When I think about Cuba, I think about old school American vehicles, good Cuban food, exiles and a crazy dictator. Apply this to Panama and there are similar thoughts … except replace the good Cuban food with international food.
Of the three areas, I visited in Panama City, the only one where alcohol was not involved was Casco Viejo, Panama City’s quaint, compact, colonial-era Old Town. Dating from the early-16th century and surrounded on three sides by the Pacific, the Casco — as it is affectionately known by locals.
The Casco’s appeal is clear: grand cathedrals, fountain-filled plazas, timeworn cobblestone streets, even a bullet-scarred Presidential palace, which was attacked during the 1989 U.S. invasion. And now its mélange of Spanish, French, neoclassical and Caribbean architecture is being lovingly restored by farsighted investors
At the heart of the Casco are three squares: Plazas Bolivar, Herrera and Independencia, the site of the city’s dramatic 17th century cathedral.
Walking the streets and chatting with one particularly friendly local (of course, who asked for a dollar), I couldn’t help but notice the mix of abject poverty and squatting amidst the Presidential Palace. Walking through the Casco Viejo is like walking back in time. The buildings are over 300 years in age and the narrow streets and renovations make the area very warm and cultural. You will see laundry hanging over ramshackle railings, iron balconies have geraniums, potted plants and bougainvillea vines.
I learnt that the Value of property in Casco Viejo has been depressed due to squatters taking control of the buildings as landlords left due to rental control disputes. Of course, with tourist money in the mix though, the government has aided in the “revitalization” of the are – I wonder how that is going over with the residents?
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