Panama City


Metropolitan Natural Park (Parque Natural Metropolitano)

Metropolitan Natural Park is located on a hill north of Casco Viejo with an area of 265 hectares. From the park, you can overlook the Panama City, gulf and mouth of Panama Canal.

There are many species of animals in the natural park, including Geoffroy's tamarins, anteaters, sloths, white-tailed deer, and reptiles such as iguanas and tortoises. Also, there are more than 250 species of birds such as adorable toucans.

Moreover, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has established in a research institute and set up a canopy crane for overlooking the jungle from top. Ancon Expeditions, a Panamanian adventure travel company, obtained permission in early years to bring visitors to the crane. However, there is a limit on the number of visitors every day so reservations must be made in advance. 

Apart from the implication for nature conservation, the area of the Metropolitan Natural Park was the battlefield during the United States invasion, World War II and more. Thus, there are many historical military sites in the park.

Iglesia de San José

Iglesia de San José in Casco Viejo owns the Altar de Oro (Golden Altar) which is believed to be the only historical artefact miraculously saved after Henry Morgan’s sacking of Panamá Viejo. 

Local legend has it that a pastor painted the Altar de Oro in black after Panamá Viejo was informed about Henry Morgan reaching the city. When Morgan arrived at the church, the pastor lied to him that the altar had been stolen by another pirate. In turn, the pastor requested Morgan to make a dedication to the church in order to replace the black altar. 

It is said that Morgan replied to the pastor, “I do not know why, but you are like a pirate more than I am.” This line now seems to come with implication.

Whether the legend is true or not, the Altar de Oro was later moved to the current Iglesia de San José and has been preserved to this day.

Independence Square (Plaza de la Independencia)

For many cities, the square in the city centre is uniquely significant. In many Latin American countries, there is the independence square in the city centre to commemorate the decolonisation and independence of the country. Although Independence Square in Panama is small, it is highly regarded. The square is surrounded by important buildings, such as the famous Iglesia de San José and a museum specifically built for the Panama Canal. 

The three-storey building in continental style was built in 1874. It was once the office of both the French and U.S. companies engaged in the construction of the canal, therefore, the structure itself is highly historical. 

The French began constructing the canal in 1881. However, due to technical issues and frequent industrial accidents, the construction was brought to an end. Later the construction was taken over by the Americans and was completed after a decade. In 1977, the United States and Panama signed the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. The two countries first managed the canal together until 1999 when the canal officially “returned” to Panama. The “return” marks the official independence of Panama because it can solely manage her canal, echoing with the significance of Independence Square.

Panamá Viejo

Established by Spanish colonist Pedro Arias de Ávila in 1519, Panamá Viejo is the first settlement on the Pacific coast for European colonists after arrival. About 150 years later, gold and silver mined by Spanish were delivered back to Europe via the port in Panamá Viejo. 

In 1671, Welsh pirate and later Admiral of the British Royal Navy Henry Morgan attacked Panamá Viejo, but the Spanish governor set fire to the city in advance to prevent the resources from being snatched by the pirates. The city, thus, was ruined and abandoned. Two years later, a new settlement, known as San Felipe (Casco Viejo) today, was established on a peninsula about 8km away from Panamá Viejo.

Although Panamá Viejo is dilapidated with only a better-preserved bell tower, it is still worth visiting as the start of the colonial history of Central America. 

San Felipe (Casco Viejo)

After Panamá Viejo was abandoned, Spanish colonists established another city called San Felipe. Most structures built in the city at that time have been preserved to this day. The city was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

San Felipe is historically and culturally vibrant. Palacio de las Garzas (governmental office and residence), many colonial churches, museums, National Theatre of Panama, Independence Square and many more landmarks are located in Casco Viejo. Taking a walk around the old city district, you can witness the history of the development of Panama City.

Among the edifices, the interior of the National Theatre of Panama, which was built in 1907, has been restored completely. The red and golden decorations, ceiling mural by renowned Panamanian painter Roberto Lewis and gigantic crystal chandelier form the most magnificent side of San Felipe.

Plaza de Francia, at the tip of the southern point of San Felipe, features a large monument to commemorate the 22,000 workers who died from constructing the Panama Canal during the early stage.