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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Casco Viejo,

Panama City, Panama

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

One of the things we wanted to do while staying in Panama City was to visit Casco Viejo, the old town. At $35 per person to take a tour, we decided instead to take a taxi to the town and walk around on our own.

Map of Casco Viejo

Outside our hotel room we flagged down a taxi who told us he would take us to the Old Town for $3USD. That's more like it!

First order of business was to get a cappuccino and a pastry, so after the taxi driver dropped us off, we ventured into the town to find a cafe. The weather was gorgeous, but humid.

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Energized by the coffee and huge double chocolate brownie with fresh whipping cream that we shared, off we went to see what we could see.  

Typical street in renovated Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo, or Old Town, was built in 1672 and is the second Panama City. The first city was built in 1519 and was purposefully burned to the ground in 1671 to prevent the pirate Henry Morgan from attacking and looting it.

Lots of gorgeous wrought iron work throughout the town

Casco Viejo is the historic district and cultural gem of Panama City. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.

A building before it has been restored

Casco Viejo is one of the richest and most populated neighborhoods in the Americas. But in around the 1950s the town experienced decades of neglect and buildings became run down, as you can see above.

Today much restoration is going on, and a building such as this one which is home to a poor family is right beside one that has been brought back to life. As you can see, it is quite a contrast, and this contrast is seen throughout the town.

Another restored section of town

The streets are jam packed with buildings that used to be homes, government buildings, cathedrals and churches. Now these buildings are utilized as museums, gourmet restaurants, quaint shops and even upscale residences.

 

Notice the new brick used for paving the streets instead of cobblestone.

The ruin of an old church

Some of the old buildings and ruins of churches are slated for restoration and some are not. It is a very extensive and expensive project.

Here we are in front of Victor's

Victor's is a Panama hat factory. The Panama hat was made famous during the building of the Panama Canal and workers wore them to shield them from the intense sun.

Panama hats on the Plaza

A great souvenir from Panama would be one of these hats. You can choose one from various styles and shapes of the brim. The original Panama hat was able to be rolled up and tucked into the belt of a canal worker, a versatile feature for travelers!

Palacio and Salon Bolivar

Salon Bolivar is on the Plaza and has been beautifully restored to the original. Panama's Foreign Ministry offices have a water's edge view. There is now a small museum about Panama's political history located here as well.

Outdoor cafes are common

At lunch time, these cafes get busy. They have a very European feel to them.

A view of the new city of Panama from the Old Town

Those who lived in Casco Viejo when it was founded in 1672 would be amazed at what they would see today. Such different architectural styles!

Palacio de las Garzas

The white building in the center of the photo is the Presidential Palace, the official residence of the President. Palacio de las Garzas is the name the house is given due to the African herons who were brought in as a gift in 1922 after the final renovations were completed. The courtyard is in the style of Andalusia, Spain and the herons roam freely there.

The palace was originally built in the 17th century by an official of the Spanish crown.

This building is closed to the public, and this was as close as the guard let us stand. We have heard that some guards will let you photograph the impressive lobby.

With new Panama City as a backdrop

There are lots of places to get a great photo. Here we have more of the stylish wrought iron gates and lamp posts in Old Town, with the skyscraper skyline of the new city in the background.

The Metropolitan Cathedral on the Plaza de la Independencia

This cathedral, also known as Plaza Catedral, is on the main square in Casco Viejo. The country's independence from both Spain and Columbia were celebrated here and the busts of Panama's founding fathers are scattered around the plaza.

A captivating wall mural

Wildly painted wall murals are dotted all around Panama City and Casco Viejo. At the bottom of this photo you can see the sidewalk where the mural meets the ground.

Original graffiti on another crumbling building within Old Town

We were told by a local that as Casco Viejo cleaned up and brought more wealthy international tourists to Panama City, the gangs were cleaned up too. Retrained as tour guides, they now give tours of the Old Town. One of the gang members reflected out loud: "We used to rob these people when they came to Casco. Now they give us their money in exchange for a tour. Things have changed."

There is more pride in the town now.

Statue of General Tomas Herrera on Plaza Herrera

General Tomas Herrera fought in South America's wars for independence from Spain and later led Panama's first attempt to gain independence from Colombia in the mid 1800s. Parts of the original city wall can be found off the west side of the plaza.

Looking toward Plaza Indenpendencia from a side street

Sometimes on weekends or holidays, musicians will play from inside this gazebo on the Plaza Indenpendencia. Notice that everywhere you look in Old Town, that the streets are clean and - for the most part - sidewalks are not broken.

Beautiful corner building with arched windows and decorative wrought iron

It's a pleasure to walk around the town, peeking through shop windows, visiting cafes and picking up a meal at one of the restaurants. Casco Viejo is neat and inviting.

 

Acrobat practicing his act

We visited the Old Town several times during our stay in Panama City, and on one of our walks we saw these acrobats practicing their trade. Music was blaring through the open window which is what stopped us in our tracks. When we looked inside, we saw these amazing people.

Juggler

The music gave rhythm to the circus crew inside. There were jugglers and jumpers and climbers.

Two-toned building with arched windows and side fire escape

A truly civilized and clean area of the city, Casco Viejo attracts visitors from all around the world.

Vendor distracted by her phone

Alongside gourmet restaurants and tourist shops selling souvenirs, are small vendors making a living. Prices marked on goods here are in USD or fractions thereof.

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Sign for a Spanish School

Learning Spanish while visiting a foreign country has great appeal. You can practice the moment you go outside! This sign advertises "Survival Spanish" and "Spanish for Travelers." This is a very useful approach as you get instant reward for your hard work. You can perfect your grammar and verb tenses at a later date. This is practical Spanish, and the more you use it, the more adept you will become.

Two buildings in contrast

Here you find a couple of buildings close together. One has been renovated completely, and the other needs some repair.

When we walked down this side street, wafting through the air was the fragrance of char grilled red peppers and garlic. YUM!

A little outside bar-restaurant

You can get tropical cocktails here made with Bacardi rum, or a beer and a burger.

Another view of Panama City's skyline

Another shot of the skyline from Casco.

A Bistro by the water

This attractive maroon shuttered building houses a bistro.

More renovated buildings with wrought iron

One can only imagine how this town was "back in the day" of settlement. It must have been quite grand.

Here you see more outdoor umbrellas shading restaurant seating.

Glass storefronts, arched doors, and gorgeous wrought iron

One can stay in a hotel or a hostel here in Casco Viejo if you want the feel of living in this attractive environment. We found boutique grocery stores to purchase goods to take home and there were plenty of restaurants and cafes in which to hang out or have a meal.  

A little panoramic view of the city.

Most certainly, if you go to Panama City, plan to visit Casco Viejo. For the $3 taxi ride, you may as well go a few times. Try several coffee houses and eat meals in different locations.

We think you will enjoy the contrast of the two cities of Panama, one of them quaint and colonial, and the other quite modern.

For more stories and photos of Panama, click here

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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