Panama City’s historic quarter, Casco Viejo, has become the city’s hippest and most happening spot in recent years. Affectionately referred to as “Casco”, this old heart of Panama is a small isthmus which juts out into the sea, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific. It had largely fallen to ruin before experiencing a renaissance which started around 15 years ago.
As the area’s historic buildings and quaint squares were meticulously restored, so came the boutiques, restaurants, and bars. Now, this little corner of the city is packed with trendy cafes, rooftop bars and more, and is one of the favorite night spots for stylish locals as well as visitors.
If you’re passing through the Panamanian capital on your way to San Blas, make sure to spend some time in Casco. And while you’re here, be sure not to miss these cool bars, eateries, and attractions!
Luna’s Castle Hostel and Relic Bar
Probably the hostel with the best location in Panama City, this Casco Viejo institution is known for its great vibe, friendly atmosphere and the coolest bar in town. Luna’s Castle is a great place to meet locals and other travelers and is the city’s original party hostel. Located on Calle 9a East in a historic building updated with an eclectic modern art collection, Luna’s really is the place that all subsequent hostels in Central America have come to be measured against.
Attached to Luna’s is the Relic Bar, so named because it is housed in the historic cellars of the building. The bar’s eclectic atmosphere includes part of the original city walls, which date back to 1688. Even if you’re not staying at the hostel, this is a must-visit for a drink to soak in the atmosphere and rub shoulders with travelers and locals alike. This spot also hosts some of the city’s biggest parties and events. Hostel guests even get free entry, including to Luna’s legendary Halloween party.
American Trade Hotel
This impressive art deco hotel was built in 1917 and the neoclassical building was considered by many to be the city’s first modern skyscraper. Located on Avenida Central opposite the iconic church Iglesia de la Merced, the hotel has a beautiful restaurant with lofty ceilings, huge floor to ceiling windows and grand decor. Although the restaurant is definitely pricey, you can enjoy the splendor of this hotel even if you don’t have deep pockets. Next to the restaurant is their small cafe with similar art deco décor and ambiance. Here you can enjoy a coffee, cake or a snack and take in the views of the square from the large windows.
Right next to Luna’s Castle on Calle 9a East you’ll find a cool and funky café with great food and even better service, Nomada Eatery. This place has a Latin fusion menu based on healthy, fresh ingredients. Choose between Panamanian dishes, loaded nachos, quinoa salad, veggie or beef burgers and pad thai, all in a light and airy location with great artsy décor.
This is a great spot not only for anyone after a bite to eat or something to drink but also for digital nomads looking for a spot to work, with plenty of comfortable chairs and tables, free WiFi and power points to charge your devices. Along with all-day meals, coffee, smoothies, and beers, Nomada is also known for its party nights and events, including art shows and performances.
Paseo de las Bóvedas
Right on the south-eastern tip of Casco Viejo, jutting out into the sea is the Plaza Francia. This grand plaza was built on the site of the original town square in 1920 to thank the French for their assistance in building the Panama Canal. The Paseo de las Bovedas is a promenade which runs up above the plaza, wrapping around the shoreline and back down to Avenida A on the other side.
From the Paseo, you can take in sweeping vistas of the Casco Viejo neighborhood, gaze out to the sea on the other side, and see the stark of the tall skyscrapers of modern Panama City in the middle distance. This pedestrian-only zone is also lined with street vendors selling souvenirs, handicrafts, and jewelry and is a great place to pick up a memento from your trip.
Located in a historic building on Plaza Herrera, Casa Casco’s five levels each host a different establishment, from fine dining to casual restaurants, night clubs and bars. These include Marula, a Panamanian-International fusion restaurant, Club Disco nightclub, and a large rooftop bar on the terrace with 360-degree reviews across the urban landscape. On the second floor, you’ll find Sushi Nation, an Asian Fusion eatery that has dishes from across the Eastern continent including large serves of sushi at very reasonable prices.
If you’re missing your regular yoga class while on your travels or want to stretch out aching muscles after long days of sightseeing and island hopping, Casco Yoga is the place for you. This yoga studio is housed in a historic building on Calle José D. de la Obadía, just off Plaza Herrera. They offer classes in a range of styles including Vinyasa, core flow, and Yin yoga, and allow you to drop in for one-off classes and pay casually. They’ll also rent you a yoga mat if you don’t have one with you.
La Rana Dorada Casco
La Rana Dorada, meaning “The Golden Frog” in Spanish is a craft brewery that produces a range of IPAs, pilsners, ales, and flavored beers. You can sample these and more at their cozy pub in Casco Viejo, located on the corner of Calle 9 Este and Calle Boquete. The large bar has extensive seating across two levels and serves meals as well as drinks. Not sure which craft beer to choose? La Rana Dorada will give you a sampler of their various beers to help you make your decision.
Mahalo started as a small contemporary Asian eatery in a cozy courtyard on Avenida A. The café and bar became so popular they’ve now opened a second location in Casco Viejo, on Avenida B and Calle 12 East. The original is still there and serves up poke bowls, fresh juices, plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, and craft beers and wines from lunch into the evening. In the second location, you’ll find similar fare and also delicious breakfasts every day.
This restaurant’s menu is on the more expensive side but is a great option if you are looking to spoil yourself a little. A self-proclaimed Asian fusion restaurant, the menu includes high-end sushi, truffle dumplings, and steamed pancetta buns. They also offer more traditional Asian dishes, such as Szechuan beef and noodles with a contemporary flair. Along with their luxuriously-decorated downstairs restaurant area, you can also enjoy your meal from their terrace complete with views of the city. You’ll find them on the corner of Calle 9 East and Central House 1 in Casco Viejo.
Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar
Named after a legendary figure in Panamanian history, this local company makes handcrafted, world-class rum. Pedro Mandinga has bars in Panama and Colombia, including their flagship Rum Bar in Casco Viejo, on Avenida A just down from Plaza Herrera. This is the perfect spot for sampling their artisanal rums or sipping one of their delicious signature cocktails. This place has a luxe yet chill atmosphere, with vintage salsa tunes playing and dominos kept behind the bar for visitors to play if they wish.