Casco Viejo: Fusing Old and New in Historic Panama City

Casco Viejo: Fusing Old and New in Historic Panama City

Ask anyone where to stay in Panama City and they’re bound to say Casco Viejo. It’s a piece of advice you likely wouldn’t have heard even just five years ago, but now gentrification, restoration and UNESCO World Heritage Status have turned this historic old neighborhood into one of Panama City’s hippest places to be.   Casco Viejo was first settled in 1673; today the old neighborhood boasts some of the first buildings, churches and plazas of the now super-cosmopolitan Panama City. But what is so unique about the old town is not just its historic roots, but also the blatant juxtaposition of old and new.     Walking along the cobblestone roads of Casco Viejo, it all feels very New Orleans-esque (largely due to the unique fusion of early Spanish, French and American influences). But just one peek through a small alley reveals a glimpse of downtown Panama City’s iconic skyline, towering above the Pacific in stark contrast to Casco Viejo’s colonial churches and palaces.     Continue your stroll through Casco Viejo and you’ll find the Presidential Palace next to crumbling pastel-colored buildings; the National Theater adjacent to wild, overgrown ruins; restored art galleries flanking makeshift scaffolding; and a sleek and shiny gelato shop sharing the sidewalk with a local street vendor. It’s this confluence of pretty and gritty, safe but rough-around-the-edges that makes Casco Viejo so interesting and unique amidst the plethora of historic colonial neighborhoods of Central America.     As more and more expats and Panamanians discover the antique appeal of Casco Viejo, the neighborhood is bound to become increasingly stylish, with abandoned houses transformed into boutique...
Getting Off the Beaten Track in Altos de Campana National Park, Panama

Getting Off the Beaten Track in Altos de Campana National Park, Panama

We’re suckers for a good view. It’s why we are currently slowing things down in Vidigal, one of Rio de Janiero’s pacified favelas, with million dollar views out to Ipanema and the surrounding sea. And it’s what first attracted us to a pit stop in Altos de Campana National Park, a biological reserve boasting a swoon-worthy vista of craggy peaks and deep valleys stretching out to the Pacific Ocean.   Just an hour outside of Panama City, Altos de Campana was Panama’s first national park, founded in 1966. But despite its long history and easy accessibility, the park remains relatively unknown by most travelers and even some Panamanians. Which is a shame, really, because we found the biological reserve and national park to be absolutely wonderful—and a must visit for anyone looking to escape the urban sprawl of Panama City. Surrounded by cool rolling mountains and lush secondary forest, the first thing we noticed upon our arrival at the park was the extreme drop in temperature and humidity—being perched 800 meters above sea level will do that. Feeling like we had been walking around in a thick inch of sweat since our arrival in Panama, we relished the need to throw on a light jacket after sunset. The second detail we observed was how peaceful and serene the area felt. It was almost unbelievable that this dynamic landscape was just 55km from Panama City, and only a short drive away from the resort-lined beaches of Playa Coronado.     While most people who do visit Altos de Campana come for the day, we opted to extend our stay for...
The Secluded Charm of Pedasi, Panama

The Secluded Charm of Pedasi, Panama

Our trip to Panama City was more or less an extended layover. We had enough frequent flier miles to get to Central America, but rates were a bit astronomical to go all the way to Rio during the World Cup. After some number-crunching and researching, we discovered the cheapest way to make it to Brazil would be to use our miles to fly to Panama City for free, and then purchase our ongoing tickets to Brazil from there. Since we had previously been traveling non-stop through Europe, we also still had to deal with the teeny, tiny issue of getting our Brazilian visas. Luckily, we could conveniently get this done in three days in Panama City. So Panama quickly became a very appealing destination. Last year we visited Bocas del Toro and Boquete, but we didn’t have the chance to make it down south. This time we decided to bookend our visit in Panama City, with a getaway to Pedasi and Altos de Campana National Park scheduled in the middle. Throwing Pedasi into the mix was a bit of a last minute decision, but it was one that would ultimately highlight our Panamanian adventure.   Charming Pedasi, Panama Located on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, Pedasi is a small but charming village. It takes only moments to walk the town center in its entirety. A slow stroll through the area will take you down clean, well-preserved streets and past locals who still say a warm hello to passersby. But though central Pedasi boasts a sleepy air, the greater Pedasi area is full of things to do, including beautiful beaches, world-renowned fishing, surfing, snorkeling, and an...
Bocas del Toro, Panama | A Photo Adventure

