The Plazas of Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is the old quarter in Panama City and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The hip and eclectic area features many restaurants, bars, shops, churches, and plazas.  While I was studying Spanish for two weeks at Casco Antiguo Spanish School, many times I spent 30 minutes either before or after class just taking in the scene.  Each plaza has a unique vibe.  See the differences below.

Plaza Herrera

Plaza Herrera is located near the edge of Casco Viejo on the southwest corner.  It is loaded with big shade trees and features a large equestrian statue in its center of General Tomas Herrera, a patriot from the 19th century.

The plaza was once occupied by houses, but a fire in 1781 turned it into an empty lot which was used for bull fights and celebrations.  When bull fighting was outlawed in 1928, the plaza took its current form.

Plaza Herrera in Casco Viejo

Though no plaza is completely quiet with the honking taxis passing by, with all the greenery, this one seemed peaceful to me.  I enjoyed relaxing on the benches in the morning, watching a local paint midday, and checking out the night life at the popular Casa Casco across the street.

Independence Square

Just a few blocks northeast of Plaza Herrera is Independence Square or Plaza Mayor.  This was the only square originally planned for the city which took a rectangular shape after a fire.  It was previously used for bull fights and horse races.  Today it boasts busts of Panamanians who helped with the separation of Panama from Colombia in 1903.

For those who like action, this is the place to be.  There is always some kind of event happening with a handful of vendors.  The Catedral Metropolitana which attracts many tourists stands on its western side, while the Municipal Palace and the Panama Canal Museum line its southern border. 

Being very centrally located in the square, I found the buildings blocked the ocean breeze.  As a result, while I regularly passed through the square to see what was happening, I generally relaxed in cooler areas.

Plaza de Francia

Probably the coolest and quietest area was Plaza de Francia located across from the Embassy of France on Casco Viejo’s southeast finger.  Somewhat cut off from vehicular traffic while the point pokes into Panama Bay, the plaza’s northwest side is a nice place for respite.

Plaza de Francia in Casco Viejo

Closer to the Panama Canal Monument below the stairs that lead up to the promenade of vendors, locals might start dolling out an unsolicited history lesson, so choose a shady bench accordingly.  I like this plaza for the shade and greenery.

Panama Canal Monument next to Plaza de Francia in Casco Viejo

Plaza Carlos V

Between Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Francia is a tiny area called Plaza Carlos V.  It is named for Emperor Charles V, the most powerful monarch in Europe during the 16th century.  He actually evaluated uniting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1534, some four centuries prior to the construction of the Panama Canal.

This small plaza can be quiet in the morning, but as the day progresses it gets busier, especially being located next to a bus stop.  That said, artists display their paintings and Gunas, the indigenous people of Panama, set out their crafts, so it is worth a visit.

Plaza Carlos V in Casco Viejo

Plazoleta Medio Baluarte

Another tiny square, located just a block north of Plaza Carlos V, is Plazoleta Medio Baluarte.  A nun’s bulwark used to occupy this part of the city, thus the name. 

Plazoleta Medio Buluarte in Casco Viejo

Google Maps simply calls the area Vista Panama as the small park offers a nice view of the Cinta Costera and the Panama City skyline.  Sunny and hot in the afternoons, it is best visited in the morning with a few locals and a handful of cats.

locks of love with view of panama city skyline

Plaza Simon Bolivar

In the northeast section of Casco Viejo is Plaza Simon Bolivar.  It features a large statue in the middle for whom the plaza is named.  In my opinion, there aren’t enough trees to relax on a bench, but restaurants with outdoor seating line its western side for a nice evening meal.

The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, with its ornate bell tower, stands across the plaza from the restaurants, and the San Felipe de Neri Church which warrants a quick visit is located just off the main square.

Plaza Simon Bolivar

Of the plazas, I prefer the greenest ones thus I gravitated toward Plaza Herrera or Plaza de Francia, but they all have something nice to offer in the hip district of Casco Viejo.

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

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