Panama City’s glittering high rises are no longer the city’s main attraction—for that, you’ll have to head to the city’s old town, Casco Viejo. Though once burned to the ground by Captain Morgan (the real Captain Morgan) and then overrun by gang warfare in the early 1990s, the neighborhood has lately turned over a new leaf and emerged as one of the hippest spots in the city. With recent renovations on the nearby Panama Canal set to be completed by the end of this month, here are six reasons why the time to go to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is now—before the secret is out.
4. The cuisine is Michelin-worthy
In 2013, Michelin-starred chef Andres Madrigal moved from Spain to Panama and opened his eponymous restaurant, Madrigal. The restaurant, housed in a renovated two-story Spanish Colonial building, radiates a classic and sophisticated ambience. The menu, which blends Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine in locally sourced dishes, changes daily but the sea bass ceviche in sweet citrus juice is a regular favorite that keeps both locals and travelers coming back for more. For dessert, try the “Valley de Anton,” a dessert that pays homage to the Anton Valley volcano with a crater made of crushed chocolate, edible flowers, and beet ice cream representing lava.
5. The local jazz is HOT!
Stroll by Plaza Herrera in the heart of Casco Viejo on any weekend night and you will be serenaded by the strains of a saxophone wafting through the doors of Danilo’s Jazz Club. The club has played host to internationally acclaimed local artists, such as Panamanian jazz icon Reubén Blades and the country’s First Lady of Jazz, Idania Dowman. Housed in the same building as the American Trade Hotel, this intimate 50-seat club, along with the city’s yearly jazz festival, is putting Panama on the world’s music map. Part of the proceeds from Danilo’s goes to the Danilo Perez Foundation, which supports emerging local musicians. The mix of sultry jazz and Panamanian rum drinks makes a great nightcap to a day of exploring. Try the Canal Jumper, a rum and citrus combination.
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