Bocas del Toro, Panama | A Photo Adventure

If we’re being completely honest here, we weren’t as enchanted by Bocas del Toro, Panama as the guidebooks predicted we would be. The Caribbean archipelago consists primarily of nine islands, two national parks, and a variety of wildlife. By all descriptions, the tropical paradise should have completely lured us in. We liked it. It’s difficult not to like somewhere with beautiful islands and great food and a chilled out Caribbean vibe. But Bocas del Toro is extremely touristy, and many of the area attractions just didn’t seem worth the hype. Like, a visit to Dolphin Bay consisted of four boats of tourists waiting around for two dolphins that would eventually make a brief appearance. In contrast, our boat ride to Corcovado National Park saw pods of dolphins playfully following our boat.  Bocas del Toro lacked that wild, natural feel to it. Though we weren’t completely enamored by Bocas del Toro, we did enjoy our time there. And had we not been spoiled from two months of exploring Costa Rica’s best beaches and wildlife, perhaps we would have seen what so many other travelers see. Here’s a glimpse of our trip. What do you think?   Doesn’t get more waterfront than that! Bocas del Toro: where the main transport is boat.   Wizards Beach Take a water taxi out here for some of Bocas’ best surfing, but be sure to bring your own surfboard!   Red Frog Beach   Dolphin Bay  Quick! Grab your camera- this is the only shot you’re getting!   Isla Zapatilla Now THIS is more like it! So walk around the island 3 times. Take the cross island...

Bocas del Toro Accommodation Review: Hotel Palma Royale

The slew of accommodation options in Bocas del Toro is enough to make anyone’s head turn. However, it doesn’t have to be. If staying in Bocas Town itself, the largest and most developed town of the islands, there’s really only one hotel that stands above the rest: Hotel Palma Royale. Hotel Palma Royale is the perfect choice for smart couples or small families looking to enjoy all that the Caribbean has to offer—without sacrificing comfort in the process. The hotel looks much larger than its neighboring bed and breakfasts, ‘towering’ at four floors; however, this isn’t an impersonal chain hotel shoving as many clients into its rooms as possible. Rather, travelers can expect only 14 luxurious suites, each large and spacious with an intimate and personal ambience.   Hotel Palma Royale’s location is absolutely ideal—a determining factors in why we chose Hotel Palma Royale in the first place. The hotel is a brief, five-minute walk from where the ferry docks, conveniently located toward the end of the town’s only main road.  In no time at all we were able to jump on a boat to begin our day of island hopping or sit down at one of the best restaurants and bars in the area. However, we still felt we had our own piece of paradise, enough removed to get a good night’s sleep without any reverberating disco beats to keep us up. But more than anything else, the views from Palma Royale are utterly unparalleled—quite assuredly the best in all of Bocas. We recommend a deluxe or penthouse suite, though all rooms are an excellent value. Waking up...
In Case You Didn't Know…

In Case You Didn't Know…

We’re FINALISTS for Amble Resorts’ Isla Palenque Island Intern Contest! And we couldn’t have done it without all the incredible support from our family and friends!  Thank you to each and every person who voted, told their friends to vote, posted the link as their facebook status and tweeted like crazy. Thank you to those who told the judges why we would be the best interns and wrote blog posts about us and the voting process. (Check out Alexa’s and DAG’s) Thank you to everyone who listened to us talk about the competition constantly, and to those who put up with our daily facebook updates for two weeks. It was incredible to watch the votes come in from all around the world. Seriously, we had votes from Ecuador, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Australia, Mexico, Canada…the list goes on and on. We are extremely grateful to have a global network with incredible people in it! Now comes the hard part. We’re one of 12 finalists, each of whom is incredibly talented. This phase consists of a Skype interview and a blogging assignment, and the ultimate Island Intern will be decided on May 2. But no matter what happens, we seriously feel so blessed to have so many people supporting us.  In case you haven’t already seen, check out the judges comments on our video here. They noticed how awesome our support network is, too...