views.  The tour also gave us time to visit a duty free shop, which wasn’t that exciting.

View from the Amador Causeway and a few of the many yachts docked there.

The third stop was Casco Viejo AKA Casco Antiguo AKA San Felipe, which is the historic district of the city.  This is the area I was most excited to see, since it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sounded charming based on my guidebook and various NYTimes articles.  I had wanted to go on a group tour in part because I had heard the area was a little dicey and I wanted to see if it felt safe enough to explore by myself.  I will write more about Casco Viejo in a later post, since I did end up going back, but overall I found the neighborhood to have a weird vibe.  The architecture was lovely French and Spanish colonial à la New Orleans and Cartagena, but EVERY block had at least 1-2 construction projects, a couple beautifully renovated homes, and a few dilapidated buildings with possible squatters lingering around.

Church in Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo (notice the construction cones that were EVERYWHERE)

A renovated building and a building shell in Casco Viejo

Park in Casco Viejo

Colorful buildings in Casco Viejo (note – I think this is the only completed block, since it’s the location of the President’s Palace, which is used for ceremonial government functions).

The Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo looks just like Miami!

Our last stop was Panama Viejo, which are archeological ruins from the earliest Spanish settlement in Panama (c. 1519).  We walked around a former monastery, but we did not climb the famous tower, since it was not included in the tour and the temperature was super hot and humid.

The tallest building in Panama Viejo

The former monastery in Panama Viejo

The Virgin in Panama Viejo

Tranvia Tour dropped me back at my hotel around 2:30PM.  I enjoyed the tour and we visited all of the sites that I had been most interested in seeing, but unfortunately I was left with negative feelings towards the company after the guide increased the price by $10. at the end.  When I complained/tried to protest in Spanish, I was told the price change was due to the fact that we had done a full day tour and I was originally quoted for a half day tour, but even if the tour had been extended (which it wasn’t), they should have announced it beforehand.  I do not like using my blog to complain or badmouth companies, but I feel I should mention this because it prevents me from wholeheartedly recommending Tranvia Tour.  Otherwise, I had a great time and it was a nice way to visit all of the major sites early on.

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