Casco Viejo, also known as Casco Antiguo or San Felipe, is the historic district of Panama City.
Founded in 1673, after the former capital Panama Viejo burnt down and was looted during a pirate attack, Casco Viejo was once the hub of Panamanian culture and civilization. Jutting out into the sea on a peninsula (a site chosen to guard against the next pirate assault) Casco was later abandoned when modern Panama City sprouted its skyscrapers across the bay.
But after many years of neglect, Casco is experiencing a renaissance. In 1997 the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site and gave financial incentives for restoration projects. And while the historic district is still somewhat of a work in progress, that’s exactly what makes it exciting. Walking the streets in this quarter is a schizophrenic experience: burned-out shells of old, dilapidated, cracked buildings inhabited by squatters stand side-by-side with chic new coffee houses, gourmet restaurants, boutique hotels, and some of Panama’s hottest clubs and bars.