Panama, Casco Viejo
Casco Antiguo, San Felipe
Last week we saw the first groups from cruise ships arriving to Casco Viejo. Although it is not my cup of tea, I have to admit they play an important roll on providing business to the local guides (see in the picture, those are guys from Casco) and help them make a living. But with the economic market crisis bouncing up and down, I said to myself, there are so many things to do that doesn´t cost you much and gives you a far better experience than just jumping on a bus and “window shop” Panama….
Of course, the more money you have, the more options. But if you are not into deep pockets right now and enjoy exploring by land, there are nice options you can get to. For example, this past weekend we went to a far and away town inside Capira bordering the Gatun Lake. The town is called La Arenosa and it is an hour and a half from Casco Viejo by car, and you get to the true rural Panama. People in this town are mainly fishermen and carpenters. The place is beautiful and peaceful, filled with cows, hens crossing the road and pineapple farms. There is a great restaurant near the Nautico, 100% local, where you can get very nice fried fish just pulled out from the lake (mostly Tilapia or Sargento fish) with patacones and freezing cold beer. We were 4 people and spent $18 on our meal. But it is not only the fact that is really budget, what we enjoyed the most was the friendly people and the sudden and complete “stop” of civilization and rush hour.
Because Casco Antiguo is so close to the Bridge of the Americas and the Centenario bridge, it is your perfect headquarter for your day trips. Take a car and run around these towns, you´ll find interesting surprises. If you want beach, take the ferry and go to Taboga at the Pearl Islands. It is only an hour trip from the port at the Causeway and the local pescao frito there is very good too. You can climb the natural bird reserve or just hang out at the beach. Take the boat in the morning, come back at 3 p.m. Plan for your next day relaxing in one of the plazas in Casco Antiguo or have a simply stunning meal at the Fish market.
If you are into nature and hiking, you should get in touch with some of the groups that organize small groups to visit some less known places. There are a couple of organizations that are doing it just for fun and are getting to be more regular. They tend to go out Sunday mornings, really early. From river rafting in the Chagres river (this is the best time, as it is rainning a lot) to expeditions to the caves of Lake Alajuela ($55), they are all one day tours where you´ll enjoy Panama´s incredible blessing of having primary forest 20 minutes away from the modern city. So many Panamanians forget about this! what a luxury to give for granted.
Here are some phone numbers for these groups:
Underground expedition to Lake Alajuela: firstname.lastname@example.org They tend to start the trip at 7 a.m.
River Rafting at the Chagres National Park ($65 – $79): Phone (507) 261-5043 / 6668-1842
Hiking, Snorkeling at Coiba National Park ($220 … believe me, this is a great price. Usually just the boat to get there is $800 alone… this includes transportation, food and a place to stay): www.ecoviajerospanama.com