I had so many things planned in my head for my trip to country #17, Panama. I wanted to visit the Canal, go to a yoga retreat, see Black Jesus, and find a way to get to Bocas del Toro. Thankfully, in came the thoughts of, "Self, you're doing too much. Slow Down." When your time is limited you want to have a jampacked itinerary but more than anything, I wanted my trip to be relaxing and rejuvenating. As many travelers know, itineraries change, and sometimes you just fall for a place and have a difficult time being pulled away. That's where I stood with Casco Viejo, the historic district in Panama City, that will be taking rival cities in various countries by storm within the next year or two. Take my word for it.
I admit that I have a bias towards Spanish architecture, beaches, and colorful buildings. I grew up not too far from the Jersey Shore. I attended college in Miami (Go Canes) and I have never been far away from the ocean until I moved to Dallas. I'm a beach girl and cities by the water just get me. I instantly feel at peace when I am surrounded by water, so yes, while that may skew my view a bit, I honestly believe that Casco Viejo has a bit of something for everybody. This includes the young, fabulous, & broke (moi) and the ballers that drop stacks during shopping sprees in new cities.
It's hard to select an adjective when describing Casco Viejo. Some that I would use include charming, gentrified (if we're being real), relaxed, and soothing. As per usual, I went on this trip alone and really needed some time to unwind. In my own personal life, my anxiety was flaring, work was stressful, and my heart had just been let down again. I was not looking to get too drunk and would be satisfied on a hammock with a pina colada during my entire stay. However, I didn't want to be bored out of my mind either. Casco Viejo was the ideal blend of my wishes.
When I arrived to the old town of Casco Viejo, it looked like a totally different world from the sprawling metropolis of downtown Panama City. While the downtown area lived up to its name of "the Dubai of the Western Hemisphere", my stomach fluttered with excitement as the buildings started to get shorter, the people looked a bit browner, and the speedometer slowed down. I wanted to capture the transition on video, but as Hurricane Otto was trying to make his presence known, there was a light rainfall that would ruin the video. I guess that made me enjoy the view even more because I truly had to savor the moment.
I instantly noticed the widespread amounts of renovations taking place within the district. For every hint of the old, you would see the new peeking its way in through a fresh paint job, or a new coffee shop. My hostel was the perfect example with its new periwinkle blue coat of paint, next to a browner building, but for $13 a night plus tax, I was not complaining at all. I was excited to be in the small part of the city because it reminded me of Old San Juan, a city I was so fond of, I didn't even see Puerto Rico's beach up close. I guess old town colorful cities do that to me. You will find an arrangement of museums, art, old ruins, and beautifully constructed churches throughout the district. You definitely want to make sure that you have your camera charged and ready to go.
I really think this was one of the first times I did "slow travel" and I was pleased. Every morning I would get up, go grab breakfast, drink some coffee or Thai tea, walk around, get lost, meet people, and stare at the downtown skyline. The best gift of all was the fact that Hurricane Otto completely bypassed us and by my 3rd day out of 5, there was no rain at all. We had beautiful temperatures and sunny skies, so basically, your girl was in heaven.
When you look at a map of Casco Viejo, you might think that it's a large sector of Panama City, but it isn't. If I can be honest, you probably could see all of the major things within Casco Viejo within one day, but where is the fun in that? I loved the fact that it was extremely walkable and that for the most part, I felt safe. Of course, catcalling was present, but it was nowhere near as invading as what I had to deal with in Berlin or Italy. I went out to a rooftop for 3 out of 4 nights and did not feel uncomfortable walking back to my hostel for the short distance.
I have a soft spot for visiting places in the Caribbean or Latin America because quite frankly, it's nice to be surrounded by people that look like you. That feeling is foreign to me in the States when I step outside of my job. Being called "hermana" when I would give a smile and speak in Spanish warmed my heart. The taxi drivers were impressed with my Spanish and were personable.
One of my favorite things about visiting Casco Viejo was the fact that I was on creative overdrive. I took my notebooks with me everywhere and just had pages and pages of ideas, notes, and plans for the blog and just my life in general. I am going through a transition phase and I had a couple of moments when I just had quiet time and talked to Big Homie about the future and finding a way to creating the life that I love and can be proud of. I'm so very much looking forward to 2017 because it will be a year of "new" for me in a lot of ways. Transitions are scary but I am finally at peace with some major decisions and I think I am headed in the right direction.
I am certain that most people don't instantly scream "Panama!" when thinking of a country to visit in the Western Hemisphere, but I am glad that it's the ultimate blend of chill and liveliness. It is a wonderful combination. I'll be sharing some of my favorite things from my trip, including where I indulged in coffee, rooftop dancing, and great views so definitely check back in to the blog soon.
Have you ever visited Panama City or more specifically, Casco Viejo? What did you love about it? I'd love to hear your thoughts and be sure to check out my gallery below.