Panama City: El Congrejo & Casco Viejo

We are staying in a neighborhood called El Congrejo in an all-suites hotel (Hotel Coral Suites). This was not the plan–our AirBnb for Panama City (loft apartment with rooftop pool and view of the ocean!) was cancelled on us about 9 days before our arrival here as it was sold. Surprise! A mad scramble found us this hotel–it’s roomy, has a full-but-tiny kitchen, includes breakfast, and gets cleaned every day. More than we had planned to pay, but still fairly economical, so it has worked out. Ken found this amusing Huffington Post article about the area we are living in (same neighbourhood as our planned AirBnB).

For our first full day here, we tried out the metro transit system and headed to Casco Viejo (old town). It isn’t spectacular, as old towns go, but we were constantly struck with the contrasts it displayed: old, crumbling facades near fully restored and highly detailed buildings; views from and through the old structures to the busy causeway out in the water and modern towers on the far shore; aged structures with young trees and plants growing through windows and in cracks; and even one building that is both restored and dilapidated under the same roof (which is also both restored and dilapidated). There is obviously a lot of effort going into rebuilding and retaining this old town. Some buildings are complete and beautiful, some are in the midst of construction, some are draped in cloths imprinted with images of what their future will be, and still others stand in wait, balconies propped up and windows braced but otherwise just skeletons. I hope that these photos tell the story of old and new.

One more photo. This one is for you Mom Pearce!



  • Cab from the airport to our hotel in El Congrejo cost $15 (not metered, ask the driver).
  • Checking into our flight for Panama, as with our flight to Colombia, the agents required and scrutinized exit tickets. This time (since we don’t yet have exit plans, other than to leave before our visa expires), Return Flight Tickets worked well for us.
  • We took the metro from the nearest station, Iglesia del Carmen , to 5 de Mayo. From there, we just walked Avenida Central through the bustling market area for about 15 minutes before we arrived at Casco Viejo. To ride the metro, you purchase a card for $2 at the machine. It doesn’t give change, but you can just accept to put the remainder on the card. You still have to put the card back in to the machine for it to be loaded and ready to use. Cost per trip was 70 cents. You just place your card on the scanner and walk through. You need to scan your card when leaving the stations as well (it doesn’t take any money, but does show you your balance).

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