Old Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Panama City

Casco Antiguo, also known as Casco Viejo, a historic district of Panama City, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area features a unique mix of architectural styles, each revealing a certain part of the country’s eventful history, plus a number of museums and other attractions. Follow this orientation walk to discover the most interesting sights of Casco Antiguo.
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Old Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Old Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Panama » Panama City (See other walking tours in Panama City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Plaza Mayor
  • Presidential Palace
  • Bolívar Park
  • Iglesia San Francisco de Asis
  • Teatro Nacional
  • Galeria de Arte Indigena
  • Plaza de Francia
  • Las Bovedas
  • Casa Gongora
  • Museo de Arte Religioso Colonial
  • Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá
  • Catedral Metropolitana Casco Antiguo
  • Iglesia San Jose
  • Plaza Santa Ana
  • Avenida Central
  • Avenida B
Plaza Mayor

1) Plaza Mayor (must see)

Plaza Mayor, also known as Cathedral Plaza because Catedral Metropolitana Casco Antiguo is located in it, is Panama City’s most important plaza. The plaza also houses administrative buildings, shops and restaurants.
Presidential Palace

2) Presidential Palace

If you are keen on visiting an awesomely beautiful palace, you should definitely think of the Palacio de las Garzas in Panama City. This official presidential residence was originally constructed by the Spanish in the 17th century and is a spectacular example of Spanish colonial architecture. Initially and for a fair amount of time, this pristine white building, decorated in true Moorish style, was used as a customs house.

You can see the spacious inner courtyard along with the airy lobby designed in a way to emulate Andalusian style. Ornately decorated fountains adorn the courtyard. However, it is not the white color or the décor that earn the building its sobriquet, but the white African herons that are found strolling freely in the palace. The herons were brought here after the completion of the final renovations that were carried out under the then president, Belisario Porras. Rumors have it that during the visit of the US president Richard Nixon in 1977, the palace was sprayed with disinfectant that caused the death of all herons there. The latter were said to be replaced overnight. The palace lies in the center of the tourist ‘must visit’ area. Though an entry to the palace is restricted, you can easily liaise with a friendly guard and take a quick peek and maybe click a few snaps too.
Bolívar Park

3) Bolívar Park (must see)

This park is named after one of the most important figures in Latin American history, Simón Bolívar. This charming park is very popular among locals and tourists. It contains a beautiful monument to Simón Bolívar.
Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

4) Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis, is also prominently known as the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is a Roman Catholic Church, situated in the quaint town of San Fransisco in Panama City, in the historic district of Casco Viejo. This church is very popular for its magnificent view, making it a very famous tourist spot in Panama City. The church is small compared to the other churches and you will be dazed by its splendor as it is one of the most beautiful local churches.

Situated on Plaza Bolivar, the San Francisco de Asis was repeatedly destroyed by fire in 1737 and 1756. It was fully rebuilt in 1998. The church lies across the street from the Teatro Nacional (the National Theater). Down the street, just a block away, is the residence of Panamanian President, the Palacio de las Garzas.

The Iglesia de San Francisco de Asis was built of a stout stone structure way back in the early 1700s. Indigenous artisans from the nearby town of San Fransisco, supervised by Franciscan monks, helped to build the eight hardwood baroque altars. The elegant main altar consists of over 400 pieces of colorfully painted tropical cedar and is an impressive example of colonial art. You can have an amazing life time experience by visiting this place.
Teatro Nacional

5) Teatro Nacional (must see)

Teatro Nacional de Panamá, or the National Theater of Panama, is located on Avenida B, just down from Plaza Bolivar. It opened in 1908 and was constructed on the site that originally housed an 18th century monastery, designed by Italian architect Genaro Ruggieri. Throughout its history, the building has seen good and bad days during which, at some point, it served as a house for movies and a popular watering hole for the elite crowd.

The theater has endured a profound restoration undertaken in two phases: first in the 1970s and the second, more recently, in the early 2000s, upon which it finally reopened in 2004. Adorned with glittering glass chandeliers, gold painted balconies and exquisite ceiling murals, the interiors of the building are truly posh. Busts of famous writers are placed upfront. The theater is a major cultural hub that hosts cultural events like plays, operas and ballets.

The ceiling frescoes have been painted by a prominent Panamanian artist, Roberto Lewis, and depict Panamanian history in the form of Greek mythology. You can learn the theater schedule from the local papers and go for an opera show whenever you get the opportunity, whilst in the city. This is really the best way to check out the building.
Galeria de Arte Indigena

6) Galeria de Arte Indigena (must see)

Galería de Arte Indígena, located near Plaza de Francia, offers one of the largest varieties of local crafts, including Emberá baskets, masks and tagua palm nut figures. All products are high-quality indigenous handicrafts at reasonable prices.

