Both historic and contemporary, Casco Viejo is hands-down the neighbourhood to book into.
Overview: On the southwestern tip of Panama City, the picturesque old quarter Casco Viejo is adjacent to the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The fact that it is where the prime nightlife is makes it more local-like than touristy.
Crowd: Working-class Panamanians share the sidewalks with American eco-tourists in their sportswear. Linen-clad businessmen on café patios make deals on their phones next to pauperized street vendors.
Agenda: Wander the seaside markets, swim in your rooftop pool, commune in the cafés—the pace and the scene are yours to set. Take a morning hike up Ancon Hill, a nature reserve in the middle of town, for a 360-degree view. The Frank Gehry–designed Biomuseo on the Amador Causeway features eight galleries that focus on Panama’s biodiversity and geological history.
Essential: At the 16-seat Donde José, chef José O. Carles infuses Panamanian traditions and cooking techniques into a sublime tasting menu.
Timing: Panama is a year-round destination. January to mid-April is the driest season, while May through October offers a plethora of local events.