Opening hours: Daily 9 am - 5 pm/6 pm-7 pm.
Plaza de Francia

7) Plaza de Francia

If you are thinking of visiting a historical place then do evaluate the option of visiting Plaza de Francia which is situated at the southern point of the city and showcases statues and large stone tablets narrating the story of French role in the construction of the Panama Canal. The plaza is dedicated to the memory of the approximately 22,000 workers hailed from France, Martinique and Guadeloupe, who passed away whilst attempting to build the canal. The majority of them died of diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. You will also see the monument which was built in remembrance of the Cuban doctor Mr. Carlos J. Finlay, who found out how the mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever. His excellent work and dedication gave the people of Panama a breather and led to the eradication of the disease in the city.

If you ever visit the Plaza, on the one side you will see the restored dungeons nine of which were used by the Spaniards and subsequently by the Colombians. Even though nowadays some of them house restaurants and upscale art galleries, the original stonework of the dungeons is still in place. A visit to Plaza de Francia will definitely enrich your experience from Panama City.
Las Bovedas

8) Las Bovedas (must see)

Las Bovedas is located on Plaza de Francia, Panama City’s most picturesque place. It is housed in a 17th century dungeon that was once a prison. This fashionable and popular club attracts guests who love jazz and spending a romantic evening enjoying delicious cocktails.
Casa Gongora

9) Casa Gongora

Casa Góngora is one of the oldest and the only genuine colonial house in Panama City. Built in 1756 by Capt. Paul Gongora, a Spanish merchant who dealt in pearls, this is the last surviving piece of the 17th century colonial architecture in the city. The house was bequeathed to the church after Gongora's death and changed hands several times before was finally handed over to the Panama Municipality in 1995.

UNESCO declared Casa Góngora along with the entire Old Town as the World Heritage site in 1997. During restoration of 1998-99, much of the original woodwork, such as the doors, balconies and the armor, were left intact. Now the municipal property, Casa Góngora serves as a cultural center and hosts regular exhibitions by local artists. You can pop in casually to see some local creations or just admire the restored architecture and woodwork. You can also attend free jazz concerts on Wednesday nights at 8 o'clock and, if lucky, get a chance to catch Friday night bolero concert as well.

A legacy of the colonial rule, Casa Góngora is known to be of a great historic importance for having retained its original architectural style until today. Touring this extraordinary place will give you an incredible opportunity to see with your own eyes what life was like in the colonial times. The site is open on all days and the entry is free.
Museo de Arte Religioso Colonial

10) Museo de Arte Religioso Colonial

Two blocks away from the Plaza lies Museo de Arte Religioso Colonial (the Museum of Colonial Religious Art). The building is housed in the restored from ruins remarkable Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo (Church and Convent of Santo Domingo) that was built in 1673. The original structure was ravaged by fire in 1737 and 1756 along with much of Panama City.

Today, you can see a beautiful building with columns and bricks paired inlaid facades. The prominent, flat 15-meter long Arco Chato is a famous arch that used to form the choir base in the original building and is still in place. During the long debate in the US congress over the proposed location of the then nascent canal across the American continent, the Arco Chato is said to have tipped the scales in Panama’s favor since its survival was taken as the proof that that the area was not in an earthquake zone. The museum collection includes colonial-era religious artifacts dating back to the 16th century. If you have a penchant for museums or want to explore religious art, this would be a good place to visit.

Opening Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 8:00 am - 4:00 pm.
Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá

11) Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá (must see)

Museo del Canal Interoceanico de Panama is considered to be the best museum in Panama City, housed in a beautiful antique edifice. Long ago, this building accommodated the Gran Hotel and then the headquarters of French Canal. For every visitor to the city this is the place obligatory to stop at. The museum narrates the entire story of Panama isthmus from the times pre-Columbian to the arrival of the Spanish, followed by that of the French and then the Americans, with the highlights of canal construction efforts, until the present. Here, you can get a complete knowledge of isthmus as a world trade center.

The museum displays information presented in both English and Spanish. You also have the choice of guides who can give you bilingual tours. Interesting information and items, such as historic documents, multimedia and interactive exhibits, mock-household exhibits featuring day-to-day life throughout the canal history, as well as a complete floor of century-old stamps and coins including the prominent Nicaraguan stamp illustrating the erupting volcano which was delivered to the U.S. senators in order to prevent them from opting to construct the canal in that country, are on display. If you are a history lover, this place is a definite must visit for you and for those curious about the Panama Canal history.

Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays.
Catedral Metropolitana Casco Antiguo

12) Catedral Metropolitana Casco Antiguo (must see)

The Catedral Metropolitana Casco Antiguo which is otherwise called The Catedral Metropolitana, is located at Plaza de la Independencia in the historic district of Casco Viejo in Panama City. The cathedral is one of the largest in Central America, and was designed by military engineers and completed in 1796. No trip to Casco Viejo is complete without visiting this beautiful and historic edifice. In the late 19th century there was an earthquake which destroyed all of the surrounding structures but the cathedral remarkably survived. Surprisingly, but it had stayed deserted until a major renovation was undertaken in 2003.

The cathedral stands out for its contrast in color combination and for the mix of architectural styles which gives a glimpse of the fascinating history of the country. The stones used for the construction of the entrance wall were taken from the ruins of the city of Viejo. The walls are grey in color, and there are two tower-like structures on both sides of the entrance, which are white. These towers are layered with material called “mother of pearl”, brought from Pearl Islands, and create the look which contrasts the stone walled entrance. You will find the Catedral Metropolitana a spectacular sight at night when the whole structure is lit up. A wonderful place to visit, it will leave you with nostalgic memories long after you return home.
Iglesia San Jose

13) Iglesia San Jose (must see)

One of the most magnificent places to visit in Panama City is the Iglesia San Jose, located at Avenida A, near Plaza Herrera, Casco Viejo. The main attraction of this church is the seventeenth century Baroque style Golden Altar, Altar de Oro. The altar was originally located in a temple by the similar name, San Jose. After the pirates had burned down the Old Panama city, the altar was relocated to the new place and entirely renovated in 1915. Carved in mahogany, the altar is covered in golden leaf.

There is an interesting story behind the altar which says that when Henry Morgan, the infamous pirate, attacked Panama Viejo, the priest of the church concealed the golden altar by coloring it black. This was done in order to save this valuable object from being looted by the pirate gang. It also seems that the priest had told Henry Morgan that the altar had been stolen by another pirate and even managed to convince Henry to give a handsome donation to replace the supposedly stolen golden artifact.

When you go to the city of Casco Viejo, you must visit the Church of Iglesia San Jose, to admire the magnificent golden altar.
Plaza Santa Ana

14) Plaza Santa Ana

Plaza Santa Ana is the place in the historic part of Panama City you will definitely want to visit. Originally, back in the 19th century, it was called Arrabal and was located outside the walls of the city which was alternatively used for hosting bullfights or markets. Later, in the 1890s, the place was redesigned into a park. A lot of greenery with plenty of benches, surrounding this plaza, make it a very attractive spot. Adding to its appeal is the present here beautiful church of Santa Ana.

Plaza Santa Ana is a buzzing commercial place, extremely lively and busy with frequent onlookers, shoppers, and line of stores. The surroundings of Plaza Santa Ana is unlike any other place of Casco Viejo. The park is always busy with people who come either to relax or to play or meet up with friends. Basically, they visit this amazing place to have a good time. Here, you will will find many hotels providing accommodation and a whole lot of eateries offering an array of food. In every corner one would find all types of shops catering to all needs, be it fruits, mobile phones, grains, toys or even medicines. Also in this area, at the side of the park, is the restaurant called Café Coca Cola. This is a very famous joint amongst the locals and tourists, mainly for its breakfast. Come here to unwind and enjoy the experience!
Avenida Central

15) Avenida Central

One of Panama City’s main avenues, Avenida Central originates in Casco Viejo, between Plaza Santa Ana and Plaza Cinco de Mayo, and runs right up to the banking district. Although this part of the city is not a definite “must see” for most tourists, and furthermore, some guidebooks even suggest to avoid it, a little stroll down to the Central will bring you to the pedestrian mall that is well worth checking out.

Don't expect to find here the habitual sterile clean and scrubbed supermarket feel. What you get is a live bustling market on the avenue that is lined with small shops on both sides. You will find real people going about their daily lives, checking out the stuff on sale, haggling for bargains. The shops have on offer anything from bird feed to candy to electronics and clothing. If you come from the city and want to find some stuff at a reasonable price, this is the place. A simple stroll down here would be just as entertaining even if you don't buy anything. Agreed that it is not a picture perfect, but it definitely is the place really interesting and full of energy and life.

From dirt cheap to prohibitively expensive and everything that lies in between you will find here. If you have time in hand and wish to downshift and unwind to small town ways, this is the place to be. Get a snow cone or stop and feed the pigeons. Get a bit adventurous and explore the place, you never know what kind of a surprise is in store here for you.
Avenida B

16) Avenida B

This is the only area in the city of panama with a unique style, old buildings, breek roads, where old and renovated buildings meet. Full of stores, hotels, hostels, cafes, restaurants, plazas, churches all walking distance. Visit its local stores, you will find unique items and products made by hand only in Panama.

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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 Km or 3.5 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
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